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

Eva Feder Kittay: 2014 Guggenheim Fellow

Eva Feder Kittay, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University and Senior Fellow of the Stony Brook Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete a book tentatively titled Disabled Minds and Things that Matter: Lessons for a Humbler Philosophy. The prestigious fellowship, which places Professor Kittay in the company of many illustrious names, which also includes a lengthy list of noble prize laureates (Czeslaw Milosz being a particular favourite of mine), was established in 1925 and is granted to individuals whose work makes substantial contributions to education, literature, art, and science. Professor Kittay’s work pushes philosophical discourse beyond the inadequate rationalistic framework that has traditionally been utilized to measure the worth of persons. She urges that actual relationships of care and love characterize who we are and why we are morally considerable. Equipped with both the argumentative and analytic tools of a philosopher and the personal experience of being a parent of a child with severe cognitive disabilities, Eva Kittay is in a unique position to play the part of a competent judge whose insights have great philosophical, and more saliently, educational value. Although Disabled Minds and Things that Matter: Lessons for a Humbler Philosophy will be a philosophically rigorous contemplation on the place of disability in philosophical discourse, it will nevertheless be aimed at the educated lay reader, meaning that it will not only shape future philosophical projects, but will also serve to educate the public.

Why is a focus on disability important to the future of philosophical research? Taking severe cognitive disabilities into account when formulating questions in philosophy will force us to reframe both traditional and contemporary inquiries. For example, the rationalistic model of personhood inherited from Aristotle and Kant as well as the numerous individualistic psychological accounts of diachronic personal identity that have been developed since Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding will have to give way to other, more inclusive models and accounts that better represent the relational nature of memory, personhood, and moral status of human beings. Relational personhood and an extended account of personal identity, which is the focus of my own research is indebted to such fundamental reframing of philosophical questions by placing the interests of individuals with severe cognitive disabilities at the centre of our philosophical contemplations regarding the moral status of persons. If placing disability at the centre of philosophical inquiry helps philosophy transcend its current theoretical bounds, then not only is Eva Kittay correct in suggesting that disability is at the frontier of philosophy itself, but Professor Kittay and those her research project inspires to work at the intersection of philosophy and disability studies are forging a new philosophical direction in the time honoured spirit of philosophical innovation and transformation.

We Were Children

If you missed the recent broadcast of We Were Children you can still watch the full movie online. It will be available for viewing until April 23.

We Were Children

We Were Children is a 2012 Canadian documentary film about the experiences of First Nations children in the Canadian Indian residential school system. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada. For over 130 years, Canada’s First Nations children were legally required to attend Government-funded schools run by various orders of the Christian faith. ‘We Were Children’ is based on the testimony of two survivors.

A 24 hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is posted at the beginning of the film offering assistant to anyone who is distressed by the broadcast: 1-866-925-4419

The film was shot in Manitoba, in Winnipeg, St-Pierre-Jolys and at the former Portage residential school, now the Rufus Prince building, in Portage la Prairie. It was produced by Kyle Irving for Eagle Vision, Loren Mawhinney for eOne Television, and produced and executive produced by David Christensen for the National Film Board of Canada. The executive producer for the Eagle Vision was Lisa Meeches, whose parents and older siblings were sent to residential schools.

Meeches, who spent over seven years travelling across Canada to collect residential school survivors’ stories for the Government of Canada, has stated that the idea for the film originated from a discussion she’d had at the Banff World Media Festival.[6] It was Meeches who approached director Wolochatiuk with the project. CBC Manitoba reporter Sheila North Wilson assisted the production by translating material in the script from English to Cree.
We Were Children premiered on October 2, 2012 at the Vancouver International Film Festival, followed by a screening at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto on October 18. It was broadcast on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in March 2013, followed by a DVD release from the National Film Board of Canada on April 12, 2013. (background information taken from the wikipedia article written on the film).

Today, March 27, 2014 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada begins hearings at the Shaw Conference Centre. The hearings are open to the public and attendance is encouraged. As the TRC Mandate (1998) stated, it is not only the sincere “acknowledgement of the injustices and harms experienced by Aboriginal people” but also the community’s step for “continued healing” and “[paving] [of] the way for reconciliation” that is the overall aim of testimonies through the the context of the TRC.

The program for the TRC in Edmonton can be found here:http://www.trc.ca/websites/alberta/index.php?p=766

NO REGISTRATION NEEDED TO ATTEND.
Those wishing to provide a statement to the Commission may register onsite during the event.

CAN’T COME? The Alberta National Event will be livestreamed at http://www.trc.ca.

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

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