50 years of progress

Decriminalizing homosexuality was a critical first step for sexual and gender minorities, but we were still a long way from acceptance. People continued to suffer discrimination based on their sexual orientation. The past 50 years have brought significant progress, namely the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental diseases, and the introduction of several legal protections.

Did you know?

Until 1992, Canadian military personnel had to swear and sign a statement that they were neither drug addicts, communists nor homosexuals. In 1992, Canada abolished that prohibition.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the first part of the Constitution Act, 1982, was instrumental in the progress of rights for LGBTQ2+ people. Canada’s provinces and territories all have laws to protect human rights.

However, it must be noted that this progress did not materialize by magic. It stemmed in large part from constant work by groups defending the rights of LGBTQ2+ people, and from numerous legal decisions in their favour.

Homosexuality is no longer a disease

1973 – The American Psychiatric Association (APA) no longer considers homosexuality a form of mental disease. Thus it has been removed from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is used as the reference for health care professionals in North America.

The World Health Organization (WHO) only struck homosexuality from the list of mental diseases on May 17, 1991, officially removing it from the international classification in 1992.

Immigration opens the doors to homosexual people

Between 1953 and 1977, homosexual men were not permitted to immigrate to Canada. The legislative amendment lifting this prohibition came into force on April 1, 1978.

Prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation

It took 20 years for sexual orientation to become a prohibited ground of discrimination in every jurisdiction in Canada.

1977 – The Province of Quebec was the first jurisdiction in North America and the second society in the world, after Denmark, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation by entrenching it in Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which came into effect on June 28, 1976.

The other provinces followed suit:

1986 – Ontario
1987 - Manitoba and Yukon
1991 - Nova Scotia
1992 - New Brunswick
1993 – Saskatchewan
1995 - Newfoundland
1998 - Alberta and Prince Edward Island

In Canada

1996 – The protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation is included in the Canadian Human Rights Act (the Act).

1996 – The Criminal Code is amended to impose a harsher sentence when a crime is motivated by prejudice or hate against sexual orientation.

Prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity or expression (transgender people)

What is meant by gender identity or expression?

Gender identity is “our deeply held, internal sense of self as masculine, feminine, a blend of both, neither, or something else. Identity also includes the name we use to convey our gender. Gender identity can correspond to or differ from the sex we are assigned at birth.”

Gender expression is “how we present our gender in the world and how society, culture, community, and family perceive, interact with, and try to shape our gender. Gender expression is also related to gender roles and how society uses those roles to try to enforce conformity to current gender norms.”


Over a span of 15 years, these notions were introduced in every jurisdiction in Canada as prohibited grounds for discrimination.

2002 - Northwest Territories (gender identity only)
2012 - Manitoba (2012 gender identity – 2016 gender expression implicitly included) – Ontario – Nova Scotia
2013 - Prince Edward Island – Newfoundland and Labrador
2014 - Saskatchewan (gender identity only)
2015 - Alberta
2016 - British Columbia – Quebec
2017 - Nunavut – Yukon – New Brunswick

In Canada

2017 – The Canadian Human Rights Act is amended to include the prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity or expression.
2017 – The Criminal Code is amended, including a harsher sentence if the offence is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression.

Sample applied prohibitions of discrimination

2017 – Introduction of IDs without gender specification in Ontario
2017 – Option for Canadians to identify gender an “X” (for “non-specified”) on their official documents
2017 – Option of obtaining a birth certificate identifying gender as neutral or non-binary in Newfoundland and Labrador

Apologies and reparations

For many years in Canada, people in communities such as LGBTQ2+ were victims of discrimination, persecution, violence and abusive arrests because of their sexual orientation. After demands and favourable rulings from different courts, the LGBTQ2+ community accepted the apologies and compensations offered. 

Toronto – In June 2016, 35 years after the raids on saunas where police arrested close to 300 people, Toronto’s Chief of Police, Mark Saunders, officially apologized to the LGBTQ2+ community.

Montréal – In August 2017, Montréal Mayor Denis Coderre and the city’s Chief of Police, Philippe Pichet, apologized for past actions by the police against the LGBTQ2+ community (raids on bars, violence, abusive arrests).

Calgary – In July 2018, Calgary’s Chief of Police, Roger Chaffin, apologized for his police force’s lack of respect and compassion towards the LGBTQ2+ community.

On November 28, 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly apologized to the LGBTQ2+ community, in particular to the public servants and military personnel, for the persecution and discrimination they suffered because of their sexual orientation. Compensation will also be provided.

Read the full speech by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau .

The purge

Between 1950 and 1990, the Canadian government spied on people suspected of belonging to the LGBTQ2+ community, penalized them, demoted them or forced them to resign. Why? There were a combination of factors: the environment created by the Cold War with the Soviet Union, Canadian government concerns about national security and the conviction at the time that members of the LGBTQ2+ community were more vulnerable to blackmail and, therefore, more likely to disclose State secrets.

On June 28, 2018, Bill C-66 came into effect, establishing a procedure for expunging certain historically unjust convictions. As a result, anyone with previous criminal conviction related to homosexual practices could apply to have that record cleared.