Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound NDP speak out against commemorating McClung

The Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound New Democratic Party (BGOS NDP) recently released a statement urging the Bank of Canada to “choose any woman but Nellie McClung to put on our currency.”

MaryAnn Wilhelm, BGOS NDP federal vice-president, said while the party is happy Canada’s national bank is recognizing Canadian women for their achievements, there are two concerns.

“One is that the Bank will choose only one woman,” said Wilhelm. “And the second is that it not be Nellie McClung because of her support for Alberta’s Sexual Sterilization Act of 1928.”

McClung, who was born in Chatsworth, Ont., in 1873, moved west with her family before being elected to the Alberta Legislative Assembly in 1921. In a long, hard-fought career, she helped promote the right for women to vote and to be considered “persons,” the definition of which in the British North America Act was being used to keep women from serving in public office. She – along with Emily Murphy; Irene Parlby; Louise McKinney; and Henrietta Muir Edwards – was one of the “Famous Five” who forced the Government of Canada to recognize women as “persons.”

“These are worthy accomplishments,” said Colleen Purdon, BGOS NDP women’s representative. “Unhappily, Nellie also promoted Alberta’s eugenics legislation which, until its repeal in 1972, resulted in the forced sterilization of nearly 5,000 women.”

Rachel Mason, BGOS NDP Aboriginal representative, added: “That number included Aboriginal women in greater proportion than their numbers in the general population. They were also much more likely to be declared ‘feeble minded’ so they could not appeal the decision of the Eugenics Board. Surely, in the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this is not something Canada should be celebrating.”

According to the BGOS NDP statement, the party’s executive is “surprised and a little dismayed that two other women from this region did not even make it to the Banks’ long list: Nahneebahweeqwe (Catherine Sutton) who was such a strong advocate for the Saugeen Ojibway Nation in the 1800s, and Agnes Macphail who, in 1921, was the first woman elected to Parliament.”

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