The Defence Department says a painstaking review of dusty personnel files in the national archives may be needed to determine how many people were forced out of the military for being gay or lesbian.
The Trudeau government has signalled its intention to apologize to former military members, hoping to make amends to those who endured federal discrimination over the decades due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The policies had their roots in government efforts that began as early as the 1940s to delve into the personal lives of employees who were considered security risks.
However, inquiries to Defence — including a formal request under the Access to Information Act — reveal the department has no firm sense of the numbers affected between 1969, when homosexual acts were decriminalized, and 1992, when military restrictions on gays were lifted.
National Defence's human resources system does not include information on a person's sexual orientation, nor does it record the specific reason why a person was released from the Armed Forces, spokeswoman Suzanne Parker said in a written response to questions from The Canadian Press.
Due to these limitations, it is "impossible to provide a tight estimate" of the number of Forces members released between 1969 and 1992 due to their sexual orientation, Parker added.
A February 2016 briefing note to the senior associate deputy minister of defence, released under the access law, recommended that "further work be done" to determine the number of people discriminated against and whether the federal government should offer a redress package.
The government now faces a brewing class-action lawsuit in Federal Court that would cover members of the military and other federal agencies who were "investigated, discharged, terminated, sanctioned or faced threat of sanction" by the government after June 27, 1969 because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
The lawyers chose the date of decriminalization as the starting point because, since homosexual acts were illegal until that point, breaking a law would have provided the government with legal grounds for disciplining or firing employees.
The government is committed to conducting archival research to try to determine the number of people affected by the policies, Parker said. "It may entail pulling and reviewing every single personnel file from Library and Archives Canada to determine the circumstances of each case."
Todd Ross, one of the lead plaintiffs in the court case, joined the Forces in 1987 at age 18 and came under investigation by the military police. He eventually admitted being gay while attached to a polygraph machine, an experience that was incredibly traumatic, his lawyers plan to argue in court.
Ross accepted a discharge rather than spend the remainder of his naval career performing "general duties," with no hope for promotion or advancement, they say.
In 1967, the military issued Canadian Forces Administrative Order 19-20, "Homosexuality — Sexual Abnormality Investigation, Medical Examination and Disposal," which formally banned gays from serving.
Openly homosexual recruits were prevented from enlisting, and soldiers discovered to be gay were dismissed, says the heavily censored February 2016 briefing note. Any personnel who suspected another member of being gay or lesbian was required to inform a commanding officer.
The policy was loosened somewhat in 1988. The order to inform superiors was dropped and dismissal of homosexuals was no longer automatic, the note points out. However, those who did not quit upon discovery were denied access to promotions, security clearances and transfers.
The official military restrictions on gays were lifted in 1992 after it became clear they violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Defence records indicate that 43 Canadian Forces members were released under CFAO 19-20 between January 1985 and January 1988, says an internal draft note from March of last year, also disclosed under the access law. Between January 1988, when the interim policy came into force, and October 1992 when the policies on homosexuals were revoked, about 47 members were affected. Statistics prior to 1985 were not available.
However, another version of the draft note excludes the figures and says the number of people affected by CFAO 19-20 "is not known."
"Regardless of the numbers originally mentioned in the draft document, we are now actively trying to identify these individuals," Parker said.