Sudbury man kicked out of the Navy for being gay part of class action lawsuit

A Sudbury, Ont. man who was forced out of the Canadian Navy for being gay is part of a class action lawsuit against the federal government.

Lawsuit seeking an apology, a return of pensions and financial compensation

Bernie says he has gone back into the closet since being kicked out of the Navy in 1984 and is afraid of people finding out that he's gay. (Erik White/CBC)

Bernie was proud to be a sailor — and he didn't think it mattered what he did or who he was attracted to when he wasn't wearing his uniform.

"I was doing my job. I wasn't doing anything bad," said the 56-year-old Sudbury, Ont. man, who the CBC has agreed not to identify.

"Besides, I didn't want anyone to know," he continued. "It was my business, not theirs."

But it did matter. The military has many rules and at the time, being heterosexual was mandatory.

A Sudbury man CBC is calling Bernie who was kicked out of the Navy for being gay in 1984 is pictured with the ship's captain he served as a steward. (Erik White/CBC )

Bernie, who grew up in Sudbury and served seven years in the army reserves and the navy, was forced to leave a promising career in 1984.

He said he ended up homeless for a while, attempted suicide, eventually married a woman and had two kids, but "that didn't last."

"Pretty much stayed in the closet," Bernie said.

"And as one friend said to me: 'You're afraid people are going to find out you're gay.' You're absolutely right. I'm petrified of it."

He is now part of a class action lawsuit against the federal government, seeking compensation for the so-called "LGBT Purge."

One of the lead lawyers on that suit is Doug Elliott, who is originally from Elliot Lake, Ont. and has now moved back there with his law firm Cambridge LLP.

The class action was filed because, while the federal government and the military are aware of the impact of this policy, which was done away with in the 1990s, little was being done to correct past wrongs, Elliott said.
The document that officially ended the Navy career of a Sudbury man, the CBC is calling Bernie, when he was released for being gay. (Erik White/CBC)

"There was a lot of nice talk coming out of Ottawa, but no action," he continued.

"Particularly the people who were the victims of the purge, they're probably the people who have suffered the most from government persecution in the LGBT community, they were crying out for justice," Elliott said.

"It's not enough in my view to simply say we don't do that any more, because there are people like Bernie who are still suffering the consequences."
Doug Elliott is a lawyer with Cambridge LLP based in Elliot Lake. (Cambridge LLP)

Elliott said they don't have a firm number on how many people would be included in this class action, but added that his clients are seeking an apology, want their pensions back and some financial compensation.

"My experience with any government is that they're very much in favour of equality as long as it's free," said Elliott, who is a veteran of high-profile class action suits, including the Hislop case on same-sex pension benefits and the suit filed on behalf of victims of the tainted blood scandal.

The military declined to give CBC News an interview, but did provide a statement:

"The Canadian Armed Forces is aware that the government has been served with a class action lawsuit as stated in your request. 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."