THE BODY POLITIC July/August 1981, No. 75. Chris Bearchell

p. 15.

Gross indecency laws claim another life

EDMONTON — "Bizarre Tale of Sexual Torment," screamed the inch-and-a-half high letters on the front page of the May 1 Edmonton Sun. "Student came for help, but got gay sex instead," the lines below elaborated.

For the next couple of weeks the Sun was busy covering the shooting of the pope, the confessions of Billie Jean King and the usual array of rape, murder and child-abuse stories.

The headline on a follow-up story May 17 was "Counsellor found dead."

Two weeks before Elaine Kuresh killed herself, the Sun's first story about her appeared. It was headlined "Counsellor's private hell" and said, in part, "The 39-year-old woman claims to love the teenager and plans to have a sex-change operation so the two can marry. The student had been the counsellor's live-in lover since she transferred to an Edmonton school and walked into the guidance office more than a year ago. The quiet of their love nest was shattered March 13 when the student's father arrived at the counsellor's doorstep with social workers and policemen. The girl was taken from the home and in a hearing Wednesday was made a ward of the court and sent to a foster home."

Sometime late in 1979 or early 1980, while working as a counsellor at HA Gray Elementary Junior High School, Elaine Kuresh met Lorna (not her real name), who was then 14.

HA Gray is situated in an industrial section of North Edmonton. The students are largely working-class kids — "problems," "misfits." Lorna was gang-raped when she was 12. Her parents were separated. She had suffered neglect, if not actual abuse, at their hands.

By April 1980, the Alberta Department of Social Services and Community Health found out, through Lorna's father, that she had been taken into the home of Elaine Kuresh and her husband, Bill, who lived on an acreage near Redwater, Alberta, 35 miles northeast of Edmonton. Hal O'Neil, Director of Public Communication for Social Services, stressed in an interview that the "open protection order" the Department held on Lorna meant that they were to keep an eye on her for her parents. She lived with the Kureshes with her parents' full knowledge and consent.

Elaine Kuresh's honesty about her own experiences probably made her a good counsellor. I talked with four people who had worked with her over the years, and all agreed that she was good at her job. School Board Associate Superintendent Alex Gardner confirmed that to the press.

But her profession may have finally been Elaine's downfall. As one of her colleagues explained to me, "She was of that school of psychology that is very big on disclosure." Elaine was seeing a psychiatrist. She prepared a detailed, 37-page self-profile and made three copies of it: one for herself, one for the psychiatrist and one she gave to Lorna.

Lorna was attending a life-skills course — a kind of group therapy effort designed to prepare school drop-outs for independence. She told a counsellor in the course about her relationship with Elaine. The counsellor went to the Department of Social Services with the information.

April 29, two weeks after Lorna was removed from the Kuresh acreage and two days before the headlines appeared on the front page of the Edmonton Sun, an Alberta family court judge decided not to return Lorna to either of her parents because of the family history. Instead, she was made a ward of the court. After the hearing, Lorna told her parents she never wanted to see them again and went and hugged Elaine.

The next day, Lorna's two older sisters took her copy of Elaine's self-profile to Eddie Keen, a self-styled crusader for justice who is a columnist for the Sun and a radio commentator. Both his column and broadcast on May 1 consisted of excerpts from what he called a "Tortured soul's bizarre story." It revealed that Elaine Kuresh (not yet named) had once before fallen in love with a female student who'd had a sex-change and was currently her husband (Bill). Elaine had "cursed growing up a girl." As a teenager she "felt strong attraction to girls" and was "subjected to a violent homosexual assault." He also revealed that she had attempted suicide more than once.

On May 6 the Edmonton Public School Board was informed that Elaine Kuresh had resigned. On May 11 the Redwater Detachment of the RCMP charged her with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and with gross indecency. She was released on $1,000 bail on the condition that she have no contact with Lorna.

The next evening she took an overdose. It was two days before her body was found in the bush near her home, and another two days before the Sun reported it — from the perspective of Lorna's sisters.

"An Edmonton woman lives with the fear that she may be responsible for the death of a school guidance counsellor," she story began. The sister said that Lorna now refuses to speak to her, blaming the family for Elaine's suicide, "but we did it out of love and concern," she lamented.

The next week the Sun's pages contained a number of "reflection" pieces. The last in this series was a Keen column entitled "Counsellor's death saddens me." He reported that Elaine Kuresh was the third person he'd investigated who'd died by her or his own hand. He said he was sad but — "it really comes down to one point, the mirror image we must face every morning. If that image is simply a cover for what is deemed morally or criminally wrong than each of us must accept the burden should there be discovery."

While the Sun interviewed Elaine, Eddie Keen never made any effort to find or speak with Lorna. "The relevance escapes me," he told TBP, "I'm sure she would have said she was in love with the woman — maybe even that she was the first person who'd ever loved her. But at 16, you're not old enough to make this judgement — the law says you're not."

Hal O'Neil of Social Service and Community Health was the only representative of officialdom with whom I spoke whose voice betrayed any regret at the outcome of the investigations. He called it "unfortunate" and agreed that Lorna was treated as if her rights, thoughts and feelings were irrelevant. He said that a case-by-case treatment of disputes over consent made more sense than the present arbitrary law. "I don't know about this case in particular, but there are some 16-year-olds who know exactly what they're doing — that's why they can be tried in adult court in this province — and some 36-year-olds who don't." He also agreed with me that the negative weight placed on sexuality in general, and especially the sexual nature of Elaine and Lorna's relationship, was unnecessary and cruel, or, as he put it, "out of proportion with reality."

The RCMP, Social Services, the school board and the press all knew how Elaine and Lorna felt about each other and that there were never any allegations of coercion in their relationship.

The Edmonton Journal also covered this story — usually a couple of days behind the Sun and in a more low-key fashion. Police reporter Darcy Hinton said that they didn't have the same sources or contacts. "I'm glad we didn't play it up, though," he said "because a lot of people want to blame the media for Elaine Kuresh's death. And I'm afraid there's a good case to be made for that argument."