LGBT discrimination class actions against federal government merge

Military members and civil servants have merged class action lawsuits seeking damages from the federal government for anti-LGBT discrimination that led to employees being interrogated and fired for their sexual orientation.

Group includes people fired in 'LGBT purge' after Canada decriminalized homosexual acts in 1969

Todd Ross was discharged from the navy in 1990 after being given a polygraph and forced to admit he was gay. He is part of a class action lawsuit on behalf of ex-civil servants and military members. (Submitted/Todd Ross)

Lawyers working on three separate class actions against the federal government seeking damages for military members and civil servants who were fired for being LGBT have merged their cases.

The lead plaintiffs in the class are Todd Ross, Martine Roy and Alida Stalic, who were representative of the classes in different lawsuits filed late last year.

Each of them served in the Canadian Armed Forces, where their lawyers allege they faced interrogation about their sexual orientation and were pressured to inform on other military members.

Roy was in her early 20s when she was handed a dishonourable discharge in 1985. She told CBC Thursday she was interrogated for four hours about her sexual orientation and required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine if she was "normal." 

"I was so destroyed, my self-esteem. Because you get kicked out for something that you have no power over that has nothing to do with your skill and your work ethics," she said.

Former soldier Martine Roy, left, who was dishonourably discharged because of her sexual orientation in 1985, is now part of a class action lawsuit launched by members of the LGBT community. (CBC News/Contributed)

It left her worried about being identified as homosexual in future workplaces. She eventually turned to drugs and ended up in rehab two years after her discharge.

"You have to understand, you get let go because you're a sexual deviant — who are you going to tell that to? Your parents? Your friends?" she said. "You feel like you're a bad, bad person, that you're horrible."

Despite homosexual acts being decriminalized in 1969, gay people were banned from serving in the military until 1992 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the policy unconstitutional.
Alida Satalic was interrogated and had to undergo a medical examination to determine whether she met with the military's definition of being homosexual when she worked as a postal clerk at CFB Trenton. She accepted a release from military service designating her 'Not Advantageously Employable' in 1989, according to court documents. (Supplied/LGBTPurge.com)

Audrey Boctor, a lawyer with Montreal-based law firm Irving Mitchell Kalichman, said some civil servants have already come forward though they aren't among the representative plaintiffs.

"We know that this extended beyond the Armed Forces and a lot of times it would be under the pretext of some kind of security concern," Boctor told Mike Finnerty host of CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"It was people who needed a security clearance and it was linked with this notion that somehow LGBT public servants were a security risk."

Class could include 'thousands'

Boctor said the class action could involve thousands of people; one of the previous classes was estimated to include as many as 9,000 people. The class includes people who experienced discrimination after June 27, 1969, the date homosexual acts were decriminalized.

The law firms representing the class have launched a website for people to learn about the "LGBT purge" and to reach out to possible members of the class.

Boctor said the lawsuit is seeking punitive and moral damages for the violation of charter rights, along with compensation for financial loss and psychological harm.

One of the previous class action filings that has now merged into this pan-Canadian lawsuit was asking for $600 million in damages for cases outside of Quebec. There was no figure for damages in Quebec because litigation laws are different there.

The firms representing the class are Cambridge LLP, Koskie Minksy LLP, Irving Mitchell Laichman LLP and McKiggan Hébert. 

The Liberal government is planning an apology to the LGBT community for the past discrimination, but it's unclear when it will act. A report presented to the Liberals in June 2016 by the human rights group Egale, urged the government to examine how to compensate those who had suffered past discrimination. The organization said such a plan could involve individual compensation, funding for programs and services, or a mixture of both.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak