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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.


“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.

“Shining Light on Alberta’s Past” out in ArtsBridge

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Spring/Summer 2011 ArtsBridge is out. Ashley Markus interviewed me about Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada’s Nasty Little Secret. Read it here: JHZ artsbridge interview. (Click on the link. Then click on the icon. Article will appear.)

Setting Up Spring Signings

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cHAPTERS SIGNING POSTER amendedI’ll be signing copies of Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada’s Nasty Little Secret, 12 MARCH 2011 at Chapters in Lethbridge. (That’s a Saturday.)  More details on this and other spring events to come….

The Right, Half-truths and Canadian Media

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Yep, the things that bother me  most about much of the right in Canada are the same thing that bothers me about many on the left: telling half the story in order to score political points.

A friend emailed me this column by <a href=”http://www.theinterim.com/columnist/the-barbaric-vision-of-progressive-heroes/”>Michael Coren</a>, 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 leaves 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 its eugenic sterilization factory  by weakening and/or removing consent provisions in the <span style=”font-style:italic;”>1928 Sexual Sterilization Act</span> (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 December 1968 retirement from the premiership,   Ernest Manning, declared that 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 <span style=”font-style:italic;”>Sexual Sterilization Ac</span>t years after medical and mental health professionals (albeit belatedly) denounced the ‘science’ behind eugenic sterilization in Alberta.
When I wrote <span style=”font-style:italic;”>Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada’s Nasty Little Secre</span>t, 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?

The Winnipeg Review

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Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada’s Nasty Little Secret appeared in the Winnipeg Review yesterday, 17 January 2011.

Eugenics and the Firewall

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Here’s the national launch poster for the 17 November 2010 launch: GS_eugenics_rev poster

Eugenics and the Firewall will be published this fall. Writing it took me on anamazing journey through Alberta’s past and political culture. I got a chance to

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look at Albertan’s changing attitudes  toward the Sexual Sterilization Act.

The Province of Alberta’s handling of the eugenics issue during the 20th century is fascinating, and a cause for both hope and worry.  The saga shows us the belief systems underlying Alberta’s political culture. (And Albertans aren’t as right wing or as homogeneous as pundits claim. )

Hundreds of lives were ruined by the public’s blind trust in a theory, politicians’ adherence to ideology and expert recommendations, and the voters’  faith in the moral  rightness of  the provincial government. This fascinating saga has lessons for all Canadians of every political stripe.

Details about launch date to come.