OTTAWA — The Liberal government is facing Canada-wide class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of LGBTQ people who say they were persecuted and forced out of their jobs in the military and federal government.
"We have been waiting patiently for the federal government to take action to address these grievances, but so far we have just had kind words and no action," Doug Elliott, a Toronto-based lawyer and veteran gay rights activist, said Tuesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marches in the Toronto Pride parade in July 2016. (Photo: CP)
"Our clients are crying out for justice and we can wait no longer."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to make a formal apology to people in the LGBTQ community for past discrimination sanctioned by the state. It remains to be seen, however, whether the apology will be accompanied by compensation.
Elliott said the two lawsuits, filed Tuesday in Montreal and Toronto, are one way to push that conversation along should a negotiated settlement not arise.
$600M in damages in Ontario suit
The Ontario lawsuit is asking for $600 million in damages, while the Quebec statement of claim does not specify an amount.
Elliott said many of the people who would fall under the lawsuits, which have yet to be certified by a court, are getting older.
"I'm not going to have Mr. Trudeau apologize to a cemetery," Elliott said. "We want people to get help now, and so we can do it in a nice way — in a negotiated settlement — or we can do it in a not-so-nice way, in court."
The military and government began pushing members of the LGBTQ community out of their jobs in the 1950s, with what Elliott called the "purge" continuing even after homosexuality was no longer a crime.
'I'm not going to have Mr. Trudeau apologize to a cemetery'
The military did not end its policy banning gay and lesbian people from service until 1992.
Todd Ross, a former naval officer who is a named plaintiff in the Ontario class-action lawsuit, described Tuesday how he admitted he was gay to his interrogator while he was attached to a polygraph machine.
"I had not even come out to myself," Ross said as he began to cry.
Ross received an honourable discharge.
Martine Roy, a named plaintiff in the Quebec lawsuit, said she received a dishonourable discharge for her homosexuality, for which she was labelled a "sexual deviant."
"This is a trauma," said Roy, who at that time was 20 years old and had gone through hours of interrogation about her sexual orientation.
"After that, you don't know what you should do in life."
She said she has been helping others for the past decade, but has come to the point where she feels like she cannot move forward until her own case is resolved.
"I'm looking for (an) apology and redress."