In the United States, we like to think of Canada as a more liberal and all-around-nicer neighbor. It’s a country whose image errs on the side of not hurting anyone’s feelings ― there’s a reason all impersonations of a Canadian include the word “sorry.” Just because we look at them as progressive and ahead of the curve now doesn’t mean they were always that way.
Case in point: the “fruit machine,” Canada’s disastrous attempt to create a functioning, mechanical gaydar. Over the course of several decades, the government ran a campaign to rid the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the military, and other government offices of gay people, using this faulty machine as their proof. Along the way they compiled over 9,000 files on suspected homosexuals and ruined plenty of lives.
The fruit machine was built by Frank Robert Wake to aid in the mission of Section A-3, a subdivision of the RCMP created to root out gay people. The section was created as part of the paranoid wave of the ‘50s, where governments in the West were concerned about spies, leftists, and people they viewed as deviants undermining their countries from within.
To aid Section A-3’s perverse quest, Wake built a machine that measured subjects responses to imagery by checking the size of their pupils and pulse rate. Subjects were made to sit in a dentist-like chair and shown a series of images ranging from mundane to pornographic. If the subject had a certain response to images of gay men, they were assumed to be homosexual.
Subjects were told that the test was meant to measure stress. However, it wasn’t long before its true purpose got around and civil service members stopped volunteering to take the test.
Around 400 people lost their jobs as the result of “failing” the test, even though the test’s design was flawed on several levels. Besides the fact that the test being based on the faulty assumption that sexuality is binary, the actual administration of the test was sloppy. The camera that measured subject’s pupils wasn’t straight-on and didn’t take into account the differences in size between people’s pupils. The images shown were varying levels of brightness, causing dilation of the pupils regardless of their reaction to the image. And, of course, there was no actual evidence that people of different orientations would react differently to the images.
The machine had its funding pulled in the ’60s, but Section A-3 continued. They compiled nearly 10,000 files on suspected homosexuals before being shuttered themselves. Some estimates of the people affected by Canada’s decades-long attempt to purge the government of LGBT people claim that thousands lost their livelihoods and some were criminally charged.
Setting It Right
Those affected by the purge brought a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government and attorney Douglas Elliott — who is representing the plaintiffs — told VICE that they are in talks with the Canadian government about compensation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he plans to apologize to all victims of the efforts of the Canadian government near the end of the month.
“On November 28, the Government will offer a formal apology to LGBTQ2 Canadians in the House – for the persecution & injustices they have suffered, and to advance together on the path to equality & inclusion,” he wrote on Twitter.
Trudeau’s apology is expected to include both those affected by the purge and Canadians who were charged with crimes related to living as LGBT people during that time.
What do you think? Are you surprised that Canada would have this in their past? Are you glad they are trying to set it right? Sound off in the comments and don’t forget to SHARE this article.