The Fruit Machine at the War Museum in Ottawa (Picture – Fran Rilley)
In the 1950s and 1960s, gay men and lesbians were seen as more than just a social problem, they were also viewed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) as a national security threat. Cold War paranoia was high in Canada, and anything that resembled ‘otherness’ was deemed a threat to security. Homosexuals were labeled as such because of their ‘character weakness’. This weakness, according to the RCMP, was that they were unstable, self-deceiving, defiant towards society, and should not be entrusted with any government work which required secrecy. Therefore, homosexuals working with the federal government were easy targets to blackmail by Soviet agents, and could potentially reveal state secrets to the enemy.
This translated into reporting on men and women in the civil service, the majority being in Ottawa. The RCMP were looking for a more thorough way to detect homosexuals, or in the old slang ‘fruits’. In 1962, Professor F. Robert Wake, of Carleton University, created a report on a “fruit machine” said to be an efficient and scientific way of detecting homosexuals. The machine would detect the pupil response, breath and heart rates of a subject viewing naked or semi-naked images of women or men. Based on arousal levels, the participant was determined to be either gay or straight.
It was hoped that this would become part of a myriad of homosexual detecting tests for those applying to the government. Starting in 1963, it was used on unsuspecting volunteers who were told it was part of a research study. It was a failure: there were few volunteer test subjects, and the machine was hard to use as it has to be adapted for people with different heights, as well as differently sized pupils and eyeballs. Information about what the test was actually for was leaked and volunteering stopped all together. The “fruit machine” project was ultimately abandoned in 1967.
However, the anti-homosexuality campaign continued, and the negative effects on gays and lesbians cannot be overly stressed. Over 9000 People, including gays, lesbians and some straight civil servants, were harassed, questioned and targeted by the RCMP. Many lost their jobs in government or were demoted. Others were blackmailed into revealing others who were gay or lesbian. They lost friends and respect from co-workers, or worse. The Fruit Machine is a relic now of our nation’s shameful treatment towards a group of its own people.
Gary Kinsman, “Character Weaknesses” and “Fruit Machines”: Towards an Analysis of the Anti-Homosexual Security Campaign in the Canadian Civil Service, Labour / Le Travail, Vol. 35, (Spring, 1995), pp. 133-161.
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25143914
CBC archives: http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/society/crime-justice/mounties-on-duty-a-history-of-the-rcmp/rcmps-fruit-machine-to-detect-gays.html
Gary Kinsman and Patrizia Gentile. The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010