On today’s date in 2019, a $1 circulation coin was issued to mark the 50th anniversary of a series of Criminal Code amendments that led to the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada.
The coin was unveiled by the Royal Canadian Mint at The 519, a community organization located in the heart of Toronto’s Gay Village that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTQ) communities.
The unveiling of the coin, which combines the words “EQUALITY-ÉGALITÉ” with the signature work of Vancouver artist Joe Average, was “very meaningful,” Mintmaster Marie Lemay told CCN.
It was the world’s first coin to honour LGBTQ rights.
“It’s a really important milestone, and I think, with commemorative coins, if we can get people talking and having deep conversations about our histories and values, that’s what it’s all about,” said Lemay, who added part of a coin’s purpose is “to educate.”
“There’s so much we need to learn about our past to be able to move forward, and with the coin being in everybody’s pockets – and people asking what is this – people have opinions, and different opinions, which is good because then you can have conversations about it.”
The new issue, which will see three million coins released into circulation, “is embodying what I would see the Mint doing, pushing the discussion forward,” Lemay said.
Designed by Average, the coin’s reverse is a stylized celebration of equality viewed through an LGBTQ2 perspective: two overlapping human faces are shown embracing within a large circle.
Average’s early interest in drawing and photography led him to dedicate his life to his art when he was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1984.
His image of two intertwined faces reflects gender fluidity and the spectrum of genders and is left open to interpretation: they may belong to two individuals or they may represent different aspects of one’s identity.
Inset between two semi-circular lines, the reverse inscriptions include “EQUALITY” to the lower left of the whole face and “ÉGALITÉ” covering the bottom right and neck of that face, above the left eye of the whole face.
There’s also a security mark consisting of a maple leaf within a maple leaf, which will be within a double circle. On the outside of the large circle are the inscriptions “CANADA,” “2019,” “DOLLAR” and “1969” to the top, right, bottom and left of the coin, respectively.
The reverse designer’s initials, “JA,” are between the inscriptions “2019” and “DOLLAR.”
DECRIMINALIZED IN 1969
In 1965, Everett Klippert became the last person in Canada to be arrested, charged, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for gross indecency prior to the passing of the aforementioned Criminal Code amendments.
A mechanic working in Pine Point, N.W.T., Klippert acknowledged his homosexuality during police questioning in connection with an arson investigation. Although he wasn’t involved in the arson, Klippert was arrested and charged with four counts of gross indecency for admitting to having recent consensual homosexual relations with four adult men.
He was deemed “incurably homosexual” by a court-ordered psychiatrist and sentenced to “preventive detention” as a dangerous sexual offender.
Klippert’s appeals, including one to the Supreme Court, were later dismissed.
On Nov. 8, 1967 – one day after Klippert’s conviction was upheld – New Democratic Party leader Tommy Douglas invoked Klippert’s name in the House of Commons and asserted homosexuality should not be a crime.
Within six weeks, then-justice minister Pierre Trudeau presented the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69 (Bill C-150), an omnibus bill that, among other things, decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults.
The amendments passed, and homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada in 1969; however, Klippert remained in prison until July 1971 (and eventually died in 1996 before being posthumously pardoned).
“It’s certainly the most extensive revision of the Criminal Code since the 1950s, and in terms of the subject matter it deals with, I feel that it has knocked down a lot of totems and overridden a lot of taboos and I feel that in that sense it is new,” said Trudeau in 1967.
“It’s bringing the laws of the land up to contemporary society, I think. Take this thing on homosexuality. I think the view we take here is that there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation. I think that what’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code. When it becomes public this is a different matter, or when it relates to minors this is a different matter.”
The government of Trudeau’s son – the current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – approved the design of the new $1 circulation coin in December 2018.
Its approval follows legislation belonging to the younger Trudeau’s 2017 apology to LGBTQ Canadians for prior discrimination, including the widespread use of the “fruit machine” during a government-run campaign to eliminate homosexuals from the civil service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the military.
Trudeau’s apology included a budget of $145 million, $110 million of which will go towards compensation for LGBT civil servants whose careers were affected by discrimination. Another $15 million is earmarked for historical reconciliation, education and memorialization.
The obverse of the “Equality” coin depicts Susanna Blunt’s effigy of Queen Elizabeth II with the initials “SB” on the bottom left-hand corner of the neckline.
The inscriptions “ELIZABETH II” and “D G REGINA” are to the left and right of the effigy, respectively, with beading around the circumference of the coin, which has a diameter of 26.5 millimetres.
The design was developed through a collaborative process that included the Mint, the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Privy Council Office’s LGBTQ2 Secretariat. The Toronto-based advocacy group Egale Canada, as well as the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, were both consulted for the coin’s design.
“For the past 50 years and beyond, Canadians have fought for their right to love, marry, start a family and live openly as their most authentic selves,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who’s also the MP for Toronto Centre.
“The ‘Equality’ coin recognizes their triumphs and encourages all of us to build a better, more inclusive Canada – because like the coin itself, the more equality we have in Canada, the richer we all are.”