Elliot Lake, Ont., lawyer honoured for defending rights of Canada's LGBTQ military members
'I never dreamed that the law was going to help gay people,' says Douglas Elliott
It's now referred to as the LGBT Purge.
The dark chapter in Canada's history, stretching from the 1950s to the mid-1990s, saw LGBTQ members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and the federal civil service systematically discriminated against, harassed and often fired by their own government on the basis of their sexual orientation.
The policy has since been referenced by some as "state-sponsored homophobia, bi-phobia and transphobia."
In 2016, a historic, national class action lawsuit was launched against the Canadian government, citing its systematic mistreatment of LGBTQ military and government employees. A settlement was reached in June 2018 that said total compensation for military, RCMP and federal civil service members could reach $145 million.
I never dreamed that the law was going to help gay people because during most of my life,up until that point, it had been used to persecute us.- Douglas Elliott, lawyer
Now, the lead counsel on the case, Douglas Elliott, who grew up in the northeastern Ontario community of Elliot Lake, is being recognized by the University of Toronto's faculty of law for his work in defending the rights of Canada's LGBTQ community.
The $250,000 contribution from the non-profit LGBT Purge Fund aims to endow future fellowships at the law school in Elliott's honour. The R. Douglas Elliott Fellowship will fund graduate student work with public interest-oriented LGBTQ organizations, or research on anti-discrimination class actions that reference the LGBT Purge.
For Elliott, the recognition is welcome, but more than that, knowing he was able to use the law to get justice for his community has been "very satisfying."
"You know, when I was a kid growing up in Elliot Lake, it was very homophobic. I had to leave town, basically, to live my life authentically.
"I never dreamed that the law was going to help gay people because during most of my life, up until that point, it had been used to persecute us."
Elliott said much work still needs to be done with respect to how members of the LGBTQ community are treated within the ranks of Canada's military, RCMP and federal public service.
By them even mentioning, or thinking, or hinting at, or just throwing it out there as a weapon against you, you could be subject to an investigation and lose your job.— Lynne Gouliquer, LGBT Purge survivor
"There's terrible lasting impacts [from] the purge. There's still a culture in the RCMP and the Canadian Armed Forces that is still very homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic. It's going to take a long time to correct that because in 1992, they just changed the official policy.
"The same people who were persecuting gays and lesbians were still running the show. So we have a lot of work to do to try and correct those problems," Elliott said.
Lynne Gouliquer was a claimant in the class action, and while she kept her job for 16 years, mainly working as a weapons technician for the air force, she said she spent the whole time living in fear.
"You become very close in the military, and then all of a sudden these people start literally to disappear from your life," she said.
I do feel like there's fear there from the interviews that we've done. Life is better, but there's still things that need to be fixed.— Lynne Gouliquer, LGBT Purge survivor
"All they had to do was say, 'You're a lesbian, you're gay.' And that's the essence of the fear you lived because by them even mentioning, or thinking, or hinting at or just throwing it out there as a weapon against you, you could be subject to an investigation and lose your job."
Gouliquer is now an associate professor at Laurentian University in Sudbury. Since officially leaving the military in 1995, much of her academic work has centred on the military and the LGBTQ community. Some of her previous, unpublished research on the topic was even used in the historic class action settlement against the Canadian government in 2018.
Now, Gouliquer said, she's returning to the subject once again, this time to explore how the culture in the military has shifted since the purge. She's already begun interviewing LGBTQ soldiers and their partners on what life in the military looks like now.
"Basically what I can say is, things have changed. You know, it's a different story. The institution no longer has the legal right just to terminate you or investigate you.
"But just at a preliminary level ... fear is still there. We just haven't finished the study, so I can't really say more than that. But I do feel like there's fear there from the interviews that we've done. Life is better, but there's still things that need to be fixed."
Gouliquer said she hopes to gather upwards of 50 interviews with soldiers and their loved ones. She doesn't anticipate completing the interviews before the end of next year.
Lawyer fears 'revival of discrimination'
Even as the recognition for his work is welcome, and as Elliott acknowledges the significant accomplishments of the LGBT Purge settlement, some things keep him up at night.
"The thing that concerns me most is what I saw happening in the United States, that I see happening in Hungary today and in other countries where things are going backwards, where we're seeing a revival of discrimination and attempts to dismantle laws that protected LGBTQ people.
"It takes constant vigilance."