A Whisper Past: Childless after Eugenic Sterilization in Alberta by Leilani Muir

Leilani Muir, eugenic survivor has written her biography and launched it at the Alberta Gallery of Art on May 24, 2014. The event was hosted by the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada (http://eugenicsarchive.ca/). Leilani was the first person to file a successful law suit against the province of Alberta, Canada for wrongful sterilization under the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta.

Muir lived in several small towns in Alberta until she was sent to the Red Deer institution. The education she received there did not prepare her for life on the outside, but after she left the institution and escaped from her mother’s custody and at the age of 20, she learned quickly and worked in several cities in Western Canada as a waitress, a retail sales person, and a baby sitter, caring for as many as six children at one time. Only when she married did she learn the awful truth about the sterilization. After winning her case in court, her story was featured in a documentary by the National Film Board of Canada. She spoke at several public forums in Canada, The United States and France, and she ran for election to the Alberta legislature for the New Democratic Party. Recently she was designated a Game Changer on the CBC radio show The Currents, and her story was dramatized in the play The Invisible Child at the Edmonton Fringe theatre festival. She now serves as a governing board member for the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada, a Community-University Research Alliance project at the University of Alberta. Leilani’s story educates us about Canada’s eugenic past and raises awareness about the on-going discrimination against people with disabilities.

You can get a copy of Leilani’s book “A Whisper Past” online at: http://www.friesenpress.com/bookstore/title/119734000013125148/Leilani-Muir-A-Whisper-Past

cropped book cover

Watch for “Surviving Eugenics in the 21st Century: Our Stories Told” a film highlighting the experiences of eugenic survivors, featuring Leilani and others including several local people with disabilities. The film and reception will be held at the Metro Cinema, in Edmonton on Monday October 20, 2014 as part of Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week 2014. For more details about AEAW 2014 and the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada go to our website: http://eugenicsarchive.ca/#events-section

Truth & Reconciliation Commission – Edmonton March 27 – 30, 2014

For 116 years, thousands of Aboriginal children in Alberta were sent to Indian Residential Schools funded by the federal government and run by the churches. They were taken from their families and communities in order to be stripped of language, cultural identity and traditions.

Canada’s attempt to wipe out Aboriginal cultures failed. But it left an urgent need for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

There were more Indian Residential Schools in Alberta than in any other province. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) is holding its Alberta National Event in Edmonton this year.

Come and share your truth about the schools and their legacy. Witness and celebrate the resilience of Aboriginal cultures.
(excerpt from TRC.ca)

Alberta National Event – March 27 – 30, 2014 will be held in Edmonton at the Shaw Conference Centre 9797 Jasper Avenue. No registration needed to attend. Those wishing to provide a statement to the Commission may register onsite during the event.

You can download the program click here

On Thursday March 20 from 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm at the University of Alberta, Lister Centre, Maple Leaf Room
Understanding the TRC: Exploring Reconciliation, Intergenerational Trauma, and Indigenous Resistance featuring:

Commissioner Dr. Wilton Littlechild
Dr. Rebecca Sockbeson
Dr. Ian Mosby
James Daschuk
Dr. Keavy Martin
Tanya Kappo
Moderated by Jodi Stonehouse

Reception 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm – Tea, bannock and berries. Event is free.

Gala Reading featuring:
Marilyn Dumont
Daniel Heath Justice
Eden Robinson
Gregory Scofield
Anna Marie Sewell
Richard Van Camp

Friday, March 21 from 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm in Humanities Centre L-1 (111th Street and Saskatchewan Drive)
Giveaways. Books for sale. Free Admission

You find this information and links to campus maps here

Edmonton to host national residential schools truth and reconciliation event

On January 20th in the Edmonton Journal, Willie Littlechild announced that that the TRC will be in Edmonton this March. Here is the article with a few more details.

Edmonton will host the final national event in March for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission dealing with Canada’s residential schools legacy.

The March 27-30 event, open to the public at the Shaw Conference Centre, is expected to attract up to 4,000 people a day to learn about the history of the schools, talk about their experiences and take part in cultural activities.

“It’s almost the start of reconciliation … It’s not the end of it,” commissioner Willie Littlechild told the city’s community services committee Monday.

Alberta had about 25 residential schools, more than any other province. They operated in Canada from the 1870s to 1996, Littlechild said.

There are about 12,000 survivors living in the province, the largest proportion of them in Edmonton, he said.

“It’s an opportunity to many to begin their healing journey,” said the former Conservative MP, who spent more than a decade in the residential school system.

“Every citizen of Canada is affected by this history.”

The committee recommended Edmonton contribute $250,000 in cash and services to the event’s $2-million budget, which city council will vote on next week.

The city, which put in a bid about three years ago, was chosen as host for the Alberta national event over Calgary, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie, Littlechild said.

Mayor Don Iveson called it an “extraordinary opportunity” to hear about aboriginal history and begin the process of reconciliation.

The six other Canadian cities that hosted the previous national events contributed to their cost, he said.

“This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It arises from some fairly horrific historical circumstances; however, this is about learning from that and where we go as a community,” he said.

“We still have a phenomenal amount of work to do. This is a step. It may be symbolic, but sometimes symbolism is very, very important.”

About 150,000 aboriginal children were sent by the federal government over decades to church-run schools, where many faced physical and sexual abuse.

A lawsuit against the federal government and churches resulted in a settlement that included payments to those affected and creation of the commission in 2008.

Its job is to hold public hearings so people can tell their stories, collect records and establish a national research centre.

gkent@edmontonjournal.com

What happens when your son tells you he’s really a girl? Inside the families embracing the new world of gender variance

Some medical professionals see gender variance as a natural characteristic of human diversity, similar to sexual preference, that should be accepted and even celebrated. An article in Macleans (Jan 6, 2014) explores the lives of supportive families and their trans and gender variant children..

The Public Health Agency of Canada published comprehensive recommendations in 2010 for schools to support gender-variant students and several provincial governments have added “gender expression” to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination. The tides may be turning but the need for education is high. The negative judgement of trans individuals suggests there is a 17% higher risk for suicide and even higher risks for being bullied by others.

The Macleans article also has a short video embedded within and pictures throughout, providing a glimpse into the daily lives of trans and gender-variant children and their families. This is an excellent introduction and movement towards educating the public and advancing the needs of trans youth – which is a natural characteristic of human variation.

You can read the article here: http://www2.macleans.ca/2014/01/13/what-happens-when-your-son-tells-you-hes-really-a-girl/

 

In the United States the National Gay and Lesbian Task Forces and the National Center for Transgender Equality conducted a survey of 6,450 trans and gender non-conforming individuals from all 50 states. This study was the first of its kind and provides us with a clear picture of what needs to change in order to stop the injustice in their lives..

Discrimination against trans and gender variant individuals provides critical data for policymakers, community activists and legal advocates to confront the appalling realities. Respondents experience higher levels of poverty and a staggering 45% of those survey reported attempting suicide. Harassment and discrimination in education was reported at alarmingly high rates and include physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%). Harassment was so severe that it led to almost 15% to leave school in K-12 settings or in higher education..

Abuse by Police, discrimination in health care and public accommodations, employment discrimination and economic insecurity, as well as housing discrimination, barriers to receiving updated documents (identification and personal records). The 6,450 individuals all reported that family acceptance was of great importance, although the majority reported experiencing family rejection. Despite all of the harassment, mistreatment, discrimination and violence faced by trans individuals the study demonstrates their determination, resourcefulness and perseverance. This report is a call to action for all of us, especially for those who pass laws and write policies. Inaction is a form of violence that will negatively affect trans and gender variant people. Take up the call for human rights for transgender, transsexual, trans, and gender variant people and confront the patterns of abuse and injustice. Let’s learn (and teach) the values of human variation to our children, to each other and let’s learn more ourselves!.

You can access the full report titled “Injustice at every Turn” here: http://www.TheTaskForce.org or here: wwww.TransEquality.org. You can also get more information about the survey at: http://www.EndTransDiscrimination.org

Aaron Swartz was Right!

The current state of academic publishing is in need of big changes. Academic authors are signing over copyrights to the publishers who in turn charge universities exorbitant  fees for access to the work. The publishers have become bottlers of knowledge instead of disseminators of knowledge, releasing to the highest bidders and blocking all others from access. Aaron Swartz  simply decided it was time to take action.

“Those with access to these resources—students, librarians, scientists—you have been given a privilege,” he wrote. “You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not—indeed, morally, you cannot—keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.”

Aaron Swartz was a computer programmer who was involved in the development of the web feed format RSS (Rich Site Summary), which includes full or summarized text. RSS feeds can be subscribed to and readers can receive updates or new posts from their favorite web site(s). Aaron also was involved in the creation of Creative Commons (CC), a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works (articles) available for others build upon and to share. Creative Commons has released several copyright-licenses known as Creative Commons licenses free of charge to the public. The campaign Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was founded by Aaron in 2010. All of this and more from a young man born in 1986. The basic premise of much of Aaron’s work was that “Information was power, but like all power, there are those that who want to keep it for themselves…” Aaron Swartz was arrested in 2011 for making academic journals available to anyone who wanted to read them. The story of his arrest was covered by the media. Federal Prosecutors charged him with wire fraud and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, carrying a cumulative maximum penalty of 35 years in prison. January 8, 2011 Aaron’s body was found dead in his New York apartment. In June 2013, Swartz was posthumously inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.  The above quote is taken from article about Aaron Swartz by Peter Ludlow, professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University. You can find the complete article here: http://m.chronicle.com/article/Aaron-Swartz-Was-Right/137425/

Restrictive laws silences grieving parents

Publication ban prohibits naming deceased children, shields Alberta government from scrutiny.
Alberta’s ban on publicizing the names and photos of children who die in provincial care is one of the most restrictive in the country, robbing grieving families of their ability to raise concerns in public about the deaths and sheltering government officials from scrutiny.

About 10 children die in care in Alberta every year, but because of a law that prevents their names and photographs — and those of parents or guardians — from being publicized, the public is denied the right to know who they are and assess whether their deaths could have been prevented.

Basic information about the 145 children who died in care in Alberta between 1999 and 2013 was only released to the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald after a four-year legal battle. Still, we can only tell you the names of two of the 145. That’s because their parents applied in court to have the publication ban lifted — a step all parents must take if they wish to speak out about the deaths of their children.

Velvet Martin, who went through the court process, said the ban is evil and “the nemesis of justice.”

“They have failed the child in the utmost way possible and now they are stealing their identity — the only thing they have left,” said Martin, whose daughter Samantha died after being in care. “It’s bad enough to lose a child, but to have it covered up is just wrong and I won’t stand for it.”

With scant information on child death cases, Albertans are left to trust that the government will investigate and correct any systemic problems, yet often the same people responsible for supervising a case lead the review.

The result of the legislation is a blanket of confidentiality over the child welfare system.

Child welfare agencies won’t talk to the media. Several didn’t respond to repeated requests for information about how they protect children and one, citing the province’s privacy act, referred calls to the Ministry of Human Services.

People who work inside the system are barred from speaking publicly about their experiences; even those who spoke on condition of anonymity were afraid they’d lose their jobs.

Government officials argue the ban is necessary to protect the privacy of children and their families; in some cases, a child who dies might have siblings who are also in government care. Children in care are some of the province’s most vulnerable citizens, and provincial authorities feel strongly about trying to protect them.

“I think there is always a balance of values that you have to take into account,” said Human Services Minister Dave Hancock. “One of the values obviously is an open and transparent process so that people can know and understand what is happening and know that things are being handled in an appropriate fashion. The other value is you don’t want to intrude in the personal lives of families any more than necessary, particularly in circumstances like that where they have already suffered significant tragedy.”

In a press conference on Wednesday, in response to the Journal-Herald investigation, Hancock said that the issue of where that line should be drawn will be discussed at a roundtable of MLAs and experts scheduled for January. Hancock announced the roundtable on Tuesday.

The Alberta College of Social Workers supports the principle of the ban for the benefit of the family and any siblings.

“It could cause some definite hardship for the family,” said spokeswoman Lori Sigurdson. “They could be ostracized in the community. It could be a shame thing. Their relationship with the ministry and the worker who is working with them could become antagonistic or more difficult because they feel they have betrayed them.”

Hancock said the bodies that review deaths — including the child and youth advocate, the quality assurance council and the fatality inquiry review board — provide the public with appropriate access to information. He said it’s “not necessarily useful to publish a name and face just for the prurient interest of the opposition or others.”

However, in an interview this month, Hancock admitted he didn’t realize the law went so far as to prohibit parents from talking about their children and releasing their names to the media, and said he would look into it.

“I think families for the most part need to be able to heal and need to have the discussions that they need to heal,” he said.

That’s the argument made by the family of a 21-month-old aboriginal baby who died in a foster home in 2010.

“It is ridiculous. We want to tell our story and we can’t,” the girl’s aunt said. “We’re suffering in silence here.”

A Morinville foster mother has been charged with second-degree murder, but the case has not yet gone to trial. It could be years before the facts of the case and what went wrong are revealed — if ever.

Choking back tears, the aunt said problems with the system must be scrutinized if similar deaths are to be avoided. “Every couple of years, another child is dying in care, and it is usually a native kid,” she said.

Martin, the mother who had the ban lifted on her daughter’s name, said almost every family she has met wants to speak out, but they often don’t know their rights and can’t afford to seek legal advice.

“A lot of people don’t have the fortitude, they don’t have the education, the ability, to come forward,” said Martin, a spokeswoman for a national advocacy group called Protecting Canadian Children.

In her case, she was able to lobby for a fatality inquiry. During that process, she found out that while Samantha’s caseworker had assured her that the girl — who had a number of medical conditions — was getting exceptional care, the caseworker hadn’t seen her for 14 months, nor had she been examined by a doctor in three years.

“I was naive and under the impression that children’s services was doing an internal investigation and were actually going to do something other than cover their ass,” she said. “It was a hard lesson for me.”

Like Martin, Jamie Sullivan went to court to lift the ban on her daughter Delonna’s name — but she’s angry she had to. “If you want to arrest me for talking about my daughter, then arrest me,” she said. “You can’t take anything more from me than you have already. … And I’m not going to have somebody telling me I can’t show her picture. That’s just not right.”

The publication ban law is part of Alberta’s Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act. It stipulates that “no person shall publish the name or a photograph of a child or of the child’s parent or guardian in a manner that reveals that the child is receiving or has received intervention services.” The penalty is a maximum $10,000 fine or up to six months in jail.

Prior to legislative changes in 2004, the ban didn’t exist. A 13-member task force, chaired by Calgary MLA Harvey Cenaiko and made up entirely of Conservative MLAs and child welfare officials, had recommended the change to government. Cenaiko told MLAs the new provisions were drafted to align with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. No mention was made that the ban remained in place after a child died.

Provincial privacy commissioner Jill Clayton, who wasn’t in office when the law was amended, said she can’t find any record of the government consulting the office for advice or guidance on the issue.

Across Canada, most provinces ban the publication of names of children who are in care or receiving services from the government, but lift the ban or decline to enforce it when one of those children die. Only Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec have bans similar to Alberta’s, and officials say Quebec currently does not enforce the ban when a child dies.

But in Alberta, despite the minister’s promise to review the ban, the government continues to enforce it.

This month, Alberta’s children services director refused a request from the Journal and Herald to lift the ban on the name of a Samson Cree baby, opposing an application that was supported with affidavits from both the child’s parents.

Being able to publish the names, photographs and personal stories of children who die in care are large factors in bringing about change, experts say. If parents are muzzled, there is no one else to speak for the children, said Robert Fellmeth, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Institute in the U.S.

“These children have no lobby,” said Fellmouth, a professor of public interest law at the University of San Diego. “They have no campaign contributions. They don’t vote. Their sole asset is democracy, and public sympathy and concern, and disclosure. That’s the sole political card they have.”

Many laws to protect children are named after child victims, he noted. The Amber Alert system was named for Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas, in 1996, while Chelsea’s Law in California, which increases penalties and monitoring of sexual offenders, was named after 17-year-old rape-murder victim Chelsea King.

In Canada, there’s the Jordan Principle that stipulates that care be provided for children when they need it and decisions about who is responsible for paying for it be made later. It is named after a five-year-old Manitoba Cree child named Jordan River Anderson, who died in hospital while federal and provincial authorities bickered over who was responsible for his home care.

And in other provinces, the deaths of children in care make headlines. In Manitoba, a public inquiry has put the 2005 death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair under the microscope; in Saskatchewan, RCMP are investigating the alleged 2013 murder of six-year-old Lee Bonneau by another child under the age of 12; and in Ontario, an inquiry has been probing the case of five-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin, who died in 2002 after years of mistreatment.

By comparison, in Alberta, when the child and youth advocate writes reports about flaws in the system, he has to make up names for the children. In July, he released “Remembering Brian,” and just last week he issued “Kamil: An Immigrant Youth’s Struggle.” Both are pseudonyms.

Even when a death of a child in care is examined at a fatality inquiry in Alberta, the children and parents are identified only by initials. Provincial court Judge Leonard Mandamin balked at this practice in an August 2007 fatality inquiry report into the suicide of a 16-year-old Tsuu T’ina boy. “The use of initials dehumanizes the tragic death of this young person,” he wrote.

University of Manitoba professor Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, wonders who the publication law is designed to protect.

“My overarching concern is that privacy is being used as a smokescreen to conceal potential wrongdoing and to prevent the public from getting an accurate picture of problems that may turn out to be systemic,” he said. “Privacy considerations are important, but they aren’t absolute.”

Publication bans by province

British Columbia: The name and photo of a child who dies in care can be published provided information comes from family or other sources.

Alberta: It is illegal to publish names or photos of children who die in care without a court order lifting the ban.

Saskatchewan: The name and photo of a child who dies in care can be published provided information comes from family.

Manitoba: The name and photo of a child who dies in care can be published provided information comes from family.

Ontario: The name and photo of a child who dies in care can be published without restriction.

Quebec: It is illegal to publish the name and photo of a child who dies in care, but the law is not enforced.

New Brunswick: It is illegal to publish the name of a child who dies in care.

Nova Scotia: It is illegal to publish the name of a child who dies in care.

Prince Edward Island: The name and photo of a child who dies in care can be published.

Newfoundland and Labrador: The name and photo of a child who dies in care can be published if information comes from family or other sources.

BY DARCY HENTON AND KAREN KLEISS, CALGARY HERALD AND EDMONTON JOURNAL

Story can be found online here: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Restrictive+silences+grieving+parents/9221675/story.html

Dr. Gregor Wolbring wins the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal

November 11, 2013, Dr. Gregor Wolbring was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in recognition of his contributions to Canada!

The award was created in 2012 to mark the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the Throne as Queen of Canada. To ensure that a variety of fields of activity were recognized, partner organizations were invited by the Government of Canada to nominate candidates from their community or organization for this national honour.

The Diamond Jubilee Medal program closed on February 28, 2013. Once all the information is compiled, a searchable database of all 60,000 recipients and their locations will be available online.

This is what Gregor’s new award looks like!

Diamond_Jubilee_Medal_web

Gregor expressed his gratitude by posting this message:

Yesterday night I was speechless, today its time to thank many of the people who are responsible for I being who I am. Receiving this award is the results of the action of many people throughout my life that saw beyond the wheelchair and the non-conformity of my body. There are of course first and foremost my parents without their lack of prejudice toward my bodily reality I would never be in the privileged position of income, employment and advanced education I am in today. And indeed I published a piece “Parents without Prejudice” many years ago to pay homage to them. However there are others. In my two high schools these were two teachers Elizabeth Schlipkoeter and Pater Klaus; in my undergraduate degree at University of Tuebingen it was Professor Eisele (I was the first wheelchair person in the biochemistry degree there and it needed some getting used to me  ); then there was Professor Rabin at University College London (UK) who allowed me to do my German Diploma thesis work in his laboratory and Valerie and Chris Dadson with whom I stayed for that time and who helped me to navigate London (I cannot express my gratitude sufficiently, my time with them was some of the best times I had in my life!!!); Nobel Laureate Prof. Hartmut Michel and his group leader Dr. Neil Cook at the Max Plank Institute for Biophysics in Frankfurt who took me as a PhD student after over 100 letters of inquiries with other places in Germany simply were answered negatively mostly claiming they were not accessible and finally there is Prof. Paul Schnetkamp in Calgary who I met when he visited our Lab in Frankfurt and who said he would take me as a Post-Doc and well without him I would not have moved to Canada.

And then there are many friends that made and still make life livable. From elementary school, first high school and onwards Johannes Schmitt, Roland Kaemmerer, Christoph Bauer and Franz Wilhelm Koch; my second high school and onwards Richard and Kornelia Schlombs, Alfred Nottlemann, Ralf Tillmann und Tine, Agnes Schwerhoff and Kerstin Wichmann; then University and onwards Thomas Ilg, Gerd Winter, Joerg Hendle and Regina Link and then here in Calgary Robert Szerencsei and Jeff Bjorge. And there are many more who I encountered as part of my advocacy and academic work that became friends too many to list them here (hope you forgive me here). So without all of these people I would not have received the award as I would not be very likely in the privileged position from where I can do the activities that led to the award. Now as to the ceremony yesterday I want to thank Zaheed Damani for the brilliance of how he introduced me to the crowd and to my students who made up the whole first row and who are an inspiration to me (I will post that picture with them soon). So thanks to all the people in my life that made this surprise possible!

Gregor gets a medal

The members of the WolbPack who could make it (all students of the WolbPack are just amazing inspirational and simply funhttp://www.crds.org/research/faculty/Gregor_Wolbring.shtml)

The Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada Research Team congratulates Gregor!