1962- “The Fruit Machine”
Taking its lead from McCarthyism in the United States, the RCMP, during the Cold War, began purging homosexuals from positions in the Canadian Government. The government feared that gays in the civil service, military and RCMP were associated with Communism and were seen as threats to national security. Although there was very little evidence that homosexuals were actually targets of Soviet blackmail, many people lost their jobs.
RCMP policy was to fire all known homosexuals. An investigative unit of the RCMP called Section A-3, was set up to hunt down homosexuals. Informants would watch bars, theatres and parks for homosexuals and also ask other known homosexuals to be informants. An index of known and suspected homosexuals was compiled by the RCMP. In 1965, this index reached over 8,200 names in the Ottawa area alone. This method of investigating and indexing, proved costly and time consuming and in addition, even when identified, the RCMP could never be certain of the suspect’s sexual orientation.
The culmination of the Security Panel investigation was research in to the “scientific” detection of homosexuals. In 1962, Professor Wake, of Carleton University, created a report on a “fruit machine” said to be an efficient and scientific way of detecting homosexuals. This machine detected the pupil response of a subject viewing naked or semi-naked images of women or men. It was hoped that this would become a screening test for those applying to the government. This technology was based on a series of flawed assumptions and is a shameful chapter in Canadian history. The “fruit machine” project was ultimately abandoned in 1967.
Although the impact of the “fruit machine” research was relatively small, the purging of homosexuals from the Canadian government is emblematic of the Cold War era and the highly negative and discriminatory acts committed against members of the LGBTQ community during this time. Despite its significance, this event has effectively been erased from Canadian historical memory. Especially for students, this serves as an important event to remember the consequences of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
See the link below for a piece on the “fruit machine” from the CBC digital archives: