Nova Scotia

Retired military couple files human rights complaint against N.S. yacht club

A retired military couple has filed a human rights complaint against a Nova Scotia yacht club. The men say the LaHave River Yacht Club discriminated against them based on sexual orientation and on mental disability.

LaHave River Yacht Club denies anyone used homophobic slurs

Two men stand smiling in front of a dry-docked boat.
Bill Nickerson and Richard McLeod hope to mend relations with the neighbouring yacht club and get their boat back on the water. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

A retired military couple has filed a human rights complaint against a Nova Scotia yacht club. 

The men say the LaHave River Yacht Club discriminated against them based on sexual orientation and on mental disability.

The club says the accusations are false and it intends to contest them. 

Bill Nickerson and Richard McLeod served in the Canadian Forces on multiple tours of Afghanistan. McLeod also served in Pakistan. 

The couple retired and moved to Nova Scotia in 2017. They bought a boat, and then a home, next to the yacht club. 

Blue water laps against the shore in front of a small white building backed by lush green forest.
The LaHave River Yacht Club is right beside the couple's home on the river. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

"We knew that it helped our PTSD and it was a great recreational thing to do, moving to Nova Scotia," Nickerson told CBC News. 

They joined the yacht club and McLeod was soon volunteering on the executive. He served as vice-commodore at one point, but things soured last year. 

"Part way through the season last year, in July, I started noticing changes. I was starting to notice people making comments in front of me. Derogatory comments right out in public, right where I was sitting in front of everyone else, about being gay."

Members allegedly said "is it a boy or a girl?" about a staff member, as well as using a homophobic slur. McLeod objected. 

Two uniformed soldiers ride on a tank with Santa Claus.
McLeod rides with Santa Claus and another soldier during a Christmas delivery amid Operation Medusa in Afghanistan in 2006. (Submitted by Richard McLeod)

After that, McLeod and Nickerson say people started asking invasive questions about their mental health and questioning their military service. 

"Since then, we've had members throwing garbage on our property and across our ditch," McLeod said. "We had members urinating in the ditch right beside the house, we had a member that was continually bringing their dog onto our property to do its business."

The executive team at the club declined to do an interview, but Richard Foy, the club's commodore, emailed CBC News to say a lawyer has been retained and the allegations will be contested.

"We have two members who had behaved badly numerous times and their membership was terminated based on discipline procedures in our constitution," he said. "They have accused the club of many things, none of which are true, and we are looking forward to being able to set the record straight with the human rights commission."

A young man in a military uniform gazes at the camera under a shelter of leaves.
Bill Nickerson was deployed with the infantry on two Afghanistan missions. Here, the corporal is pictured at a forward operating base in Belanday. (Submitted by Bill Nickerson)

Nickerson said he tried to introduce a code of conduct based on one used by Sail Nova Scotia at the club's annual general meeting, but they would not hear his proposal. 

"We don't live in the 1950s anymore," Nickerson said. "We live in 2022."

In January, McLeod and Nickerson were told they'd been suspended for at least a year.

The club returned their fees and won't launch their boat. It's on dry land while they try to find a private way to get it into the water, which would cost thousands of dollars. 

McLeod said he faced anti-gay harassment in the military, but felt he had to live with it. 

"The yacht club gave us a very clear message. If we speak out, we're going to be punished. But I'm speaking out anyway," he said. 

"The best outcome would be that we're allowed to become members again, and the club is able to succeed, and that people can enjoy themselves over there, even if they're gay, and not be bullied or harassed." 

The human rights commission is expected to consider their case later this year. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jon Tattrie

Reporter

Jon Tattrie is a journalist and author in Nova Scotia.

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