Report by MARCUS ROBINSON
Few people outside Canada will recognise the name Everett George Klippert. Indeed, so many years have passed since he was jailed simply for being gay, most Canadians would, until recently, have asked “who the heck was he?” if you ran his name past them.
But thanks to an initiative by the Canadian government to consider an apology and possible compensation and pardons for gay and transgender people who were discriminated against and sometimes jailed because of federal laws and practices, Klippert, who died in 2006, has been the subject of a number of media reports which left many shocked by the way gay people, and Klippert in particular, were treated in Canada before homosexuality was legalised in 1969.
Klippert was the last gay man in Canada known to be imprisoned on gross indecency charges and the only gay man in Canada to be deemed a “dangerous sex offender.” In 1960, he was convicted on 18 counts of gross indecency and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. Upon his release, he moved to northern Canada.
He was working as a mechanic in Pine Point, Northwest Territories in 1965 when he was picked up by police for questioning in connection with a case of suspected arson. Although he was found not to have had any involvement in the fire, Klippert voluntarily admitted to having had recent consensual homosexual relations with four different adult men. He was subsequently arrested and charged with four counts of gross indecency.
Back in February 2016, Michael Platt, writing for the Calgary Sun, reminded his readers of the “personal hell” the Calgarian suffered after “the popular bachelor bus driver was first forced into handcuffs and sent to prison, his only crime being a sexual preference for men”.
Justice Hugh Farthing, the judge who sentenced Klippert, then 33, to a four-year jail term, said “It is for the protection of the public.”
Platt wrote: “He was gay, and in 1960, that was no different in the public eye than being a paedophile or rapist: Klippert was not a sexual predator, but the courts treated him as one.”
By 1967, more “offences” as a consenting gay man saw the Calgarian declared a dangerous offender and jailed indefinitely. A court-appointed psychiatrist assessed Klippert as “incurably homosexual”, and Klippert was sentenced to “preventive detention” (that is, indefinitely) as a dangerous sexual offender. Klippert appealed to the Court of Appeal for the Northwest Territories; his appeal was dismissed. He then appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada; his appeal was dismissed in a controversial 3–2 decision.
Canadians expressed such outrage over that potential life sentence that the Canadian government was eventually forced to decriminalise homosexual acts in 1969.
“In a rather perverse way, the court declaring him a dangerous offender actually brought this whole thing to a head,” said Donald Klippert, Everett’s nephew. “If he hadn’t been slapped with dangerous offender status, he might have gone on forever serving short sentences of a few years, and then getting arrested again.”
Said Platt: “Klippert’s suffering as a pawn of the legal system meant no Canadian would ever fear prison over sexual preference again, but the change was too late for the former bus driver, who’d already spent close to ten years of his young life behind bars, finally being released in 1971.”
And he wrote: “Now is the time for Calgary to right that wrong – and if ever a citizen deserved to be commemorated by this city, it’s the man whose suffering in prison helped legalise homosexuality in Canada.”
Klippert shunned attempts by the gay community to turn him into a hero, because as always he just wanted to be left alone.
“But,” said Platt, “Klippert was and is a hero, albeit a reluctant one, and with the federal government finally righting this historic wrong, it’s time Calgary stepped up too.
“Whether it’s a statue, a bridge or a commemorative rainbow crossing, the name Everett George Klippert belongs in the public realm – and hopefully, that means his story and the lesson this country learned about intolerance won’t be forgotten.”
“I think that’s a nice idea to recognise the role he played,” said Kevin Allen, lead researcher with the Calgary Gay History Project. Allen has played an instrumental part in keeping Klippert’s legacy alive, and the upcoming pardon is a direct result of that work being picked up by mainstream media, including an article on Klippert by Platt last September. Allen says Calgary’s gay community has long wanted to honour Klippert in some way, and a local theatre company, Third Street Theatre, is working on a play based on Klippert’s life.
In November 2016, the Atheist Republic website reported that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had appointed Randy Boissonnault, a member of his Liberal government, to determine the nature of an apology and possible compensation and pardons for gay and transgender people who were discriminated against. Boissonnault became the first openly gay member of Parliament to be elected in Alberta.
In addition to the extreme Klippert case there were many instances of men and women who were fired or forced to resign from positions in the military and public service because of their sexual orientation. Boissonnault will also be in charge investigating those anti-gay actions.
Earlier, gay people were treated as a threat to national security. That’s why a group within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, known as section A3, began an extensive surveillance program in the 1950s. A psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa developed a “fruit machine” to determine public servants’ sexual orientation. “Fruit machine” is a term for a device that was supposed to be able to identify gay men (derogatorily referred to as “fruits”).
The subjects were made to view pornography; the device then measured the diameter of the pupils of the eyes (pupillary response test), perspiration, and pulse for a supposed erotic response. The “fruit machine” was employed in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s during a campaign to eliminate all gay men from the civil service and a substantial number of workers did lose their jobs – actually over 9,000 “suspected” gay people. A number of former public servants and members of the military are currently suing the government for compensation.
Boissonnault indicated that while an apology would come, he was unable to predict its timing, adding that he would first meet with people who faced discrimination. “When our government is ready to provide an apology, we want to make sure it is worthy of the community,” he said.
Egale Canada is an advocacy organization founded in 1986 to advance equality for Canadian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their families, across Canada. Helen Kennedy, the executive director of Egale, said that her group is willing to wait for an apology. “I’m interested in getting an authentic apology rather than a fast apology,” she said.