Ottawa LGBT History: The 'Fruit Machine'

In the Cold War era, fears of communism and security reaches near paranoia, and queers, mainly gay men, were spied on and hunted out as so-called ‘security risks’, allegedly because of fears they could be blackmailed to tell government secrets.

The RCMP begins compiling a list of ‘gay vocabulary’ to root out queers in the Federal Government. Words like ‘flute’ are considered suspicious, as are pinkie rings and, oddly, driving a white convertible.

In the early 1960s, Dr. Frank Wake from Carleton University begins working with the RCMP and the government to develop scientific tests to identify homosexuals. One thing they developed was a test to measure the sweat on your fingers when showed erotic photos. But it was the ‘Fruit Machine’ that gained the most attention.

The machine attempted to measure interest in homosexuality by measuring the dilation of pupils when various images of unclothed men and women were shown among other photos. The experiments were largely unsuccessful because pupils will dilate when the eye is exposed to different intensities of light, and also because no one volunteered to ‘test’ the machine to gauge its effectiveness.

This didn’t stop the RCMP from bringing in suspected queers for questioning or threatening, or from spying on others to identify more people, even people working outside the civil service.

Around 1969, the RCMP brings in Ottawa’s most famous gay celebrity at the time, Paul Fournier, the man behind the drag persona Peaches Latour, to attempt to force him to identify gays. He recognizes many of the faces he sees in dozens of photo albums he's shown of suspected homosexuals. Feeling as an out gay hairdresser and drag artist that he had nothing to lose, Fournier refused to name names, even though he was called a traitor to his country.

The persecution of queers by the government and RCMP continues for nearly 50 years as late as in the 1990s, when the files were eventually destroyed, possibly to avoid lawsuits. Over 9,000 people were investigated, and as many as 400 people or more lost their jobs.

The community, to date, has not received an apology, though the Liberal government is committed to making one by the end of 2017.

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