When Wayne Davis embarked on his RCMP career in 1965, he was fulfilling a childhood dream that would take him across the country, and eventually, into a dark part of Canada’s history that is often left in the shadows.
For Davis, it brought a swift end to an 18-year career as a staff sergeant. In fact, homosexuality was illegal in Canada during his first two years with RCMP.
“I was promoted again and moved to Toronto, where my career came to a screeching halt in 1985,” Davis, who was closeted at work at the time, recalled.
“I was called into administration one day, and they said ‘someone saw you in a gay bar. Why were you in a gay bar?’ I guess I could have said I was there with a gay friend- but I was tired and a little bit defiant. I simply said ‘I was in a gay bar because I’m gay.'”
The often abusive and degrading tactics are summarized in a documentary called The Fruit Machine; named for a failed device commissioned to detect homosexuality.
Michelle Douglas was enjoying early career success in the Armed Forces when she went through a disturbing investigation.
“One day my boss came to see me. He said we had an investigation to attend to. The next thing I know, I was dropped off at a hotel room where I was interrogated for days by military police officers about my sexual orientation,” Douglas said.
“It was devastating. It was an incredibly hard period of time.”
She would go on to successfully sue the military in a landmark 1992 case that ended Canada’s formalized ban on LGBT people in the armed forces.
In the decades since, the pair are proud to see 2SLGBTQIA+ rights progress.
Douglas was in the House of Commons for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology for historical mistreatment of LGBTQ2 Canadians.
“It was a measure of justice I didn’t get long ago. It was a long journey, no question about it. Some of the reflections from the past are still very difficult for me to think about today. But I’m an optimist. I also know how lucky I am to live in Canada, where change is possible.”
While Davis describes himself as a ‘newborn activist’ that was skeptical of the apology, it quickly came to hold a special place in his heart.
“You apologize for the Head Tax, Japanese internment, aboriginal residential schools- what does that serve,” Davis mused.
“That shocked me, how meaningful it was to me.”
“Apologies mean something. Apologies are the start of righting a wrong.”
UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity Jacq Brasseur says education about topics like the purge is important to continue to tackle systemic issues.
“Every day I talk to LGBT people who have not been invited for second interviews after being seen, I’ve heard stories of people whose workplaces have become hostile for them and there’s almost a feeling of having to resign.”
“I just hope what people take away from this is learning more about Canadian history and about how LGBT people have been persecuted by the Canadian government and have more conversations about how transphobia and homophobia, at a systemic level, still exists.
Douglas and Davis will speak at the University of Regina on Friday night before speaking at CFB Moose Jaw on Saturday.
They’re also urging other survivors of the purge to apply for compensations and other reparative measures before April 25th as part of a major settlement with the federal government.
In a 2016 national class-action lawsuit, the government of Canada was sued for its role in the Purge. Over $100 million from the settlement is reserved for compensating LGBTQ+ people who were victimized, while another $15 million is for historical reconciliation, education, and memorialization projects.