Military, DND face class-action lawsuit over alleged treatment of gays, lesbians
'There was a constant aura of intimidation and fear within the forces for anyone who was gay or lesbian'
A Halifax lawyer has launched a class-action lawsuit on behalf of homosexual members of the Canadian Forces and employees of the Department of National Defence who say they were targeted by the military because of their sexual orientation while serving in Atlantic Canada.
"There was a constant aura of intimidation and fear within the forces for anyone who was gay or lesbian. Because they knew that if ... their sexual orientation became public, they were at risk of being terminated," said John McKiggan, founding partner of the Halifax law firm McKiggan Hebert.
McKiggan filed the claim yesterday at the Federal Court in Halifax on behalf of representative plaintiff Alida Satalic.
An email from a Canadian Armed Forces official said DND was aware of the lawsuit.
"As the claim has only recently been served, the details are being reviewed to determine the next steps," wrote Major Alexandre Munoz, chief media operations.
'Not Advantageously Employable' release
According to court documents, Satalic joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1981 at CFB Cornwallis in Deep Brook, N.S., and served at CFB Borden, CFB Trenton and CFB Greenwood.
While working as a postal clerk at CFB Trenton, Satalic was interrogated by the Special Investigation Unit.
"They interrogated her in graphic detail, humiliating her and intimidating her," McKiggan said. "She was forced to undergo a humiliating medical examination to determine that she met the military's definition of a homosexual."
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According to the lawsuit, after admitting 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."
She accepted the release in January of 1989 and re-enrolled in the Canadian Forces in 1993.
Career, earnings impact
The statement of claim says Satalic suffered impacts to her career trajectory, earnings and pension.
It also says her experience affected her sense of self-worth, and has left her with anxiety, anger and fear of additional discrimination.
Through her lawyer, Satalic declined to comment to CBC News.
Through Satalic's claim, McKiggan hopes to certify a class action that includes military members and civilian DND employees with similar experiences.
The lawsuit spans the years 1969 to 1995, and applies to anyone who served in Atlantic Canada.
Canada decriminalized homosexual sex in 1969.
By 1995, McKiggan says the Canadian Forces had given up investigating the sexual orientation of its members.
$150 million lawsuit
The lawsuit is claiming $100 million for the federal government's breach of duty of care, fiduciary duty and violation of charter rights, plus a further $50 million in punitive damages.
"In our view, the losses that these men and women who just wanted to serve their country have suffered is incalculable. So the number that we've claimed is simply to reflect what we believe to be the magnitude of the losses that these people have suffered," McKiggan said.
McKiggan says he's been researching the case for six years, and has spoken to dozens of former CAF members who faced discrimination because of their sexual orientation.
He says it's difficult to determine how many people the class action will include, because it captures members who kept their sexual orientation secret for fear of losing their jobs.
But he estimates it could be more than 1,000 people in the Atlantic provinces alone.
Template for national settlement
McKiggan has considerable experience with large class-action lawsuits against the federal government.
He represented Mi'kmaq elder Nora Bernard, who was the first aboriginal person in Canada to sue the federal government for abuse and cultural losses experienced in the Canada's residential school system.
That contributed to an eventual national negotiation of a $1.9 billion settlement for all residential school survivors.
McKiggan believes this lawsuit could serve as a template for a larger national settlement.
He notes that class-action lawsuits have already been filed in other provinces for discrimination faced by homosexual military members, federal civil servants and the RCMP.
"The nature of the discrimination and the practices are very clearly identified within the military, so I think using the military claims as a stepping stone to a resolution of the broader claims is a manageable way to address it with the courts," he said.