“It started the night that I walked into the detachment,” the former Mountie said.
She’d arrived in Newfoundland in the winter of 1987, at age 27, after spending nine months in Ottawa, and reported to introduce herself.
In short order, she was offered a beer.
“I couldn’t believe there was a liquor fridge in the coffee room,” she said. “It didn’t match. To me, it wasn’t normal. At the time it struck me as being very, very odd. It wasn’t professional.”
That proved to be just the start of many incidents Butts deemed “less than normal.”
Over the next eight years, the dream that began when she was a young girl, of proudly donning the famous red serge uniform to help others, was shattered.
“There were a lot of very petty things that went on. But they were signs of a more serious, ingrained attitude,” she said.
From what she called outright sexism and sexual innuendo, to harassment in varying forms and a lack of support from her superior officers, it took a toll.
“We were afraid, we were intimidated.”
In late 1992, when she became pregnant during a long-term relationship, she was transferred to a smaller detachment.
There, Butts said her sergeant informed her that while he had requested an extra member because the detachment was overworked, “’The last thing I wanted, was a pregnant, female member.’”
And while she never witnessed any on-duty drinking, Butts said, after-hours alcohol consumption among members was a constant.
“There was a lot of drinking and I shared in that,” she said.
“And if I wasn’t working I was drinking. There was no plan or regulations around a healthy lifestyle or what to do.”
In 1994 she determined she had had enough and after informing her sergeant she was taking leave, she packed up her daughter and moved back to her native home in Cape Breton.
But the harassment continued even while on medical leave, she said, and finally on Jan. 16, 1997 – 11 years to the day after she had signed up – Butts submitted her resignation.
“When I left the force I felt like I was a total failure, that I had let everybody down,” she said. “My family couldn’t understand why I was leaving. My mother was disillusioned. She was disappointed.”
And for the past 20 years her experiences on the force have been her deep, dark secret. Last winter, Butts added her name to the Merlo-Davidson class-action lawsuit against the force. Beyond that, however, and with the exception of her spiritual advisor and mental health professional, Butts said she has not related her story to anyone, until now.
“Over the past 20 years I have always wanted to tell my story,” she told the Truro Daily News. “But I was in no condition to talk to you like I am now. I was very angry. I was very upset. For me now, the anger is gone. And I realize that I am not alone, that this did happen and is happening today with other members.”