Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal a chilling record.
During the 1950's and 1960's the RCMP conducted wide spread under-cover investigations of individuals employed in the public sector who were "suspected, alleged or confirmed" to be homosexuals. Thousands of individuals were investigated, interviewed or asked to inform on others. Thousands were terminated or otherwise encouraged to resign in all sectors of public employment, from the military to the Post Office.
These documents may be divided into two categories:
2) RCMP surveillance of gay liberation groups.
Following the Criminal Code Amendments in 1969,
which decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two consenting
adults, while some investigations of individuals continued, the focus
shifted to surveillance of organizations.
One of the more bizarre aspects of the RCMP's National Security Campaign was the notorious "FRUIT MACHINE". In 1980, Doubleday published John Sawatski's fascinating account of the Fruit Machine, Men in the Shadows, which included an account of the RCMP's investigative approach. According to Sawatski, one approach was a technique known as pupilary response: the examination of the human eye to measure how the pupil changed in size in response to visual stimulation. It was thought that if a person saw something that provoked his interest, his pupils widened. The technique was in vogue in academic circles at the time, although for purposes other than to measure sexual tendencies. The RCMP adapted the technique with the assumption that a picture of a nude male would have the same effect on a male homosexual.
Unfortunately the information available to us under the Freedom of Information Act does not allow us to access the actual images which the RCMP used in their pupilary response test for homosexuality. However, I surmised that they probably used the images most widely available at the time. While homosexuality was illegal in Canada, and elsewhere, and the topic highly repressed in mainstream media… nonetheless there was a popular photographic genre of the male nude that flourished in the 1950's called the "Beefcake". The beefcake publications in of the 50's and 60's, some of which had a circulation of 40,000 in the United States, were in constant battles with government censors.
The full extent of the National Security investigations of homosexuals has never really been a matter of public knowledge. As well, exceptions to the Freedom of Information Act also make any full public scrutiny of this history difficult. But while the RCMP investigations were secret, there were widespread rumors within the subculture of the gay community. Following the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada, one of the early demands of the emergent gay liberation movement (see section2, OUT OF THE CLOSET) was to know if the RCMP was conducting investigations into homosexuals working in the public sector.
Often the public record is expunged of traces where state investigative powers have trampled on human rights. These documents provide an opportunity to examine and reflect on the state practices that reinforced homophobia and violated human rights of lesbians and gay men; practices that included the application of psuedo scintific methods of research to enforce social and sexual control over individual's lives. These state practices and the social attitudes underlying them proved difficult to challenge.
What is fascinating is the process by which these formerly TOP SECRET RCMP documents stand as 'fact', as 'materials in a criminal investigation' - in contrast to the public tensions and conflicts over issues of censorship, sexual rights and freedoms. Often the public record is expunged of traces where state investigative powers have trampled on human rights and made a practice of the application of pseudo scientific methods of research to enforce social and sexual control over individuals' lives. These documents provide an opportunity to examine and reflect on the state practices that reinforced homophobia and violated the human rights of lesbians and gay men. These state practices proved to be very difficult to reform.
The legacy of treating gay men and lesbians as criminals continued to affect public policy for many years following the National Security Campaigns. One of the underlying themes of Stand Together is this tension between police repression and the emerging lesbian and gay rights movement's challenge to that repression, urging gay men and lesbians to come out of the closet and build a community and a political movement for change.
For more on police repression and the gay community see section 3, OPERATION SOAP, the police code name for the raid on Toronto gay steam baths on February 5th, 1981; the largest mass arrest in Canadian history since the War Measures Act.
Following the publication of the McDonald Commission Report in 1981, an investigation into RCMP wrongdoings, Federal NDP MP Svend Robinson called for the destruction of the records on individuals investigated by the RCMP throughout the 1950's and 1960's echoing a demand of the gay liberation movement from 1971. Whether or not this was done is also not something easily verifiable.
To this day, most of those investigated by the RCMP have not spoken publicly about the impact on their lives. No one to my knowledge has ever been compensated for loss of employment, or mental anguish.
I am indebted to Professor Gary Kinsman (interviewed in Stand Together) for his ground breaking research on the National Security Campaigns. See: Kinsman, G., Buse, D.K., and Steedman, M. (eds). (2000). Whose National Security? Canadian State Surveillance and the Creation of Enemies. Toronto, ON: Between the Lines Press, 320p.
The "Fruit Machine" (6:17:04)
The project team compiled a program of conventional psychological tests…lists of common words or phrases …and questionnaires intended to identify the homosexual by responses given to everyday choices. One approach was a technique known as pupillary response: the examination of the human eye to measure how the pupil responded to visual stimulation. The subject sat in a chair... above him hung a camera suspended from pulleys and pointed to his pupils. In front was a black box with a fluorescent screen and a projector.
The practice of measuring pupillary response proved to be more complicated than anticipated. A series of technical problems frustrated project leaders… rumors were leaked, participants were wary… and eventually the Fruit Machine project collapsed. "