Calgary Herald | 07May2010 | Orest Slepokura

Churchill's record

Re: "McClung doesn't deserve new statue," Naomi Lakritz, Opinion, May 5, 2010.

If, as lawyer David Matas and columnist Naomi Lakritz insist, Nellie McClung is not fit to be honoured with a statue, then let's also reconsider the honours we heaped on Winston Churchill. Churchill, who as late as 1937 was lauding Hitler's "patriotic achievement," decried any "squeamishness about the use of (poison) gas" on Kurdish tribesmen, derided the indigenous people of America and Australia as inferior to the whites' "higher grade race," sourced Bolshevism to the Jews' "envious malevolence," and, according to Harold Macmillan, urged fellow Tories to adopt the campaign slogan "Keep England White!" Sauce. Goose. Gander.

Orest Slepokura,
Strathmore, AB

Calgary Herald | 06May2010 | Naomi Lakritz

McClung doesn't deserve new statue

"Thanks to the foresight and courage of Mr. (George) Hoadley, (Minister of Agriculture and Health), Alberta had the first Act authorizing the sterilization of the unfit in the British Empire. Mental deficiency in the schools had increased from one to three per cent, and this seemed to be one measure of prevention. There was fanatical opposition from certain religious bodies, but I am glad to say that our Opposition Party gave it our support."

So wrote Nellie McClung in her autobiography, The Stream Runs Fast, published in 1945. The timing of her sentiments is important to note, for she still held fast to her belief in eugenics, and used the present tense to confirm that, even at the end of the Second World War and the defeat of the Nazis, who shared her belief. That's the reason human rights lawyer David Matas objects to a statue of McClung being erected on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature.

"If it was up to me, I wouldn't put it up . . . . The adverse impact, in my mind, on disability rights weighs more than the positive impact on gender rights," Matas told Winnipeg Free Press reporter Kevin Rollason.

I'm with Matas. McClung was the driving force behind suffrage and the 1929 Persons Case, which permitted women to be appointed to the Senate. But her odious view that mentally disabled women should be stripped of their dignity and forcibly sterilized does nothing for either women or the disabled.

The issue rears its ugly head in Manitoba 11 years after a similar situation arose in Calgary, with the dedication of the Famous 5 statues at Olympic Plaza. At that time, then-Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson, indicating herself and Senator Vivienne Poy, who was also present, solemnly told the assembled that Emily Murphy "would have been thrilled to see a Chinese woman senator and a Chinese governor general." Pardon me, but like hell she would have. Murphy loathed the Chinese and she spewed out reams of vile prose warning that the "black and yellow races" might triumph over whites. She would have seen the ascendancy of a Chinese woman senator and Chinese governor general as proof her dire prediction was coming true.

The objections to Matas's position are predictable: Tommy Douglas also supported eugenics. There are statues of Louis Riel and look what he did. Well, Riel was fighting for minority rights, those of the Metis. McClung didn't believe a minority, the disabled, had rights. And Douglas recanted his stance. McClung did not. She died six years after The Stream Runs Fast was published, and in those six years, she never said, "I was wrong." Indeed, she continues her autobiographical diatribe about forced sterilization by complaining bitterly that the father of a mentally handicapped girl had "preserved just enough of the religion of his forefathers to believe that everyone had a right to propagate their kind, no matter how debased or marred the offspring might be."

And while McClung certainly deserves credit for securing the vote for women, there were limits to her fight for that, too. She did not concern herself with the enfranchisement of aboriginal women, and they are not even mentioned in her autobiography. Aboriginal women did not get the vote in Canada until 1960.

It doesn't say much for McClung that she kept an iron grip on her belief in eugenics even after a world war was fought to defeat an enemy who shared that belief. To dismiss McClung's dark side by saying she was merely a product of her times is wrong because it unfairly tarnishes those of her contemporaries who were truly humanitarian in their thinking.

The truth is that McClung, despite her battles for suffrage -- and the reason she was so intent on women getting the vote was that she thought it the most direct route to prohibition -- stubbornly held regressive views which were not universal among people of her time. That's why it took so long for the aforementioned Hoadley to get his forced sterilization bill passed. When he introduced it in the Alberta legislature in 1927, there was tremendous opposition from the Liberals and Conservatives and it didn't pass second reading. Hoadley brought it back in 1928, when it was finally passed by the United Farmers of Alberta government then in power.

[W.Z. It is my understanding that an undue proportion of the males and females sterilized in Alberta under this legislation were of Ukrainian origin.]

Meanwhile, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, then-premier John Brownlee expressed "anything but enthusiasm" for the bill, while the "Camrose United Farmers Women's Association submitted a resolution declaring that 'sterilization constitutes a violent and drastic invasion of the most elementary human rights,' an objection that is hard to improve upon even today."

An invasion of the most elementary human rights. The Camrose women could see that, but McClung couldn't? It's an insult to those ladies from Camrose, to Brownlee and to all those who opposed the sterilization bill, to glibly forgive McClung for being a "product of her times."

Her statue ought never to stand on the lawn of the Manitoba legislature.

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