Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Setting Up Spring Signings

I'll be signing copies of Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada's Nasty Little Secret 12 March 2011 at Chapters in Lethbridge. More details on this and other upcoming events to come..

Friday, February 4, 2011

It's time the right owned up to Alberta's eugenics horror story.

A friend emailed me this column by Michael Coren, a man esteemed in Canada's Conservative and Christian intellectual circles. Judging by his CV, Coren is a smart man, but if "The Barbaric Vision of Progressive Heroes" is any indication, it appears Coren only knows part of Canada's eugenics story.(The part his Socred, turned PC, turned Reform, turned Tory/WRA -- or whatever they're calling themselves this week-- buddies from Alberta aren't afraid to hear guys like Coren talking about.)

It's the part he thinks the 'progressives' were responsible for. An aside, Coren might be surprised to know just what progressive meant to early 20th century prairie populists. Ernest Manning, whom most conservative types from Toronto think was one of them,considered himself proudly progressive as well as conservative. As did and do most prairie folk.

But in Coren's discussion, progressive appears to mean left-wing, socialist, or a member of the 'godless' CCF. (By the way, the father of the CCF Tommy Douglas, Preacher and Premier of Saskatchewan, was a social conservative, fire and brimstone Baptist just like Premier of Alberta and radio pastor, Ernest Manning and his mentor, William Aberhart were.)

But why does Coren's discussion of Canadian eugenics omit the worst forced sterilization scandal in the British Empire (Commonwealth), the one in which nearly 3000 Albertans were sterilized at the hands of the provincial eugenics board? (Another 1900 were ordered sterilized, but escaped the knife.) Vulnerable Albertans were also lied to, beaten, used a cheap domestic labour, and made guinea pigs.

He references Douglas's university paper, "The Problems of the Sub-Normal Family," in which Douglas appears to favour legalization of sterilization for 'sub-normals' as a means to remedy illegitimacy and poverty. (Douglas's paper is vague and leave quite a few logical gaps. He's not clear whether this sterilization is to be voluntary or forced or if it is to apply to adults who already have children.)

But Coren fails to acknowledge that, when Douglas became Premier of Saskatchewan, he never set up a provincial eugenics board. Douglas's support for eugenic sterilization was scared out of him during a 1936 trip to Europe. (One look at the rising NAZI tide convinced Douglas that a great evil was loose and that NAZI eugenics would lead to mass murder. He was right and he never forgot the lesson.)

But, as Douglas had his epiphany about NAZI eugenics, Alberta's Social Credit Regime, led by William Aberhart, was hell-bent on ramping up is eugenic sterilization factory by weakening and/or removing consent provisions in the 1928 Sexual Sterilization Act (brought in by the former UFA government.) Aberhart's Socreds -- and many of their constituents -- were frustrated by the low numbers of defectives who were sterilized under the UFA legislation.

After Premier Aberhart died suddenly, his protege, Ernest Manning, became premier. Contrary to a lot of right wing political revisionism, Ernest Manning remained Aberhart's disciple throughout his life. At his 1968 retirement from the premiership, Ernest Manning, declared William Aberhart was ahead of his time and 'one of the greatest men this country ever produced.'

Premier Manning held fast to the Socred's revamped eugenics legislation. Critics of the eugenics board were ignored --or sued. The province's travelling, and virtually unaccountable, appointed eugenics board violated even the weak protections within the law; and the Manning government clung to the Sexual Sterilization Act years after medical and mental health professionals (albeit belatedly) denounced the 'science' behind eugenic sterilization in Alberta.

When I wrote Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada's Nasty Little Secret, I hoped Mr. Coren and his colleagues in the Christian and right wing media would start talking about Alberta's UFA/Socred links to forced sterilization.

So far, no luck. Maybe the Manning legacy is too dear to Canadian evangelicals and the right wing, but surely, telling half the story does a disservice to Conservatism, Canada and Christianity. Doesn't it?