Beginning in the 1950s, LGBT members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the federal public service were targeted for systematic removal from these organizations. Using stalking, spying, harassment, and harsh interrogation tactics, an estimated 9,000 lives were negatively impacted in this practice—one that would continue for more than forty years. Today, it is known as the LGBT Purge.
CFB Borden recently recognized this dark spot in history. On 7 March, in conjunction with the Borden Pride Network, Defence Team members were invited to a screening of TVO documentary The Fruit Machine at the Terra Theatre, following a recorded opening message from Minister of National Defence, The Honourable Minister Anita Anand, as well as remarks from Commander of CFB Borden and Military Personnel Generation Training Group (MPGTG), Colonel (Col) Jonathan Michaud.
The documentary covers the history of the LGBT Purge with intimate and eye-opening interviews from survivors about their traumatic experiences, some of whom were among a group of advocates who attended the screening. Following the documentary, they shared more about their experience during and since the LGBT Purge, and what it meant for those who were returning to CFB Borden for the first time since their forced removal from service.
“I hadn’t been in Borden in over 40 years – the welcome I received is beyond words,” said Diane Pitre, an LGBT Purge survivor and Director of the LGBT Purge Fund Board.
Pitre was 18 years old when she joined the military in 1977. After completing her Air Frame technician training at CFB Borden and being posted at CFB Chatham the following year, she lost her security clearance on the suspicion of being a homosexual and was re-trained as a Supply Technician. Pitre’s bio on the LGBT Purge Fund website explains that after a two-year investigation, she was purged from the CAF and “was told that she was a threat to her country because of her sexuality.”
Along with other survivors and advocates, Pitre was among the small group present for a sod turning ceremony that same day at the CFB Borden Administration Building where a monument honouring LGBT Purge survivors will be constructed in the future.
“This monument will stand as a reminder of our collective history and our commitment to a better future,” said Col Michaud.
The Base Commander said the monument will encourage individuals to reflect on their role in the CAF and how they can contribute to culture change in the organization. It will be the first of its kind erected at a Canadian military base.
“It is incredibly significant that we remember what happened in Canada, and that this monument be a daily reminder of how quickly can be negative for so many,” said Todd Ross, one of the representative plaintiffs on the LGBT Purge Class Action lawsuit, and Director of the LGBT Purge Fund Board. “Thank you for letting the military today see the seeds of the change that is happening.”
In the summer of 2025, a national monument will also be located in Ottawa, funded by the class action settlement which was reached in 2018. The historic settlement included between $15 and $25 million for memorialization such as this and the monument at Borden, while up to $110 million was set aside for the payment of damages of the survivors of the LGBT Purge, according to the LGBT Purge Fund website.
“I was deeply touched by the warm welcome and gracious hospitality extended to the directors of the LGBT Purge Fund by Colonel Michaud, Chief Wilcox and their teams at CFB Borden, and by Borden Pride,” said Douglas Elliott, LGBT Human Rights Lawyer and the lead lawyer in the class-action lawsuit Ross, Roy and Satalic vs. Canada.
“It was an emotional journey for my veteran colleagues, and for me and my husband,” Elliot said. “It was reassuring to see the sincere efforts being made on the Base at memorialization and reconciliation, not because of any Court Order, but just because it is the right thing to do.”
“We cannot and should not hide from what has happened,” Col Michaud said in his remarks at the sod turning ceremony. “To all the survivors of the LGBT Purge who are here today, and to all those who are not, thank you. Thank you for sharing your stories and for all that you have done to help promote and create a better place for all of our members.”
To learn more about the LGBT Purge, watch TVO’s documentary The Fruit Machine on YouTube or visit the LGBT Purge Fund website.
By: Emily Nakeff, Editor