Before Canada decriminalized same-sex activity in 1969, homosexuality was considered a serious crime – but a suspicious fire on August 16, 1965, in Pine Point, N.W.T., began a chain of events on the road to legal change.
Everett George Klippert, a 39-year-old mechanic’s assistant, was brought in for questioning in the afternoon following the fire. Klippert was soon cleared of suspicion, but he’d let slip something that would land him in prison for the next six years: he had admitted to being gay.
Klippert was promptly charged with four counts of gross indecency and sentenced to three years in jail. At the time, “gross indecency” encompassed any and all acts of homosexuality. The case judge put forward an application for Klippert to be designated a “dangerous sexual offender” due to his perceived reluctance to stop having sex with men.
Two psychiatrists interviewed him as part of the application, and while their reports described him as a kind and harmless man, they claimed that his release would likely lead to “further sexual offence.” On March 9, 1966, the application was approved, and Klippert was sentenced indefinitely. His appeals to the N.W.T. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Canada were dismissed.
By this time, the case had sparked considerable media interest, and politicians across the country were emerging from the woodwork to speak in favour of decriminalizing homosexuality.
Bud Orange, Klippert’s MP, told CBC that “[It was] ridiculous that any man… be put into jail because they [were] affected by a social disease.” At the time, “progressive” thinking perceived 2SLGBTQ+ people as being afflicted by a curable disease.
In response to the increasingly inflammatory Klippert case, as well as rising social pressures, Pierre Trudeau, then federal justice minister, introduced an omnibus bill that would legalize consensual sex between two males over the age of 21. A different version of the bill was passed in 1969 when Trudeau had become Prime Minister. Klippert, however, was not released until 1971.
Klippert passed away at the age of 69 after having retired, married, and repeatedly denied calls from activist groups to become a public representative of the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
In February 2016, an article about Klippert in the Globe and Mail prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to recommend that the government pardon Klippert and all other gay men who had been convicted under gross indecency laws.
However, two ensuing reports, one of which was issued by the We Demand an Apology Network, insisted that the government owed the men an official apology and financial compensation, as well as a pardon.
On November 28, 2017, Justin Trudeau apologized to the House of Commons for discrimination condoned and inflicted on 2SLGBTQ+ individuals by the federal government. His apology came with a $145 million compensation package for individuals and civil servants who had suffered under oppressive legislation.
Today, Klippert is remembered as the last Canadian to go to jail simply for being gay, and his candour and unwillingness to conform set the stage for the rise of an activist movement that was, in effect, Canada’s driving force towards the legalization of being human.
Maya Linsley (she/her) is a Loran Scholar and undergraduate English major at the University of Victoria, where she also works as a digital humanities research assistant. An avid writer, reader, and lover of all things feline, Maya can usually be spotted biking across campus or lurking in the stacks at the library.