A firefighter has won compensation after enduring abuse and equipment tampering at a Halifax naval base because he is gay.
The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal says the unidentified man was subject to “multiple incidents of traumatic events” while a firefighter for the Department of National Defence.
The man, now in his 50s, was a military and civilian firefighter at the base. He filed his appeal with the tribunal in February 2012 after his initial claim was rejected.
During a hearing last month, he testified that he endured insulting and humiliating comments, was threatened with physical assault, and on one occasion discovered that part of his protective equipment – his breathing apparatus – had been tampered with.
“The worker discovered that his breathing apparatus . . . had been tampered with so as to allow outside air, gases and smoke to enter his facemask directly in the event of a fire,” the ruling says.
The tribunal also said the worker testified that co-workers posted gay pornography in his dorm room.
Appeal commissioner K. Andrew MacNeil said he accepts the worker’s testimony as a credible, “believable narrative” and notes that no contrary evidence was provided by any party.
MacNeil said psychological reports are in “essential agreement” that the worker suffered a psychological disorder caused by his workplace experiences.
“It is remarkable that the worker remained in the workplace as long as he did, and even more remarkable that the treatment to which he was subjected was allowed to continue through to the worker’s departure from the workplace,” wrote MacNeil.
The tribunal allowed the appeal and directed the Nova Scotia Workers’ Compensation Board to “assess the benefits payable in relation to the claim.”
A spokeswoman with the compensation board said there would be no appeal of the tribunal’s ruling, which has since been implemented by the board.
The ruling follows a Federal Court case last March in which former navy sub-lieutenant Paul Ritchie asked for a judicial review of a Canadian Human Rights Commission decision to dismiss his claim of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
A December 2014 report from commission’s investigator concluded that, as the military itself admitted, Ritchie was at times treated differently as he studied at the Naval Engineering School in Halifax.
The report alleges Ritchie overheard a commanding officer refer to him as a “faggot” while speaking to another officer and that the Canadian Armed Forces submitted that the incident was non-corroborated and was never reported to them at the time.
The report found that even in cases where Ritchie was treated differently, there was no conclusive evidence it was due to his sexual preference. The court’s decision was reserved.
Gary Kinsman of the We Demand an Apology Network believes the cases are symptomatic of a military that still has work to do to shed a “deeply rooted” homophobic culture that saw gays driven from the ranks up until a 1992 court ruling.
Kinsman said that history coupled with the hierarchical top-down structure still presents problems for those working for change.
“That requires a fundamental process of transformation of how the military ranks are educated and how the military is organized and that has not been undertaken,” said the retired Laurentian University professor.
“As long as they are not going to challenge the fundamental roots of where these problems come from, there will continue to be problems like this in the military.”
In an email Capt. Chris Sutherland, the commander of Canadian Forces Base Halifax, said the military couldn’t comment on a particular case or incident because of privacy legislation.
But Sutherland said the Canadian Armed Forces has a harassment free workplace policy and the base has a Positive Space Working Group that meets to address issues that might arise with the LGBTQ community.
“We are working hard to ensure that we have a harassment free workplace,” he said. “This type of alleged behaviour is simply not tolerated in our workplace.”