by Denyse O'Leary
Recently, I advised readers of Jane Harris Szovan's new book on the shameful secrets of social Darwinist eugenics in Canada. The Alberta-based author tells me,
People have been asking me what Eugenics and the Firewall is about. Basically, it is about the history of eugenics in the Western countries. But it looks specifically at what happened in Alberta, how our province's somewhat bizarre political culture allowed it to happen (and why the vulnerable are still at risk for disaster, not just here but worldwide.) Then it compares Alberta to British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Then, we look at how Alberta's experience compared to the rest of the Commonwealth, specifically the U.K. where forced sterilization was judged contrary to our shared constitution.(How a province in a dominion was allowed to get away with violating the constitution just shows how far the federal gov. will go in not challenging 'provincial rights.'Hmmm, yes, it shows that for sure.* But it shows something else too.
Here is the gist of the book:
It's a dirty little secret the heirs to Alberta's populist legacy don't want Canadians to talk about.It is past time. And from the fact that Harris Szovan's Google search stats spiked rapidly over the past 48 hours, I would guess that many know that.
In 1928 the non-partisan United Farmers of Alberta passed the first Sexual Sterilization Act. The UFA's successor, the Social Credit party, led by a radio-evangelist William Aberhart, and later by his protÃ©gÃ© Ernest Manning, removed the need to obtain consent to sterilize "mental defectives" or Huntington's Chorea patients with dementia.
Between 1928 and 1972 nearly three thousand citizens were sterilized, lied to, experimented on, and subjected to daily abuse at the hands of provincial staff in Alberta. Most Albertans have forgotten the victims whose names made headlines in the 1990s, and politicians and pundits have shown little empathy for the victims.
The Eugenics Board horror story has largely been buried in Canada's mainstream national media. Conservative bloggers and columnists in Canada continue to blame the Liberals and CCF for Canada's barbaric eugenics program. The tar sands, oil royalties, health care budgets, environmental policies, and making sure the province's interests remain high on the federal agenda top the provincial headlines.
But the questions must be answered: How did a province that claims "strong and free" as its motto deny basic freedoms to so many of its own citizens? Why does the extent of Alberta's eugenics past and its link to the UFA/Social Credit legacy remain the unacknowledged moral blind spots in Canadian politics?
It's time to set the record straight.
Jane has quite reasonably been thinking/hoping that people won't go after her, but ... A straight record can mean crooked bunch. If you care about setting the record straight, spare a thought for her, and buy the book for a library and/or for yourself.
* They say this about us: If a Canadian species were in danger of extinction, the British would come up with matchless essays on the crisis, the French would fly Brigitte Bardot to scream up a storm on the ice pack, the Germans would write an encyclopedia about it, the Americans would set up a plan to save the species that cost three trillion dollars and employed one hundred thousand people ... And the Canadians? Oh, we'd spend ten years arguing about whether the species' woes are a federal or a provincial responsibility. That's part of how big problems get started here, when they do.
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).
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