One of Metro Vancouver’s most visible police officers is asking people to keep an open mind — and an open dialogue — as the debate over law enforcement presence at Pride heats up again.
On Wednesday, the Vancouver Pride Society expanded its ban on uniformed police officers at its events, implemented in 2017, to include all law enforcement officers in any formal participation.
The move came amid the growing national conversation on racism and police use of force.
That same evening, Cpl. Elenore Sturko, the media spokesperson for the Surrey RCMP — Canada’s largest RCMP detachment — posted to Twitter, describing herself as “disheartened” by the move.
Hundreds of people have since interacted the tweet, many passionately, on both sides of the debate.
Sturko told Global News she’s made a point of not muting any of the replies.
“Nobody at this point knows the way forward, and that’s OK, but we need to listen to each other,” she said.
“I also urge other police officers not to become defensive about it. This is a time of listening and hearing perspectives. I was just giving my perspective as a police officer.”
Sturko says she’s proud to be a Mountie, knowing full well that the organization has a troubling past when dealing with the LGBTQ2 community.
Her great uncle, Sgt. Dave Van Norman, was forced out of the RCMP in the 1960s for being gay in what is now known as the “gay purge.”
“It’s not in that distant of our past that police were responsible for enforcing discriminatory laws,” she said.
“And now here I am, an out lesbian, and I’m not only serving in the RCMP, but I also have been chosen to be a spokesperson for the RCMP.”
Sturko believes one of the key drivers to change within the institution has been activism, both inside and outside the organization.
She said LGBTQ2 officers like herself are an important part of making that change, both when it comes to helping educate colleagues, and when it comes to being visible in the community.
“When I wear my uniform at community events like pride … it’s not only to support the community, but it’s also to role model diversity and inclusion in the RCMP.”
Michelle Fortin, co-chair of the Vancouver Pride Society says police may not be welcome at the parade for the time being, but they’re always welcome in the conversation.
She said the decision to exclude police was made after lengthy discussions within the LGBTQ2 community, which included recognition of the strides Vancouver police have made in their relationship with the community.
But she said other voices, including Black, Indigenous and people of colour, were also loud and clear that they still don’t feel safe around police.
She pointed to comments from the RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki earlier this week suggesting systemic racism does not exist within the force as an example of the problem.
Lucki has since walked those comments back and apologized.
“We’re open to the conversation. The parade is a different thing. The parade is for allies and for people that are doing the work,” said Fortin.
“Let’s have the dialogue, lets support VPD and RCMP to do that work, and we will, 365 days a year. But when it comes to the parade, the one thing that is ours for the community, our community says not now.”
Sturko says she understands that perspective, and says she wouldn’t describe the Pride decision as a step backwards in the relationship between police and the LGBTQ2 community.
“I think it’s a step to the side where someone else is now being helped with their issues moving to the forefront,” she said.
“I just wish that we could be there together.”