A high profile Mountie is opening up about a dark chapter in the RCMP’s history.
Corporal Elenore Sturko is a proud member of the LGBTQ community and also a media relations officer in Surrey. That's not a title or job description that would have been possible for her 30 years ago.
Thousands of gay Mounties were forced to quit their jobs in what's now known as the LGBT Purge.
Sturko has now written a book reconciling her family’s history with that purge.
“PAANIALUK: The tall one: Remembering Sergeant Dave Van Norman” tells the story of Sturko’s great uncle, Dave Van Norman.
"He was an extraordinary member. Beyond his service, just an excellent person,” said Sturko as she flipped through her uncle’s journal.
He was one of her inspirations for becoming a police officer.
"My family actually has quite a history in the RCMP. My four great uncles all joined the RCMP. It started with my Uncle Dave in 1947."
Van Norman was stationed in northern Canada in the 1950s.
He immersed himself in the local culture of Pond Inlet, journaling what he saw in notes and pictures.
Van Norman had an impressive career – even receiving the Queen's Coronation Medal – but it was cut short in 1964.
"He was forced to resign in part of what's known as the LGBT Purge, where people who were homosexual were expunged from government service because of the belief that gay people pose a national security risk,” Sturko explained.
It was something her family didn't talk about for many years, until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a historic apology for the purge in Parliament in November 2017.
Victims of the purge were awarded $145 million in a class action lawsuit against the federal government.
Sturko and her wife were in Ottawa for the apology.
"Sitting together, shoulder-to-shoulder with people who were deeply impacted,” recalled the Surrey Mountie.
Wayne Davis was one of those people.
Davis was forced out of the RCMP in 1985 after he was seen inside a gay bar.
He says he was devastated, but didn't fight it.
"I think I was just exhausted from being in the closet," Davis said. "The closet is a very small place to be."
Stories like his inspired Sturko to publish her uncle's journal.
The LGBT fund granted her $17,000 dollars to bring her vision to life.
Davis says the project makes the story come full circle.
“The story of the two Mounties," he said. "I mean, it’s pretty ironic that her great uncle is fired for being gay and she is now the public spokesperson for the RCMP in the largest detachment in Canada."
PAANIALUK is for sale on blurb for $25 a copy.
“It's not for profit; all the proceeds of the book are going to be taken to the north,” said Sturko with a smile.
It’s a place near to her family’s heart.
"Being able to see Dave remembered and hopefully being able to create a new ending to his story is really healing and rewarding," she said.