LGBTQ 'purged' from military, public service jobs file class-action lawsuits

'Our clients are crying out for justice and we can wait no longer'

Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters

OTTAWA – Todd Ross, 47, came out as gay to a stranger.

It was no ordinary stranger, either, but a military interrogator grilling him about his sexual orientation, with Ross strapped to a polygraph machine, seated in a chair facing a two-way mirror, a recording device capturing his confession.

“I had not even come out to myself,” Ross, who became suicidal as a result of the 1990 incident, said Tuesday as he began to cry.

“I knew an injustice was done. I knew it was not right.”

The story of how Ross was given an honourable discharge — the result of an ultimatum — from the Canadian Armed Forces, where he had served as a naval officer aboard HMCS Saskatchewan in the late 1980s, is contained in the statement of claim for one of two class-action lawsuits being brought against the Liberal government on behalf of LGBTQ people who say they were persecuted and forced out of their military and civil servant jobs.

“We have been waiting patiently for the federal government to take action to address these grievances, but so far we have just had kind words and no action,” Doug Elliott, a Toronto-based lawyer and veteran gay rights activist, said Tuesday.

“Our clients are crying out for justice and we can wait no longer.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to make a formal apology to people in the LGBTQ community for past discrimination sanctioned by the state, following a government-wide review of the related issues.

That is likely to include those who suffered after the military and federal government began pushing members of the LGBTQ community out of their jobs in the 1950s.

That “purge,” as Elliott called it, continued even after homosexual acts were decriminalized in 1969, following a Criminal Code review that saw Pierre Trudeau, who was then justice minister, famously declare: “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”

The military did not end its policy banning gay and lesbian people from service until 1992.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the apology will be accompanied by compensation, although the Liberal government has not closed the door on the possibility.

Elliott said the two lawsuits, filed Monday in Montreal and Toronto, are one way to push that conversation along should a negotiated settlement not arise.

The Ontario lawsuit is asking for $600 million in damages, while the Quebec statement of claim does not specify an amount.

Elliott said many of the people who would fall under the lawsuits, which have yet to be certified by a court, are getting older.

“I’m not going to have Mr. Trudeau apologize to a cemetery,” Elliott said. “We want people to get help now, and so we can do it in a nice way — in a negotiated settlement — or we can do it in a not-so-nice way, in court.”

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan did not directly address the compensation issue when asked about the lawsuit Tuesday.

“Diversity is an operational necessity in the Canadian Armed Forces and we are looking at a wider departmental initiative as a government in terms of how to address this concern, but a lot more work that needs to be done.”

Elliott had noted a 2015 report by retired Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps on sexual misconduct in the Canadian military had said there are still “strains of homophobia” affecting the culture.

“That culture has not changed enough in the military today,” he said.

Asked whether he had ever witnessed homophobia or transphobia when he served in the military, Sajjan noted he joined a long time ago.

“I got to see the — let’s put it this way — the evolution of the Canadian Armed Forces that is this openly accepting forces.”

Martine Roy, 52, was relatively new to the army when she was interrogated for nearly five hours before she admitted, at 19, to being confused and experimenting. She later received a dishonourable discharge for homosexuality and being a “sexual deviant.”

Roy said she has spent years helping others through her role with the organization Pride at Work Canada, but has come to the point where she feels like she cannot move forward until her own case is resolved.

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