Harassment, dismissals date back to 1950s: lawyer
(Canadian OH&S News) — A group of LGBTQ individuals has launched a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, claiming decades’ worth of discrimination and persecution during their past employment as civil servants or military personnel. Many of them allegedly lost their jobs in a longtime purge of homosexual employees dating back to the 1950s.
Toronto lawyer R. Douglas Elliott, a partner with Cambridge LLP, announced the suit in Ottawa on Nov. 1. Headed by lead plaintiff Todd Ross, the group is reportedly seeking restitution of $600 million from the Justin Trudeau government.
“It’s really a systemic problem,” Elliott told COHSN. “It’s not a question of one bad apple, some supervisor that’s got a bad attitude, who’s acting out of character — it’s really a problem of the government having created a toxic work environment and really done very little to correct it. And certainly nothing at all to redress the injury.”
Elliott explained that the lawsuit stemmed from his involvement with gay-rights charity Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, which had released a report about LGBTQ discrimination in the country’s justice system in June. “It revived a lot of strong feelings for people who had experienced persecution,” he said. “We’d hoped the government was going to move on it, but they didn’t, and so we felt it was necessary to take action.”
Ross, a former sailor, has alleged that he was blackmailed out of the navy over his sexual orientation in 1990. “He had just turned 21,” said Elliott, “and he was told that he would be pushing a broom in some remote armed-forces base for the rest of his life as a private for life, or he could take an honourable discharge and get out.”
Lieutenant-Colonel Monique Goyette, a section head within the Canadian Forces’ (CF) directive of human rights and diversity, noted that the military had kept an administrative order on homosexuals in effect until 1986. “Unfortunately, some members were released due to being homosexual,” she said. “In the late ’80s, that changed.”
In 1992, the military’s anti-gay policy was ruled to be a violation of the Charter of Rights. “Since that time, homosexuals have served openly in the Canadian Armed Forces,” added Lt.-Col. Goyette. “We’ve had members who were homosexuals rise to senior ranks.”
Lt.-Col. Goyette said that she had seen a lot of changes in the CF culture of tolerance over 30 years of service. “At the time, the CF was basically following what other government institutions were doing,” she said. “Society probably was less accepting as well, the CF being a representative of society. Of course, we’ve improved.”
Elliott disagreed with the latter claim. “There’s still a problem of homophobia in the Canadian military. There’s still a problem of homophobia in the RCMP,” he said.
Discrimination and persecution in federal workplaces have taken many forms over the years, ranging from bullying and harassment to extreme interrogations and other actions “that are more appropriate for Mr. Putin’s regime than Canada, in my opinion,” according to Elliott. “People were red-circled, they were packaged out.”
He considered the continued discrimination to be a legacy of the Cold War era, when LGBTQ people were considered unreliable, morally corrupt or apt to prey on colleagues. “It’s kind of a very bizarre kind of stereotype that has persisted,” he said. “It’s left a legacy of a poisoned work environment to this day in some sectors in the federal civil service.”
But Lt.-Col. Goyette maintained that the culture in the military, at least, had changed a lot since the 1990s.
“We strive for an environment that is free from harassment and discrimination, and in cases where that fails, there are fallback mechanisms that members have access to,” she said. “All CF members, if something happens to them, there are complaint mechanisms that are internal to the CF.
“Anybody that can contribute to the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Armed Forces is welcome,” said Lt.-Col. Goyette. “We do not discriminate.”