OTTAWA — A new commemorative loonie is sparking concern among academics and advocates who fear it could perpetuate myths about Canada's treatment of lesbian, gay, transgender, queer and two spirited persons.
The Royal Canadian Mint will unveil the new one dollar coin in Toronto next week as it joins government departments and agencies to mark "50 years of progress for LGBTQ2 Canadians."
A spokeswoman said Tuesday the mint takes great pride in celebrating Canada's culture, history and values, adding that 50 years ago, Parliament passed an act that "initiated the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada."
The mint is largely informed by the Department of Canadian Heritage and its "anniversaries of significance", the spokeswoman said.
However, York University historian Tom Hooper said Tuesday that legal reforms unveiled in 1969 did not amount to decriminalization and charges for consensual gay sex among adults went up in the ensuing decades.
"Normally, I would expect decriminalization means a reduction in arrests," he said. "This is the opposite."
Hooper, who is part of a network of activists and academics seeking to examine myths surrounding the 1969 Criminal Code reform, said he doesn't have the ability to counter the message of about three million coins expected to be produced.
"Ultimately this coin is stamped in metal and I can't change that," he said in an interview.
He said he would prefer to see a celebration of the first national demonstration on gay and lesbian rights held on Parliament Hill in 1971.
"That protest was held on the second anniversary of the 1969 reforms coming into effect," Hooper said.
"Our community called for an actual decriminalization at that protest. So I would recommend that they would make a coin based on that protest."
It would have been meaningful had the federal government indeed repealed gross indecency in 1969, he added, noting it may very well have prevented the historic Toronto bathhouse raids from happening by police on Feb. 5, 1981.
Helen Kennedy, executive director for the advocacy group Egale Canada, said the commemorative coin should be taken with the spirit with which it is intended, which is to commemorate a "significant moment" in Canada history.
"I think it is really important of the discourse of Canadian history to mark this occasion and to have these conversations to know that we still have a lot of work to do for full inclusion in Canadian society of marginalized groups," she said.
There is room in the conversation for academic historians to point out issues, Kennedy added.
"These are important issues and I don't want to (in) any way undermine the value that they bring to the conversation," Kennedy said. "I also want to take a moment to commemorate the significance of the moment."
—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter