Victims of the Canadian government’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender purge suffered in silence for many years but eventually, justice was achieved, Toronto lawyer Doug Elliott told seminar participants at Robson Hall Nov. 27, 2019. “Sometimes justice delayed is still justice.”
Canada had for a very long time a discriminatory policy that targeted employees in the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and the federal public service on the basis of their sexual identity and orientation.
During the Second World War, public sentiment about gay people in North America became secondary to their ability to contribute to the success of the war. It was a period in which people became openly gay and began to band together as a community. At the end of the war, hostility to gay people spiked in North America. This was a result of America’s obsession with uprooting communism and the Kinsey report that found 10 per cent of American males had engaged in sexual relations with other men.
These coupled with the discovery of a Russian spy in Canada created moral panics that erupted into a political movement in Canada. The movement was founded on the myth that gay people are likely to sympathize with communists or be blackmailed into spying on their countries. “Gay people were regarded as perverts, deviants, crazy and not to be trusted,” Elliott said. The LGBT community was viewed as a threat to national security.
Canada fired its first gay officer in 1952. Initially, the purge was limited to the Navy and the External Affairs department but it was later expanded to include civil servants in other government departments and agencies. The RCMP co-ordinated national security at this time and had 9,000 people under investigation on the charge of alleged, suspected or confirmed homosexuality.
Michelle Douglas’s discrimination case against the military marked the official end of the policy in 1992. However, members of the LGBT community unfairly dismissed, shamed into resigning, demoted or denied opportunities were uncompensated for the discriminatory and traumatic experience. The LGBT purge class action lawsuit was filed to correct this injustice.
Wanting to avoid the embarrassment a court case would bring, the government immediately opted for a settlement. A final settlement agreement received court approval in June 2018. The settlement included financial compensation for all victims; individuals were entitled to receive between $5,000 and $100,000 together with Canadian Pride Citation, personal letters of apology and access to their records. Additional sums were allocated for victims who suffered psychological trauma or sexual assault. A purge fund was established to support curation of a museum exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, create a national monument and work with the government to enhance LGBT inclusion.
Is there any plan to ensure that the government is more representative or that laws altered during the purge are changed?
Under the terms of the settlement, government is required to create or improve existing training on LGBT inclusion in government departments and agencies. The purge fund is also engaging the community to encourage a connection between purged victims and LGBT civil servants currently working in government departments and agencies.
What is your advice for law students who are interested in marginalization advocacy?
Lawyers can make a difference and their skill sets can bring social change. Do what you love, be optimistic and passionate for change and remember that “human rights are a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t expect results overnight.”
How were you able to get people to sign up as plaintiffs to be the faces of the class action?
You must carefully and wisely find your representatives, understand their grievances and be realistic with expectations.
Listen to podcasts from seminars in this series.