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LGBT discrimination class action lawsuits against federal government merge

Last Updated Mar 31, 2017 at 1:56 pm EDT

Three separate class action lawsuits against the Canadian government over the alleged purge of LGBT persons from the military and the public service have merged into one.

Leading the pan-Canadian class action are Todd Ross, Martine Roy and Alida Satalic, who each served as members of the Canadian Armed Forces. They allege that during their time with the military they were investigated and interrogated about their sexual orientation by the military police and pressured to out other members of the LGBT community serving in the armed forces.

The actions have been termed the “LGBT Purge.”

The Canadian Armed Forces says it is aware of the class action suit and have not issued an apology at this point.

“The Government has been working hard with our partners in the communities to come up with solutions to many of the issues raised. We cannot comment specifically on the class actions as the matters are before the courts,” National Defence Public Affairs said in a statement. “Whether or not the Government issues an apology is a matter for Parliament to decide. No decisions have yet been made.”

Ross, who joined the military in 1987, became the focus of an 18-month investigation two years later. According to his lawyers, Ross admitted he was gay while hooked up to a polygraph machine and told he could “accept an honourable discharge or spend the remainder of his naval career performing ‘general duties,’ with no hope for promotion or advancement.”

“I was really devastated. I had not admitted to myself that I was gay so the fact that I had just admitted to a stranger, in a room, facing a two-way mirror, hooked up to this machine, that I was gay… I was just kind of a collapsed shell at that point,” he explained.

Todd Ross on the HMCS Saskatchewan in 1989. Photo courtesy: Todd Ross
Todd Ross on the HMCS Saskatchewan in 1989. Photo courtesy: Todd Ross

Ross said the shame associated with being forced to leave the military, as well as trying to explain to his friends and family what had happened, made him suicidal.

“I did try to commit suicide after that. I couldn’t speak to anyone. I was not out to anyone. If I was close to anyone I was told not to speak to them by the military police, and so I was really isolated and didn’t know what to do next.”

Ross’s original lawsuit was asking for $600-million in damages.

“We’re looking for recognition of what happened, for the government to go through the records and to do a thorough evaluation of the LGBT purge that happened here in Canada. We want that record public,” said Ross.

In 1981, at the age of 19, Roy joined the military. Despite having a boyfriend, an investigation was launched into her actions. She said she admitted to meeting a woman and, just two years after joining the military, she received a dishonourable discharge for being a homosexual.

In 1992, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the LGBT ban on military service was unconstitutional.

Satalic, a former postal clerk, claims she was mistreated and harassed while she was serving her country because she was a lesbian. Satalic joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1981 at Canadian Forces Base Cornwallis in Deep Brook, N.S., and served at three bases.

According to court documents, she said she was repeatedly interrogated by investigation units on the pretext of security screenings, and was asked about her sexual relationships in detail. Satalic claims she dropped out of the military as a corporal in 1989 after learning she had no career prospects, re-enrolled in 1993 and then left again years later.

It says after she told investigators about her sexual orientation, Satalic was given the option of staying in the military with no further training or promotions, or a release from service as “Not Advantageously Employable.”

The lawsuit is asking for compensation for all current or former employees of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Government of Canada or Federal Crown Agencies who were investigated, discharged, terminated, sanctioned or faced threat of sanction, by the Government of Canada because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, between June 27, 1969 – the day homosexual acts were officially decriminalized in Canada – and the present day.

“The LGBT Purge was implemented at the highest levels of the Government of Canada and was carried out with callous disregard for the dignity, privacy and humanity of its targets,” Douglas Elliott of Cambridge LLP, one of the lawyers representing the class, explained.

“The Purge caused tremendous harm to those affected, subjecting them to discriminatory, and humiliating treatment that demeaned their dignity and infringed their basic human rights.”

Ross said he believes the class action lawsuit could end up involving about 9.000 people from across the country.

The class is represented by Cambridge LLP and Koskie Minsky LLP in Toronto, Irving Mitchell Kalichman LLP in Montreal and McKiggan Hébert in Halifax.

With files from The Canadian Press