Jane Harris-Zsovan’s book, Eugenics and the Firewall: Canada`s Nasty Little Secret is now (J. Gordon Shillingford, 2010) in print. It details the surprising reach of the compulsory sterilization movement in early twentieth century Canada. Many across the political spectrum participated, until the practice was finally derailed by informed public opinion and the courts.
The book’s national launch will be Wednesday, November 17, 2010, 1:30-3:30, Galt Museum & Archives Store, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. Harris-Zsovan chose that locale because “the Galt archives have been helping me from time I wrote my first history paper at University.”
Harris-Zsovan, who spent many hours poring over decades-old newspaper clippings, is bracing herself for controversy:
I’m inviting everyone I know and that includes people on the left, right and centre in Canada. I can’t wait to see them all chit-chatting in the gallery at the Galt! I’ve warned them all that they will be uncomfortable with parts of this book. They seem okay with that so far. But I hope that discomfort leads to a healthy discussion.
Well, I hope so too. Many of us have found that discussion of eugenic sterilization – discussion that includes any mention of the social Darwinism that underlies it – often leads to the frantic defense of some Shrine to Evolution. To say nothing of attacks on anyone who offers evidence. Indeed, the spin now turns so fast that in the United States, museum goers are informed that Darwin was not a racist or eugenicist, when there is simply no escaping the facts of the case.
Anyway, Jane’s is hardly a “take no prisoners” approach to unsavoury history:
I treat my home province, Alberta, B.C., and the architects of the only Sexual Sterilization Acts in the British Empire fairly gently. They made bad decisions, but we make worse ones. This behaviour continued from 1928 until 1972. (Actually it continued well after that until the Supreme Court put a stop to it.)
My sense is that too many people in Canada, generally a”low threat” society, assumed that it Couldn’t Be Happening Here. Surprise, surprise.
Harris Zsovan is confident that
The lesson of the book: As bad as our past was, especially in Western Canada, we can be an example to other countries, most particularly the U.S. and Western Europe, if we own up to this.
Sure, Jane, if all Hull doesn’t break loose first.
And if you think what happened in Canada was bad, consider what happened when social Darwinism hit Africa …