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'An emotional day': former naval operator accepts Trudeau's apology to LGBT Canadians

A former naval operator with the Canadian Armed Forces says he welcomes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apology to LGBT Canadians, 27 years after he was investigated for his sexual orientation and eventually discharged.

Todd Ross say he was interrogated about his sexual orientation while in the military and eventually discharged

Todd Ross, a former naval operator with the Canadian Armed Forces, received an honourable discharge in 1990 after he was forced to admit he was gay. (Submitted/Todd Ross)

A former naval operator with the Canadian Armed Forces says he welcomes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apology to LGBT Canadians, 27 years after he was investigated for his sexual orientation and eventually discharged.

Todd Ross is a lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit against the federal government seeking damages for military members and civil servants who were fired for their sexual orientation. He was in Parliament yesterday for the prime minister's apology.

"This was a shameful period in our history," Ross told Metro Morning's Matt Galloway on Wednesday. "This is something we need to document. We need to hear the stories."

"We have to ensure this type of thing doesn't happen again."

Trudeau delivered the historic apology to LGBT Canadians on Tuesday in the House of Commons in Ottawa. He said sorry for decades of "state-sponsored, systemic oppression and rejection."

Trudeau expressed shame, sorrow and deep regret to thousands of civil servants, military members and criminalized Canadians who endured discrimination and injustice based on their sexual orientation in the Cold War era.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wipes his eye as he delivers a formal apology Tuesday to LGBT people in Canada in the House of Commons. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The government will provide more than $100 million to compensate members of the military and other federal agencies whose careers were sidelined or ended from 1950 to 1992 as part of the so-called LGBT purge. 

"It was a very emotional day," Ross said. "It was great to be in Parliament and facing the prime minister, but it was also very emotional in that it was memories of what happened 27 years ago... and the trials that followed what happened with the military."

'It was extremely traumatic'

Ross joined the Canadian Armed Forces in the spring of 1988. He said a year later he was brought under investigation by the special investigation unit of the military police.

That questioning continued for a year and a half, he said. Officers would ask him if he was loyal to Canada, what he did in his off-hours, and asked him point blank if he was gay.

Ross repeatedly said no because he hadn't come out to himself yet. A few times, he said, he had to take polygraph tests to determine if he was lying.

"After about a year and a half of questioning, I was simply worn down and I admitted I was gay," he said.

Despite homosexual acts being decriminalized in 1969, people were banned from serving in the military because of their sexuality until 1992 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the policy unconstitutional.

After police wrapped up the investigation into Ross, the naval operator was told he would likely lose his security clearance. He was also given the option for an honourable discharge — an opportunity he "jumped at."

"It was extremely traumatic," Ross said. "I had thoughts of committing suicide. I made a couple of attempts, and to me — at the time — I felt there was nobody I could talk to. There was nobody in the military who I could talk to, because I wanted to remain in the closet."

"I felt shame and humiliation when I left the military, so I didn't want to tell anyone my story."

He said Trudeau's apology on Tuesday felt "very heartfelt."

"I never envisioned the moment that I would be sitting in Parliament — or that anyone would be sitting in Parliament — and hearing the government of Canada and the leaders of the opposition and the prime minister all speaking about that what happened was wrong and to issue that apology."

"It was extremely meaningful to me and it was extremely meaningful to the dozens of other people who were in the gallery yesterday."

Ross said the apology was also a beacon for the rest of the world, and it will help LGBT youth.

"I still carry the trauma of those moments. It's still difficult to talk about what happened, but it's a story that needs to be told."

With files from Amara McLaughlin and CBC Radio's Metro Morning

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