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CBC.ca | The Current | Coming Up

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Leilani Muir is the human face of the history I write about in Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada’s Nasty Little Secret. Anna Maria Tremonti will interview her Monday morning  on The Current. More information here: CBC.ca | The Current | Coming Up.

Listening (for a change) to the other side

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Last Wednesday, I attended a well organized public philosophy lecture at the University of Lethbridge. Author, Gary Bauslaugh, discussed the findings in his book, Robert Latimer: A Story of Justice and Mercy.

Given that I’m an Anglican who opposes euthanasia, and Mr. Bauslaugh, is a humanist who believes mercy-killing is a compassionate choice; it’s not surprising we disagree on whether Robert Latimer acted properly in killing his daughter, Tracy.
 I admit, I was annoyed when I left the lecture, feeling that Gary had dismissed opposing views, including my book, Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada’s Nasty Little Secret. I blew off a bit of steam in a private email outline my perspective.  Somehow, my email got posted on a US website. No excuses. I should know better than to write chatty, bitchy emails to friends who are journalists. 

 

(I will add that the author of the post in question risks her own paycheque supporting my work, which challenges the political views of many of her readers. She does this because she believes Alberta’s eugenics scandal should not be hidden to protect any political or religious view. Without Denyse, my book would never have been finished because I was convinced Alberta publishers wouldn’t touch the subject and out of province royalty publishers wouldn’t read a manuscript from Jane in Lethbridge, Alberta.)

Gary read the post. Off course he was upset, but to his credit, he emailed me directly with his concerns. (I appreciate that.) I am pleased to say this unfortunate situation started a dialogue between Gary Bauslaugh and me, that I think is quite productive. And, as a fellow writer, I will defend

Gary’s right to express his views even when they are the opposite of mine. That’s the Canadian way!So, here’s what Gary had to say about his position:

Gary on Religious and Disabled Groups Impacting Public Policy:

“It is not that such groups ought not to have a voice, it is that voice should be kept in perspective by politicians and judges who may be influenced by the volume, rather than the quality, of comments they get on controversial issues. What I actually said was that there is a “need to ensure that certain advocacy groups, with particular axes to grind, and religious groups who abide by particular and arbitrary readings of religious scriptures, do not unduly affect public policy.”

My point was that it is unfortunate if vocal minorities have undue influence on public policy, and that the solution to this was that other groups, representing the majority of opinion in Canada, need to speak up more, not that the minorities are to be somehow suppressed. My example related on the one hand to the Latimer SCC hearing, in which 11 groups hostile to Latimer spoke up, while only one spoke in his favour, while in fact about 75% of all Canadians are supportive of him. I related this as well to the evident difficulty of getting more rational policy developed on end-of-life issues, where similarly disproportionately negative, ideological and religious lobbying occurs whenever the issue comes up. I don’t want to stop this lobbying, but to counterbalance it by hearing more from representatives of alternative views.

Gary took the time to add more explanation when I pressed him on the issue of allowing interest groups to intervene in court proceedings:

“I guess I have still not made my position clear. I am not objecting to having interveners of any sort, in fact I strongly support the right to participate in our democracy in that way. My comments are directed to getting more groups to respond to issues in that way, not fewer. My concern is that particularly vocal ones steal the stage, and more moderate and reasonable ones, often representing a large majority as in the Latimer case just don’t bother. This creates a distorted picture of reality for legislators and the judiciary. The solution is not to try limit interveners but to encourage more liberal groups to provide a more realistic balance of views and to step in and argue for what they believe,”

Gary acknowledges that the audience may have interpreted his comments differently:

“That is what I was arguing for, although as Trudy pointed out in the session, my comments were open to misinterpretation. I have always stoutly defended the idea of pluralism, and freedom of expression, and strongly and frequently endorsed that position in the magazine I edited. This is a position I hold so strongly that I was probably not careful enough, for an audience that did not know me, in expressing my view on interveners in a way that could have been taken in a way not intended.”

On Latimer’s Conviction:

“The case is a simple straightforward one: he deliberately ended the life of his daughter, something that is classified as murder in our Criminal Code. This is a case that for which the only real defence was to urge the jury to refuse to convict in spite of his evident guilt, which is why I talked about the <a href=”http://ethics-euthanasia.ca/issue/jury-nullification/”>issue and problem of jury nullification </a>in Canada. (Note: I was pleased to see that Gary welcomes those supportive and opposed to Latimer’s stance to his site.)

Gary does not feel he treated all the Crown Prosecutors with disdain.

“I did so with the prosecutor in the first trial, but so did the Supreme Court of Canada when it ordered a retrial of Latimer based on that Prosecutor’s behaviour. I said nothing negative about the second prosecutor, Neufeld, who for the most part behaved in a dignified and reasonable manner. I even quoted his positive comment about Latimer’s act being a compassionate one.”

On Parole Boards:

You were right about my concern about Parole Boards, but I thought that the readings made a persuasive case for such concern.

On the Audience:

You were right, as well, to criticize me for getting annoyed with certain questions, including your. It was not, though, that they were ‘hard’ questions;rather they represented a world view that I find very difficult to swallow, though I certainly should do so with more grace.  (I understand this was his first stop on the tour. Being a writer, I know that nobody does the first stop perfectly. Overall, the event went very well. The readings, performed by Gary’s wife, Gywneth Evans, were excellent, too.)

On the dangers to the vulnerable:

Your views linking eugenics with euthanasia is one I have heard before, and makes the basic error of equating state-run eugenics policies, which drastically interfere with personal freedom, with proposed new laws on euthanasia, which embrace and enhance personal freedom.I do think there are ways of protecting the vulnerable and still permit assisted suicide and euthanasia. Various people have proposed such laws, including one by bioethicist Eike Kluge that appears on my web site http://ethics-euthanasia.ca/issue/legislation/”>ethics-euthanasia.ca</a.
(While I don’t trust the Public Guardian, families, cash strapped governments or health systems to protect the rights of the vulnerable or ensure ‘consent’; Gary believes these are issues that can be overcome. I appreciate his willingness to acknowledge that his could become an issue, especially in light of events in which seemingly civilized people violated the civil rights of the vulnerable: Canada and Australia’s residential school history ((the post-confederation government run schools on prairies, modelled on proposals of US eugenicists, by the way), the Sexual Sterilization disaster in Alberta, Apartheid in South Afria, Hitler’s euthanasia law.)

Gary’s New Area of Research:

“You might be interested to know that one of my next projects is to work on something about a different group of vulnerable people – those in prison. I was stunned by how unfairly and harshly the Parole Board treated Latimer. I wonder how often that sort of thing goes on, and hope to do some more investigation of it, and of other ways prisoners may be mistreated. It seems like once they are convicted of a crime they lose rights even to basic fairness, largely because no one cares about them anymore.

(Now here’s an area where I think Gary is 100% right!)

The Take Away:

Gary (a humanist) and I (a fairly conservative Anglican raised by evangelical parents in Manning country) found an important point of agreement by discussing our differences. I think that is a hopeful sign.

I’ve been watching Canadian public debate over the past few years: the abortion debate, the ID/Evolution debate, athiest versus evangelical, left versus right, unions versus management, environmentalist versus oil worker. It seems to me traditionally respectful Canadians have been convinced that listening to (even acknowledging your opponent is a valuable human being) is wimpy. Instead, speakers on church pulpits, university podiums and even Parliament take an aggressive attitude borrowed from the United States.(It doesn’t appear to work down there, either.) We talk at other rather than to each other. We shout, demonizing our opponents, and make zero progress solving our problems.

We blog to people who think like us and boost our egos. We buy books by authors who back up our own view of the world. We watch the television network that suits our political view. And, often, we demonize those on the other side of the political, ideological, religious, or social spectrum. We feel good, but we learn nothing.

The luxury (and poverty) of 21st century living (and the internet) lets us build intellectual walls disregarding and dehumanizing neighbours who do not share our world view. The result, an increasingly toxic dialogue in politics, science, and the arts.

What we do disagree about should be discussed openly and respectfully. If we do that, we’ll likely find points of agreement to move society forward. For example, I was really pleased to learn that Gary Bauslaugh is investigating the parole system in Canada.

I have no doubt that Gary will produce a book on the justice system Canadians need to read. And I hope Gary keeps us posted about his new project! (I hope humanists will consider what I have to say in Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada’s Nasty Little Secret. Those who oppose Gary’s view on euthanasia would also do well to at least check Robert Latimer: A Story of Justice and Mercy out of their local library.)

As for me, I’m mulling a personal memoir of the year I spent without a home. A year in which I saw first hand the injustices in employment, social benefits, hidden taxes, denial of civil rights, health care, and housing faced by the poor in oil rich Alberta.

How does My Year Rising Above the Bar: A Memoir of Semi-Homelessness in Alberta, sound for a book title? And should I put more opposing view up on this blog from time to time? What do you think?

Part Three of My interview: Don’t blame the Progressives. Everybody (but the disadvantaged) loved Eugenics

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Part Three of my interview with Denyse O’Leary is up. The people who blame eugenics on a progressive ideas and social programs are going to hate what I say here: 

“It`s not our progressive heritage that made the eugenics scandal possible. It`s the dark side of populism. The self-righteous pack mentality, that allows the grassroots to demand that the rights of the socially, morally or economically defective be violated by the government. Or that turns its back when it sees these rights violated.That mindset made the Sexual Sterilization Act a political necessity under the UFA and the Social Credit administrations. It allowed it to exist for forty years. It also made racial segregation and forced sterilization of defectives and `criminals`thrive in the United States for decades. And it turned a blind eye when Hitler disbanded the German Parliament and began his holocaust of innocents.“Ahh, well, the anti-progressive types who want to remake Alberta into Texas north didn`t like me much, anyway, before I said this. So, I won`t feel much of a loss. Oh and they will absolutely hate this:

“But apparently, we still aren`t supposed mention the fact that most churches and respectable businessmen and women endorsed forced sterilization for reasons as varied as morality to the costs of housing the mentality ill. Worse yet, some national columnists keep insisting that it was only the CCF and the atheists who supported eugenics in Canada. Rubbish.“

Key Quotes from my latest media interview on eugenics

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Denyse O’Leary took a big risk interviewing me for her blog. For one thing, many of her ID and faith based audiences won’t like what I have to say about who supported eugenics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: “Eugenics was widely accepted by the business, academic, medical and political establishment. Preachers – in evangelical and mainline churches – even preached it from the pulpit.” Nor will their opponents: “You can believe something, insist it’s scientific and proven, and be totally wrong. Atheists and religious people are equally vulnerable to this error.”

Many more won’t like what I tell Denyse her about the political culture in Alberta: Well, I think it’s the mindset that Albertans have – that we’re pretty much on the side of right. And we have this terrible poverty mentality hanging on from the pre-oil industry days. The big cars, big houses, and rampant materialism are just symptoms of the fact that we “never want to be the poor men and women of Confederation again.”

Still more of the province’s political and business hacks will gag on what I say about the the province’s failed attempt to use the notwithstanding clause in the Canada Act to prevent the victims of the Alberta Eugenics board from getting compensation in the 1990’s:”God help anyone who threatens to take any of it away in a lawsuit. We certainly don`t want to look at the dark side of populism—the pack mentality that overrides the opinions and rights of your political opponents and of the weak.”

Part Three will be posted soon.

“New Light on Alberta’s Dark Past” in Calgary Herald, Leader Post, Canada.com Network

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Eugenics and the Firewall was profiled by Eric Volmers in “New Light on Alberta’s Dark Past” in the Calgary Herald yesterday.  This article also appeared in the Regina Leader Post online and Canada.com network.

Lethbridge Signing Media Release

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MONDAY, 7 MARCH 2011

Lethbridge Signing News Release

MEDIA RELEASE:

Harris-Zsovan to Sign Copies of Eugenics and the Firewall at Chapters Lethbridge 12 March 2011

Release: 07 March 2011

LETHBRIDGE — Lethbridge author Jane Harris-Zsovan, will sign copies of Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada’s Nasty Little Secret at Chapters,701 Ist Avenue South, Lethbridge, Alberta, Saturday, March 12, 11:00am-5:30pm. The book is published J. Gordon Shillingford and Distributed by University of Toronto Press. J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing is primarily a literary publisher that publishes theatre, poetry, Canadian social history, politics, religion, true crime, and biography. Website: jgshillingford.com.

Jane Harris-Zsovan is a Canadian author and journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. She writes for national and regional periodicals about business, faith, politics, history and contemporary issues. Her books include Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada’s Nasty Little Secret  Stars Appearing: The Galts’ Vision of Canada. and

It’s a dirty little secret the heirs to Alberta’s populist legacy don’t want Canadians to talk about. 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 radio evangelist William Aberhart, and later by his protégé 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 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. Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada`s Nasty Little Secret sets the record straight.

“It`s a valuable addition to modern Canadian historical studies. I hope it comes to the attention of professors, so that it can be included in reading lists. One of the most important aspects, as you can tell from the review, is your inclusion of the modern debate on eugenic practices.” Ian Stewart, Writer, Book Reviewer for the Winnipeg Free Press.

 

Written by janeharris(harris-zsovan)

March 7, 2011 at 10:43 pm

“Difficult Subjects“ discusses Eugenics and the Firewall

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Here is the link to “Difficult Subjects”, written by Samantha Power, of VUE Weekly in Edmonton, Alberta Canada.
Eugenics and the Firewall is featured in this article: The difficult subject is Alberta’s Eugenics Scandal. We’re good Canadians here. 

We don`t think it`s ‘good manners’ to talk about the skeletons in our closets. But we need to, sometimes, in order not to repeat our mistakes. That’s why I wrote Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada’s Nasty Little Secret. Samantha Power does a good job with this article, and a good job of explaining why I wrote Eugenics and the Firewall.