Wednesday October 18, 2000
Famous Five Statue Honours Racism and Eugenics Advocates
Canadian feminist political exercise stretches truth and downplays serious negatives
Famous Five celebrations over the past few days culminated today with the controversial unveiling of the Famous Five statue on Parliament Hill. The poorly attended event was also the occasion of two pro-life protests, one coordinated with the help of Campaign Life Coalition and the other sponsored by REAL Women of Canada.
Seventy-one years ago today women were granted the right to be appointed Senators in Canada’s Senate by England’s Privy Council, announced Famous Five Foundation president Frances Wright in her comments at the unveiling. This decision symbolizers the right of women to participate in every aspect of public life, she added.
Such symbolism, however, seems to be in the eye of the beholder. The social conservative women’s organization, REAL Women, scoffs at such a notion. The national organization is very critical of politicians and others who are overlooking the well documented advocacy of racism and eugenics by some of these women being honoured today. REAL Women spokesman, Diane Watts, told LifeSite that women were already permitted to be Members of Parliament at the time. They also had the right to vote and were already being accepted into the professions.
In terms of the eugenics controversy, Famous Five supporters have argued that these women were simply a product of their time and, therefore, shouldn’t be damned as a result of those views because of the great contribution they made to women’s rights. Mrs. Watts, however, dismisses such self-justifying rhetoric, arguing that “an elite thought that way [supported eugenics], not everybody.” Joined by about a dozen protestors, she was carrying signs outside Parliament with messages such as: “Racists should not be honoured” and “Famous Five supported eugenics.”
The other pro-life protest drew about 40 people who were distributing pamphlets which said “The Discrimination Continues.” Instead of criticizing the Famous Five event, they piggy-backed on it, arguing that the same Supreme Court which discriminated against “a whole class of people” – women – seventy years ago, discriminates today against another whole class of people – unborn children.
The Famous Five statue is also controversial because of the anti-democratic way the decision was approved. Special parliamentary permission had to be received for the statue since only statues of political leaders have thus far been permitted on the Parliament grounds. Liberal backbencher Jean Augustine introduced a motion several times in Parliament last year to authorize the placing of the statue on Parliament Hill until it received “unanimous consent.” This does not mean that all MPs supported the motion, just that no MPs in the House at the time, voiced their opposition. Independent MP John Nunziata and Reform MP Garry Breitkreuz had denied unanimous consent several times already that day, indicating that there was not full support for such a move among Canada’s elected representatives.
The Famous Five unveiling was coordinated out of Sheila Copps’ Heritage Canada department and the Cabinet Minister was on hand for the ceremony, as was the Prime Minister, the Governor-General and a number of other MPs and Senators. The ribbon around the statue was cut jointly by the Prime Minister, the Governor-General, Ms. Copps and the woman who carved the piece, Barbara Patterson.