According to the Vancouver Sun article published on Friday October 5 2012, titled: Conservative government scrambles to distance itself from eugenics advocate it honoured
“The Conservative government scrambled Friday to distance itself from an early 20th Century public health pioneer it had honoured just a day earlier at a plaque-unveiling ceremony in Ottawa.
Joy Smith, the Manitoba Tory MP who unveiled the plaque at Tunney’s Pasture on behalf of Environment Minister Peter Kent, called on the government not to install it after a Citizen story outlined Dr. Helen MacMurchy’s leading role as an advocate for eugenics, a type of scientific racism that flourished between 1865 and 1945.
And Rob Taylor, Kent’s communications director, said the plaque unveiling “would never have gone forward” had the minister’s office known about MacMurchy’s advocacy of eugenics. “We would certainly not be celebrating somebody whose life work included this dark part of our public policy in the past.”
So according to Peter Kent’s office, they wouldn’t have never honored this woman if they had known about her involved in eugenics. (big surprise our politicians have not picked up a history book). But the most ironic part of this story is that a surprisingly large number of figures in Canadian history where involved in eugenics. Instead of “questioning the unveiling of a plaque” with their names on them. Our nation celebrates them! Lets have a look at just a few of the notable names.
Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.
In 1881 Bell investigated the rate of deafness on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. From this he concluded that deafness was hereditary in nature and, through noting that congenitally deaf parents were more likely to produce deaf children, tentatively suggested that couples where both were deaf should not marry, in his lecture Memoir upon the formation of a deaf variety of the human race presented to the National Academy of Sciences on 13 November 1883.
Has there ever been one controversy about his involvement in eugenics? No. All you need to do is take a trip to Brantford Ontario, where his homestead is a museum. The city has called itself the telephone city, and has erected multiple statues of him. He is seen as an icon.
The famous five, woman’s rights advocates.
The “Famous Five” was comprised of these five woman:
Emily Murphy (the British Empire’s first female judge)
Irene Marryat Parlby (farm women’s leader, activist and first female Cabinet minister in Alberta)
Nellie Mooney McClung (a suffragist and member of the Alberta legislature)
Louise Crummy McKinney (the first woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, or any legislature in Canada or the rest of the British Empire)
Henrietta Muir Edwards (an advocate for working women and a founding member of the Victorian Order of Nurses).
At the same time as the civil rights victories, all five of them where instrumental in the successful campaigns to have eugenics legislation introduced in Canadian provinces. (Especially Alberta) They also worked to block non white immigration.
Tommy Douglas, first leader of the NDP party
Tommy Douglas was a MP in the house of commons from 1935 – 1944, Premier of Saskatchewan from 1944 – 1961, Then was the first leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada from 1961 – 1971. Douglas is seen as being the “father of the Canadian medicare system”, which so many Canadians are extremely proud of. In 2004 the CBC did a show called “The Greatest Canadian”. Tommy was voted as the winner and given the title of “The Greatest Canadian”.
But how often to do people discuss Tommy’s involvement in eugenics?
Douglas graduated from Brandon College in 1930, and completed his Master’s degree (M.A.) in Sociology from McMaster University in 1933. His thesis entitled The Problems of the Subnormal Family endorsed eugenics, proposed a system that would have required couples seeking to marry to be certified as mentally and morally fit. Those deemed to be “subnormal” because of low intelligence, moral laxity or venereal disease would be sent to state farms or camps while those judged to be mentally defective or incurably diseased would be sterilized.
It has been said that Douglas “recanted” his eugenics beliefs later in life. But I cannot find supporting evidence of this to date. From what I can tell is that he did some political flip flopping after eugenics was exposed in Nazi Germany.
The “trailblazers” of woman’s rights, an inventor, and the so called “greatest Canadian” and “father of our medical system” are just a few examples of prominent Canadians who became involved in eugenics. Everyone one of them have statues (Tommy Douglas statue was unveiled by Kiefer Sutherland), plaques, University halls named after them. And not a peep about their involvement in eugenics.
We celebrate the eugenicists while ignoring the fact that they even where. I guess Dr. Helen MacMurchy did not become famous for anything else, so there is no problem highlighting her eugenics past.