Ottawa faces class-action lawsuit over fired LGBT civil servants

The Trudeau government is about to be hit by a class-action lawsuit involving former public servants and members of the military who lost their jobs because of their sexual orientation.

Doug Elliot, a longtime gay rights activist and Toronto lawyer, is leading the case, which will be announced Tuesday on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

The Liberal government is planning an apology to the LGBT community for the past discrimination, but it’s unclear when it will act.

One of the outstanding questions is whether the apology will be tied to some form of compensation.

Gay and lesbian civil servants were driven out of the Canadian military and public service beginning in the 1950s, but the practice continued after homosexuality was removed from the Criminal Code in the 1960s.

Garrison wants records revised for pre-1992 LGBTQ kicked out of military1:05

A report presented to the Liberals last June by the human rights group Egale only urged the government to examine how to compensate those who’d suffered past discrimination. The organization said such a plan could involve individual compensation, funding for programs and services or a mixture of both.

Last week, the House of Commons defence committee voted unanimously for the Liberal government to amend the service records of LGBT ex-military members who were given dishonourable discharges because of their sexual orientation.

Canada’s military ombudsman estimated that such an order would affect up to 1,200 service members.

The military directive specifically banning homosexuality in the ranks was passed in an overhaul of the system in 1976.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that members were required to consent to discharge because of their sexuality. Those that did not agree were allowed to remain but had career limitations put in place.

Policy not overturned until 1992

That policy was not overturned until 1992, when the courts ruled the ban on gay soldiers was a violation of the Charter of Rights.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan wouldn’t commit to restoring the service records of those who were kicked out, saying the decision must be made in lockstep with other government departments.

Officials involved in the lawsuit declined to comment late Monday, but it is expected to involve at least two former members of the military. A class-action lawsuit must be certified by a court before it can proceed.

Martine Roy told interviewers last spring that she went through hours of interrogation about her sexual orientation. She was dishonourably discharged in 1985 for homosexuality.

A former sailor, Todd Ross, told the Globe and Mail newspaper last summer that as a 19-year-old he was strapped to a polygraph machine and forced to admit he was gay to his interrogator.

Ross was later discharged from the navy. After he was expelled he says he was depressed and contemplated suicide.

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