Dozens of people – including two of Trudeau’s own children, Xavier and Ella-Grace – crammed into the various House of Commons galleries to witness the historic occasion, which the prime minister said he hopes will finally allow the healing process to begin for those affected.
“This is the devastating story of people who were branded criminals by the government – people who lost their livelihoods, and in some cases, their lives,” Trudeau said.
“These aren’t distant practices of governments long forgotten. This happened systematically, in Canada, with a timeline more recent than any of us would like to admit.”
WATCH: Justin Trudeau calls gay purge a ‘witch hunt’
One of the people affected was Sharp Dopler.
Dopler, 54, worked in the Canadian military’s Cadet Instructors Cadre Branch, where she helped train, supervise and care for youth in the cadets.
“My primary focus … was teaching leadership,” she told Global News on Tuesday. “I loved my job, and I was good at my job.”
Kids would come to Dopler seeking help with struggles at home, she recalled, and some remain connected to her family to this day.
But in early 1995, Dopler says she was forced out after flagging the inappropriate behaviour of a civilian instructor, who eventually retaliated with a complaint against her.
LISTEN: Doug Elliott, lead lawyer for the LGBT class action, joins Kelly Cutrara
Her commanding officer dismissed that complaint as groundless, but the complaint went up the chain and a confrontation ensued between Dopler’s commanding officer and his own superior officer.
“And this commander looked at him and said, ‘She’s a goddamned dyke and I want her out.’ What that commander didn’t know was that the man he was speaking to was also gay, but he was very deeply closeted.”
Dopler pushed back, submitting a grievance, and was eventually vindicated. But at that point, she felt she had to leave. Everyone knew what had happened, and she no longer felt safe.
She said she hasn’t thought about it “in a lot of years.”
“The biggest, strongest most positive part of my identity had been taken away from me,” Dopler said, her voice shaking with emotion. “And I kinda felt like, if I can’t be that, then who the hell am I?”
Dopler said she’s heard government apologies before, and she’s unsure how she’ll feel about Trudeau’s apology on Tuesday. She still feels she needs to “tread carefully” when it comes to her sexuality, and many people did not survive what happened to them as a result of government-led LGBTQ bigotry.
“Sometimes an apology is enough, but an apology that doesn’t have action behind it becomes meaningless,” Dopler said. “The action, I don’t know what it needs to look like.”
Earlier Tuesday, the government introduced legislation which, if passed, will allow the expungement of criminal records belonging to people convicted of consensual sexual activity with same-sex partners.
The government is also putting $250,000 toward community projects to combat homophobia and provide support for people in crisis, and plans a commemoration in 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of the federal decriminalization of homosexual acts.
It has also earmarked $110 million to compensate members of the military and other federal agencies whose careers were sidelined or ended due to their sexual orientation, part of a class-action settlement with employees who were investigated, sanctioned and sometimes fired as part of the so-called “gay purge.”
As part of the settlement, the government will also pay an additional $20 million for legal fees and administration and devote at least $15 million more for projects that will “promote collective reconciliation and remembrance,” including museum exhibits, a national monument and possible archival projects.
“The number 1 job of any government is to keep its citizens safe. And on this, we have failed LGBTQ2 people, time and time again,” Trudeau said in his remarks, using an acronym that includes reference to Indigenous people known as “two-spirit.”
“It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say: We were wrong. We apologize.
“I am sorry. We are sorry.”