“Flawed” crusaders

The following letter by What Sorts Network member Nick Supina III, an Edmonton-based artist with a cognitive disability, was published in the Edmonton Journal on Sunday, 25th October, 2009, in response to an article by Paula Simons on October 13th.  Nick’s letter can be viewed at the journal site right here.  Congratulations to Nick on getting the letter published!

Re: “Posthumous Senate appointments bittersweet victory,” by Paula Simons, Oct. 13.

Paula Simons applauds Canada’s Senate for naming Alberta’s “Famous 5” suffrage pioneers as honourary senators to mark the 80th anniversary of the landmark “Persons Case” ruling, which established that Canadian women were “persons” with the right to hold public office, including a Senate appointment.  To her credit, Simons acknowledged that some of these appointees were “staunch advocates of Alberta’s despicable eugenics program of forced sterilization of people deemed ‘unfit to breed.’ ” Simons also wrote, “Certainly, it is one of the painful ironies of Alberta’s history that some of the same crusaders who led the flight for votes for women, then turned around and used the political power they had won to undermine the human rights of some of the most marginalized and vulnerable citizens.”

To know the history of eugenics is to know the “eugenics irony” is more than that which Simons acknowledged. Eugenics ideology is based on the premise that segregation and sterilization prevents people deemed as “defectives” or “less than persons” from contaminating the gene pool.  The Nazis had a natural affinity toward eugenics ideology. On July 12, 2008, The Journal published an article ( “Exhibit shows why we must fight to keep life sacred”) by Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. Bulka was commenting on an exhibit at Ottawa’s War Museum. He writes:

“The exhibit draws a straight line from eugenics, which deals with improving human beings through controlled reproduction, to the Nazi atrocities under the guise of creating a master race free of mental illness and any manifestation that falls into the category of ‘unfit.’

“It is of course the ‘fit’ who decide who is unfit….

“The Nazis gave this ‘science’ a most devastating expression, which included the forced sterilization of about 400,000 undesirables, and the brutal murder of 200,000 children and adults deemed unproductive and therefore unnecessary. Need I say more about how they used this to justify killing off every Jew, black, Gypsy, Arab, homosexual, etc.?”

So, in embracing an ideology that regulates humans to a subhuman status, the “crusaders” influenced government into implementing that ideology. Legitimized by way of the world’s eugenics programs, the ideology became the foundation for the Holocaust. You could say the Famous 5 played a role in perpetuating something that “evolved” into unparalleled genocide.

If the government is justified in bestowing this honour, then what about the case of David Ahenakew? Like the “crusaders” who fought for the recognition of women as “persons,” Ahenakew fought for the recognition of First Nations people as “persons.” for which he received the Order of Canada.  In 2002, Ahenakew made reprehensible anti-Semitic comments, which prompted the Governor General to revoke his medal.

Although First Nations and Metis made up only 2.5 of Alberta’s population, they were a full 25 per cent of those sterilized in Alberta’s eugenics program.

Simons attributes “the crusaders'” influence in establishing Alberta’s eugenics program as evidence that they were fallible, but still deserving of their honour, calling them “complex, flawed, and powerful women.” This double standard of retribution against one national figure, while forgiving the “flaw” of others, is a residual of the eugenics program relegating the status of First Nations people to the status of “less than persons.”

Nick Supina III, Fort Saskatchewan

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