Discrimination Against Gays and Lesbians

Did You Know?

Gay men and lesbians in Canada have experienced persistent patterns of discrimination and persecution.  They have:

  • Been treated as mentally ill and subjected to conversion therapies, including electroshock treatment
  • Been targeted by discriminatory laws, including criminal prohibition of same-sex practices
  • Not been permitted (until recently) to participate openly in the Armed Forces
  • Faced discrimination in employment and housing; and
  • Been the victims of hate-motivated crimes, anti-gay and anti-lesbian violence, and verbal harassment


  • 1969 - the federal government removed criminal sanctions against same-sex practices between consenting adults
  • 1977 - Quebec became the first province to prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians, followed by most of the other provinces during the 80’ and 90’s
  • 1979 - prohibitions on the immigration of gays and lesbians were removed
  • 1996 - the federal government amended the federal Human Rights Act to include a prohibition of discrimination against gays and lesbians
  • 2000 – the federal government passed legislation that gives same-sex couples who have lived together for more than a year the same benefits and obligations as heterosexual common-law couples
  • 2003 – MPs pass Bill C-250, which adds “any section of the public distinguished by sexual orientation” to the list of groups protected from hate propaganda (this bill received royal assent in 2004)
  • 2003 – Ontario and B.C. courts recognize same-sex marriages as legal and  the United Church of Canada votes to recognize same-sex marriages
  • 2005 – Canada becomes the fourth country in the world to recognize same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain
  • 2006 – With the recognition of marriage gays and lesbians are now able to sponsor same-sex partners on equal terms and steps were taken to accommodate the barriers created by the lack of recognition of same-sex marriage in other parts of the world
  • Recent changes in legislation and in societal norms have created a growing acceptance of families with same-sex parents, as well as the adoption of children by same-sex couples and awarding custody of children to gays and lesbians

Continued Discrimination

  • Gay and lesbian books and other forms of media continue to be censored despite court challenges
  • In criminal cases, homosexual advances have sometimes been treated as “provocation”, thus justifying a shorter sentence for an assailant, even when in similar heterosexual advance would not be treated in this way
  • The Criminal Code still discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, as the age of consent for anal intercourse is higher than for vaginal intercourse
  • Hate crimes directed at gay men and lesbians continue to be widespread

For a more complete Canadian timeline, a world timeline and for updates and more details on any of these issues, see EGALE Canada.