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Politics Former military members who were discharged over sexuality launch class-action suits

Martine Roy was dismissed from the military in 1984 after being labelled a sexual deviant because she is a lesbian.

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Frustrated by inaction from Ottawa, former members of the Canadian military who were discharged because of their sexuality are launching class-action lawsuits against the federal government.

The plaintiffs seek redress for members of the Canadian Forces and the federal public service "who were investigated, targeted, sanctioned and/or who were discharged or terminated by the Government of Canada because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression," according to a statement of claim deposited Monday in Quebec Superior Court.

A similar statement of claim was deposited in Toronto, representing plaintiffs in the rest of Canada.

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Two representative plaintiffs – Martine Roy for Quebec and Todd Ross for the rest of Canada – and their lawyers will announce the lawsuits at a news conference on Parliament Hill Tuesday. The Globe and Mail was informed of the lawsuit in advance.

Read more: As Germany moves to right wrongs of anti-gay policies, Canada lacks plan

John Ibbitson: Ottawa behind schedule in redressing past persecution of homosexuals

Separate lawsuits are being filed because Quebec's legal system is based upon France's civil law, whereas the other Canadian provinces and territories use common law.

Egale, a national organization representing sexual minorities, issued a report in June that called in part for an apology and redress for members of the military and public service who were persecuted because of their sexuality.

Although the Trudeau government promised swift action on the report, it has delayed announcing its plans.

"The victims are fed up," said Douglas Elliott, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the rest of Canada. "They're an aging population; they are struggling with the psychological impact of this problem."

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Beginning in the 1950s, security agencies sought to identify suspected homosexuals serving in the military and public service, including government agencies such as the CBC and the National Film Board. The investigations continued until the 1990s, when the Mulroney government ordered an end to the practice.

At one point, the RCMP had the names of 9,000 people on file. Those targeted were subject to dismissal, demotion or other punishment. Many simply left the military or the public service rather than face investigation.

Ms. Roy was dismissed from the military in 1984, after being labelled a sexual deviant because she is a lesbian.

"Ms. Roy lost the opportunity to pursue her career in the military, to rise through the ranks, to earn benefits and a pension," the statement of claim asserts. "She experienced severe emotional trauma, which continues to this day. She struggled for years with drug addiction, underwent intensive therapy, had difficulty maintaining relationships and lived with the constant fear and anxiety that she could not be her authentic self, lest the same thing would happen again."

Ms. Roy said in an interview that she decided to pursue the lawsuit because "we've been waiting and waiting and waiting," for the government to respond to demands for an apology and redress.

A growing number of women and men have come forward to tell their stories of discrimination by their own government to the media.

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"But then they go home, and they go back to feeling rejected, humiliated, judged," Ms. Roy said. "They still have to wait, after 30 years."

Last week, an investigative program on the French-language TVA network delved into the traumatic experiences of former members of the Canadian Forces who were discharged because of their homosexuality.

Former corporal Lucie Laperle said the interrogation in which she was asked whether she was a lesbian was akin to "torture," stating "the Armed Forces ruined my life."

Ms. Laperle said she never recovered, even after being sent to the psychiatric wing of a hospital for two months.

The media coverage has brought together dozens of people who suffered from the military's treatment of homosexuals, said Brigitte Laverdure, a veteran who is now helping other retired members of the military to obtain social services.

Ms. Laverdure said many victims of the purge are traumatized and, in some cases, dealing with PTSD.

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"They are giving the government until Christmas to come up with an apology and a plan for redress," before taking their own legal action, Ms. Laverdure said.

When asked to comment, the government referred to comments from Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who told reporters last week that the issue of past discrimination in the military based on sexuality was "very important, not just to national defence but to a wider government context as well. More is being done." He was not, however, more specific.

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