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Tensions remain high after Quebec human rights decision

Gordon Lusk will appeal decision to Superior Court, lawyer says

An elderly Montreal gay couple won a homophobic harassment suit against their neighbour at the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal on Jan 17.

In its 40-page decision, the tribunal ordered Gordon Lusk, 57, to pay Roger Thibault and Theo Wouters $12,000 for moral and punitive damages after subjecting them to homophobic comments, including “fucking faggots,” death threats and invitations to fight during a 2004 quarrel.

The case against the retired Canadian Forces lieutenant-colonel stems from an incident in which Thibault allegedly drove recklessly down a Pointe Claire street while neighbourhood children, including Lusk’s son, were playing road hockey. This decision comes after Lusk was acquitted in a criminal court in 2006, where charges were filed and dropped after he promised to keep the peace and donate $500 to a community organization.

Fo Niemi, executive director of Montreal-based Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), says this decision is a sign that society is not only intolerant of homophobia, but that attitudes “have to change.”

“It serves as a reminder to the judiciary of the whole where society does not condone hate-motivated acts when it’s about sexual orientation. Homophobia should be seriously sanctioned. If you lose your temper in the public place or threaten to beat people up, this sends a message that it’s not all right. There are still people who think it’s okay to shout ‘faggot’ in a public place,” says Niemi.

Stephen Angers, Lusk’s lawyer, says the tribunal unfairly used Lusk to set an example.

“For two out of three incidents, [Lusk] was found not responsible. For the third incident, I felt this tribunal was not objective. They had a mission. From the start, we felt we would not have a fair trial,” says Angers.

Angers says he tried to declare the plaintiffs “vexatious litigants.” In 2001, Thibault and Wouters complained of harassment from their neighbour Bob Walker. Criminal charges were laid and a 4,000-person anti-homophobia march was organized through their neighbourhood. A year and a half later, Walker was acquitted.

“They’re unwelcome not because they’re gay. They’re trouble. They follow people, put them on camera and make up things. I have a gay brother who is godfather to my daughter. I’m surrounded by gay people. I have nothing against gays. But in this case, I hope they’re not used as representatives of the gay community. They would sue anyone for any reason,” says Angers.

During the trial, Lusk, who served in the Canadian Forces for 21 years and retired in 2000, said:

•    his military training taught him “If people have a problem, they should, if at all possible, discuss it and resolve it among themselves”;

•    that he “received many years of “tolerance training – how to deal with the minorities, the sexual orientations, whatever that exist within an organization”;

•    “His job was to protect all in his regiment from harassment, be they heterosexual or homosexual, and he was very well trained in this aspect”; and

•    “His personal physician of 25 years is homosexual, as is his massage therapist. He has never had any homophobic feelings towards them nor towards anybody else.”

The tribunal didn’t buy it.

Thibault and Wouters did not reply to an email request for an interview.

Thibault and Wouters were the first gay couple to wed under Quebec’s civil union law. Over the years, they have experienced much hate-motivated harassment and vandalism at their home, which they have lived in since 1978. After many attempts to seek police protection and prosecution of persons involved in these acts, they sought CRARR’s help in 2003. In 2007, the Quebec Human Rights Commission awarded the couple $10,000 in damages after a neighbourhood teen threatened them, toilet-papered their trees and set off a firecracker on their property.

In the most recent decision, Wouters and Thibault originally asked for $20,000 but received $12,000. The judgment is accruing interest. Angers says Lusk wants to appeal, which would take the case to Quebec Superior Court. The higher court will decide whether or not to hear the case in the next few months.