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If statues must honour, McClung should be there

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How far must we stumble down the path of political correctness before we realize that it leads us to a madhouse?

Last fall we had so-called human rights advocates demanding that Stuart Murray, former leader of the Manitoba Conservatives, be denied chairmanship of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights because he once voted against gay partners being entitled to adopt children. Ironically, the people making the demand were proponents of the principle that people should not be discriminated against because of their political opinions.

Now we have David Matas, described as a civil rights lawyer, coming out against the erection of a statue honouring Nellie McClung, the celebrated suffragette, because she once favoured compulsory sterilization of the feeble-minded. I expect I will be pilloried for using that term but I do so in the interests of accuracy because it was the term used at the time.

The name Nellie McClung is one which most of us have heard with reverence attached to it for most of our lives. She was an indefatigable champion of women's rights, and instrumental in securing the vote for women in Manitoba.

When she was an Alberta MLA she also supported a law which would require certain people, considered mentally defective, to submit to sterilization so that they would not procreate and bring other mental defectives into the world. This concept is today almost universally frowned upon. But it certainly was not when McClung supported it.

Nellie was in illustrious company: Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw both supported some form of sterilization. Shaw, by the way, was also against inoculation to prevent disease. The distinguished American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes is quoted in a judgment approving compulsory sterilization "... Three generation of imbeciles are enough."

Are we now to destroy all of the visible memorials which have been erected to honour the memory of Churchill? Are we to encourage a boycott of the plays written by Shaw? Where does this logic lead?

When McClung favoured the practice, although controversial it was a feature of the mainstream thinking in many parts of the world. In 1924, 21 states in the U.S. had laws permitting involuntary sterilization. Alberta and British Columbia had such statutes. Other countries in the world had similar laws which preceded Hitler.

It is just not right to identify supporters of sterilization with the Nazi regime. Certainly Hitler used such laws in a way that deserves the opprobrium which is rightly heaped upon him. But Hitler's crimes are more identified with his extermination of living human beings rather than the steps which were taken to prevent creation of new ones.

I am not very partial to the erection of statues honouring human beings. I suppose it stems from some subliminal observance of the fourth of the Ten Commandments which enjoins the making of images.

But if we are going to have statues, Nellie McClung is certainly an acceptable candidate.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2010 A15

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