Canada to compensate 718 gay-purge victims in class-action settlement

The settlement was a cornerstone of a sweeping federal apology delivered in November 2017

Some victims of the federal government’s gay purge were so devastated by the experience that even decades later they needed the help of a therapist to fill out forms to receive financial compensation, says the lawyer who led a successful class action.

Several claimants were still so mistrustful of the government after being investigated or fired for their sexual orientation that they worried the compensation process was an elaborate ruse to elicit information that would be used to punish them again, said Doug Elliott, who had to coax eligible people to sign on.

A total of 718 people — fewer than Elliott had anticipated — filed the necessary paperwork for compensation by last month’s deadline under a historic settlement that was finalized in 2018.

It includes at least $50 million and up to $110 million in overall compensation, with eligible people each expected to receive between $5,000 and $175,000, depending on the gravity of their cases. Some have already received their cheques.

READ MORE: $100M for ‘gay purge’ victims as Trudeau apologizes for discrimination

The settlement was a cornerstone of a sweeping federal apology delivered in November 2017 for decades of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.

Under policies that took root in the 1950s and continued into the early ’90s, federal agencies investigated, sanctioned and sometimes fired lesbian and gay members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and the public service because they were deemed unsuitable.

Many who kept their jobs were demoted or overlooked for promotions or had security clearances rescinded.

The campaign was driven by the notion that the ”character weakness” of homosexual employees would make them susceptible to blackmail in the tense climate of the Cold War.

“This thinking was prejudiced and flawed. And sadly, what resulted was nothing short of a witch-hunt,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in the apology in the House of Commons on behalf of the government.

When a judge approved the settlement in June 2018, Lt.-Col. Catherine Potts felt vindicated after the years of persecution she endured. “It’s truly a human-rights victory for all of us.”

The 718 claimants include 628 people who served in the Armed Forces, 78 public servants and 12 RCMP officers.

The group is disproportionately female, reflecting the fact considerable numbers of men died from AIDS and that men generally tend not to live as long as women do. The oldest claimant, who was kicked out of the Air Force in the early 1960s, is now 92.

Elliott had anticipated between 750 and 1,000 people would step forward.

However, some eligible candidates, including older people who were not active in the gay community, had not heard about the case.

But there was a bigger obstacle.

PHOTOS: New commemorative loonie marks progress’ for LGBTQ2 people

“The main problem was that people who were aware of the settlement were having tremendous psychological difficulties filing their claims,” Elliott said in an interview.

“We had to go to some extraordinary effort to encourage people to file and to support them through the filing process. Some people had to sit down with their therapists and complete the form in therapy sessions … That was a reasonably common experience for our claimants.”

Many were wary of the entire process.

“It’s hard to overstate the level of paranoia. A lot of people felt that it was all a trick and a trap, and they were going to lay bare their souls to the government, and the government was going to refuse to pay them and was going to use the information against them somehow,” Elliott said.

“These people are very damaged by their experience, and very mistrustful. Even the very well-adjusted ones live in a state of barely contained anxiety that something terrible is about to happen to them, particularly in the employment context. A lot of them fear that they’re going to show up at work, and they’re going to be suddenly fired.”

Many lost their jobs at young ages and had not come out to family about their sexuality, making it very difficult to explain what had happened to them.

Most of those purged did manage to get back on their feet eventually, Elliott said. But many went through prolonged periods of unemployment and suffered mental-health problems, addiction or homelessness.

One former Mountie burned his red serge.

Some never recovered from being shunned by the country they’d once taken pride in serving, Elliott said. “They’ve gone from one precarious job to another or simply been unable to work at all, because they were so shattered by the experience that they basically became unemployable.”

The settlement includes millions of dollars for reconciliation and remembrance measures, including a national monument to be built in Ottawa, a Canadian Museum for Human Rights exhibition in Winnipeg and declassification of archival records documenting the dark chapter.

Social gatherings are also being organized so purge survivors can meet directors of the commemoration fund. At a recent event in Vancouver, Elliott thanked those present for their service to the country. A woman came up to him afterwards in tears.

“She said that that was the first time anyone had said that to her,” he recalled.

“I cannot tell you the number of class members who have said, ‘I can’t believe someone’s finally listening to me.’ “

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Unicorns FC win JulyFest soccer tournament

Cranbrook squad earns third tournament title in five years

Residents living in two commerically zoned buildings evacuated

City fire department says both buildings are not up to code for residential occupancy

Local athletes promote Special Olympics Global Day of Inclusion

On July 20 Tim Hortons teamed up with the Special Olympics to raise awareness and funds

Cranbrook Bandits senior team wraps up season

The Bandits ended their district playoffs play with a 6-3 loss against the Twins

The last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Gwynne Dyer It has been suggested that Boris Johnson (who becomes the… Continue reading

VIDEO: Missing teens named as suspects in three northern B.C. killings

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky are wanted in the deaths of Lucas Fowler, Chynna Deese, unknown man

Memorial bench painted by Vancouver woman to stay in park for now

Park board to look at options for artistic enhancements on commemorative benches

VIDEO: Man found dead near B.C. teens’ truck could be linked to a double homicide

RCMP said they are looking for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, of Port Alberni

Weather Network’s anti-meat video ‘doesn’t reflect true story’: cattle ranchers

At issue is the video’s suggestion that cutting back on meat consumption could help save the planet

VIDEO: Young couple found dead in northern B.C. had been shot, police say

Chynna Noelle Deese of the U.S. and Lucas Robertson Fowler of Australia were found along Highway 97

Wrestling legend finds his wedding dance groove in B.C.

Professional wrestler Chris Jericho posted on social media that he was in Penticton recently

Horgan hints at Daylight Saving Time changes after record survey response

More than 223,000 online surveys were submitted in the government’s public consultation

Coroner investigating after body recovered from Okanagan Lake

Penticton fire department assisted the RCMP with the recovery of a body Saturday

Overdoses overwhelming in B.C. Interior

Part two: Who’s affected by the current opioid crisis

Most Read