Nova Scotia

Gay former officer in Royal Canadian Navy claims he was forced out

A Nova Scotia man continues his five-year legal battle this week, appealing to the Federal Court for a judicial review of a Canadian Human Rights Commission decision. He hopes to prove the military discriminated against him based on his sexual orientation.

Paul Ritchie takes case to Federal Court after 2 investigations find no evidence of discrimination

Paul Ritchie will appear before the Federal Court of Appeal this week, alleging he was denied support, harassed, called a 'faggot' and compelled to quit the Canadian Forces 2:16

An openly gay former navy officer will appear before the Federal Court this week, alleging he was denied support, harassed, called a "faggot" and compelled to quit the Canadian Forces, all because of his sexual orientation.

Retired Sub-Lt. Paul Ritchie is seeking a judicial review of a Canadian Human Rights Commission decision. It's the latest step in a complex five-year legal battle that has pitted one man against the military.

"I was forced out," said Ritchie, who lives in Dartmouth, N.S. "There were definitely consequences for me, when I spoke up."

Treated differently from his peers

In 2008, Ritchie enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy. He became a sub-lieutenant and enrolled in a training course that would have helped fast-track his military career.

During his months of training, Ritchie says he documented several specific and general instances of harassment. However, two separate investigations have found no evidence of discrimination based on his sexual orientation.

Ritchie said he and an openly gay female member of his training course were ordered to work a full shift on the day before a long weekend. They were assigned "duty lockup" — closing and locking the windows and doors of their training building. Another member of their group was allowed to leave early.

"The two of us were both gay, he was not," Ritchie said.

A report would later conclude this incident was "not very serious" and was limited to one occurrence.

Extra test leads to failing grade

Part of Ritchie's training was at the Naval Engineering School in Halifax. Evaluations at the school are critical to a member's success in the military.

Personnel have not executed their functions with professionalism and some errors were made.- Director General of Naval Personnel

Ritchie and his classmates were given a different grading scheme that was not the proper scheme, according to an internal navy report. He was forced to take an extra exam, which weighed down his average mark and contributed to his eventual failure in the course.

"You were denied a reasonable opportunity for potential improvement," said a 2013 report by the Director General of Naval Personnel.

"Personnel have not executed their functions with professionalism and some errors were made," the director's report said.

The navy's report went point-by-point acknowledging Ritchie's grievance. Some of his requests could not be honoured, such as five days of leave, because Ritchie was no longer a member when the report was completed.

One of Ritchie's requests for redress was a formal investigation into alleged discrimination.

"I do not intend to order a formal investigation into the alleged ethical and policy breaches," the director's report said.

The military offered a formal apology and an adjustment of Ritchie's personnel record. Ritchie acknowledged the military's report, but took his complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

'This should shut the faggot up'

Ritchie's application to the commission included the accusation that a lieutenant-commander had called him a derogatory term. While the lieutenant-commander and another officer were discussing him, Ritchie alleges he overheard: "This should shut the faggot up."

Both officers have denied the comment was made.

The investigator assigned to Ritchie's case interviewed nine of his peers and superiors, including the officer who Ritchie alleges called him a "faggot."

"I wouldn't say that," the lieutenant-commander told the investigator.

The other navy officer who was in the room when the comment was allegedly made also said it did not happen. "Absolutely not," he told the human rights commission investigator.

The other navy officer added that he is openly gay.

Further inquiry is not recommended.- Canadian Human Rights Commission investigator

The investigator filed a 22-page report to summarize the findings. It stated Ritchie was mostly treated the same as other Canadian Forces members. Where there were discrepancies, they did "not appear to be a pretext for discrimination because of the complainant's sexual orientation."

"Further inquiry is not recommended," the investigator's report concluded.

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Request for judicial review

Ritchie wasn't happy with that decision.

He filed a request for a judicial review at the Federal Court. He hopes the court will overturn the decision by the human rights commission, and send his case directly to a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

He argues the investigation was flawed, inaccurate and based on an incomplete body of evidence. Ritchie says that should call into question the commission's decision to dismiss his case.

"The investigation itself was flawed because the information within the report was not accurate," he said.

Ritchie has now filed more than 1,700 pages of documentation to support his latest legal effort.

Documents filed at the Federal Court of Appeal by former navy officer Paul Ritchie. (Brett Ruskin / CBC News)

A lawyer for the military argues none of these new documents should be considered by the court. The new information falls outside the scope of a judicial review — the court can only rule based on information on hand at the time of the original decision.

"While the respondent [the military] recognizes that the applicant is self-represented, this does not vary the requirements of the law," a court document filed on behalf of the Canadian Forces says.

The court will hear arguments from both sides Tuesday morning.

The Department of National Defence declined an interview request, saying the case is before the courts.

Ritchie claims his treatment was part of a systemic problem of discrimination against gay members of the Canadian Forces.

One of the officers interviewed by the human rights commission investigator said sexual orientation in no way determines one's success or failure in the military.

"Being gay — it's not even a question we ask," he said.

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  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the court as the Federal Court of Appeal. In fact, the appeal was to the Federal Court. An earlier version of this story also said Richie was given a different grading scheme from his classmates. In fact, the entire class was not given the proper grading scheme.
    Mar 16, 2016 10:19 AM AT

About the Author

Brett Ruskin


Brett Ruskin is a reporter and videojournalist covering everything from local breaking news to national issues. He's based in Halifax.