Alberta essay contest winner slammed for discriminatory gender, race views

A lot of backlash against the United Conservative Government after a racist and sexist essay won third place in its 'Her Vision Inspires' essay contest. Saif Kaisar reports.

Several people are calling out Alberta Associate Minister of Status of Women Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk after an essay supporting discriminatory views on gender and race won third place in a government-sponsored contest.

The Her Vision Inspires essay contest winners were announced on Monday. However, after sharp criticism, the government webpage celebrating the winners was taken down.

The contest was sponsored by the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and started on Feb. 22. It invited women to “describe their unique vision for Alberta” and outline what they would do if they were an MLA.

The third-place essay, written by S. Silver, reads in part: “While it is sadly popular nowadays to think that the world would be better off without humans, or that Albertan children are unnecessary as we can import foreigners to replace ourselves, this is a sickly mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide… Women are not exactly equal to men. This biological reality is also under attack by present-day delusion. To try to promote that women break into careers that men traditionally dominate is not only misguided, but it is harmful.”

The essay also suggests the province should award women with money and medals for having more than two children, rhetoric that has drawn comparisons to Nazi ideology.

The National Holocaust Centre and Museum documented medals that were given to German mothers for having several children.

“The crosses were awarded to ‘honour German mothers for their services to the German people’ and formed part of a propaganda campaign to promote large families, thereby increasing the population of the Third Reich. Only women fulfilling Nazi racial ideals were eligible for a cross; to receive one both parents of the children had to be ‘German blooded’ in line with Nazi ideas of racial purity, and mothers had to be considered ‘worthy,'” the National Holocaust Centre and Museum’s website reads.

“Rewarding white women staying in our place and having babies so we don’t get replaced by foreigners,” one Twitter user wrote.

“Is this a joke? As a female Albertan, this is offensive + truly demeaning for women + our Cdns. Wake up @HomeniukJ this thought process is out dated, white privileged + anti everything but evangelical Christian. I am embarrassed to breathe the same air as you and 3rd place winner,” another user wrote.

The YYC Raging Grannies, a community organization focused on social justice, also slammed the essay, calling it “chilling” and “creepy,” denouncing it as misogynistic, anti-immigrant, and patriarchal.

NDP slam essay and UCP

Members of the province’s opposition NDP, including Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Janis Irwin, also took to Twitter to condemn the essay.

“This is just so messed up,” she said. “Read for yourself: the 3rd place winner of the UCP’s ‘Her Vision Inspires Essay Contest’. Explain, @HomeniukJ. You proudly launched this contest. Did you pick the winners? Is this your party’s vision for Alberta?”

Kathleen Ganley, NDP MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, has joined those in calling for an explanation from Armstrong-Homeniuk as to how the essay was awarded.

Ganley called the essay “racist,” “sexist,” and “shaming,” adding it was “mistaken on basically every level.”

“Imagine being the Minister for the Status of Women and thinking you should give an award to an essay that tells women their only value is their reproductive capacity,” Ganley said.

In response to the “women are not equal to men” comment in the essay, Alberta NDP Children’s Services Critic Rakhi Pancholi told CityNews it’s unacceptable.

“This is a terrible message to send to the young women of Alberta. It’s a message that I as a mother – including of a young girl – completely reject,” Pancholi said.

“Women are working hard to break through barriers in a society where sexism is prevalent and continues to keep them from achieving financial, physical, and psychological security.”

Pancholi adds that the “cultural suicide” comment in the essay is an absolutely reprehensible claim.

“It is a nod to the racist replacement theory that drives white nationalist hate, and which, according to the RCMP, is one of the ways that these dangerous kinds of groups recruit young people,” she said. “This is absolutely horrific and these comments should be condemned by elected leaders, not given awards.”

UCP admit wrongs, still more work to do

Armstrong-Homeniuk initially responded to the criticism in a statement that read in part: “The essay contest was intended to reflect a broad range of opinions from young Alberta women on what democracy means for them. While the essay in question certainly does not represent the views of all women, myself included, the essay in question should not have been chosen. Giving women of all ages a voice is something that I will always stand up for. To young women who aspire to one day have a career in politics, please keep using your voice and advocating for your communities.”

However, after the criticism online and concerns from UCP caucus members, Armstrong-Homeniuk amended her statement.

“Over the last several hours, some of my caucus and cabinet colleagues have raised concerns with me about how such an essay could be selected for an award.

“As the Minister for the Status of Women, I want to emphasize that I do not support rhetoric that in any way diminishes the importance and contributions of more than half of Alberta’s population. It’s clear that the process failed, and I apologize for my role in that. The selection of this particular essay and awarding it with third prize was a failure on my part as the head of the judging panel. Alberta’s government values the contributions of women and newcomers, and we will continue working towards removing barriers to equality so that all Albertans can enjoy opportunities and success in our province,” Armstrong-Homeniuk said.

The Legislative Assembly of Alberta said in a statement that it took the webpage down when the Speaker saw the essay.

“The Her Vision Inspires essay contest was conceived and administered by the chair of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Canadian Region Alberta branch. Neither the Speaker’s Office nor the Legislative Assembly Office were involved with the selection of the essays in any capacity, including who was on the MLA panel judging the contest. As soon as the content of the 3rd place winner was brought to the Speaker’s attention he immediately made the decision for the content to be removed. The content is abhorrent and does not reflect the views of the Speaker or the Legislative Assembly Office.”

Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, says it’s difficult to understand how the essay received an award and it “raises questions about the government that established the contest and gave this award.”

While Williams sees the UCP acknowledging and taking action on the “problematic” views as a step in the right direction, there is more that could be done.

“I think they need to go further and identify how this error was made and what they want to do, especially given the fact there’s a lawsuit against this government for the treatment of one of their female staffers. There have been other claims and statements made about this government’s stance on things like gender and women’s issues. So, I think it’s something that has to be addressed quite directly.”

Dr. Rebecca Sullivan, professor of English and Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Calgary, said her initial reaction was “really disturbing and really distressing, because it was modelling very dangerous eugenical language.”

She found the content “unbearably painful to unpack.”

“One second you’re unpacking the racism, then you’ve got to swerve and unpack the misogyny, and then you’ve got to get back to the racism and the colonialism, then — oh, we’re back to the misogyny. The fact that it can be done in like one sentence — much less 500 words — it’s debilitating to read something that painfully hateful,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan is also a researcher, with her research focused on feminist media arts activism, popular culture and genres, sexual media and performance, equity, diversity, and inclusion. She is the author of the book Visual Habits: Nuns, Feminism and American Postwar Popular Culture, which talks about religion and woman in the 1950s and 1960s.

“My heart breaks for this young woman if she genuinely believes this,” Sullivan added.

“To have such deeply embedded self-hatred and lack of worth to see oneself as merely a reproductive vessel and to justify that incredibly limited viewpoint through racism and eugenics, that is not a recipe for a positive life well lived.”

Like Williams, Sullivan also thinks a direct response from the Legislative Assembly of Alberta is warranted.

“I want to make sure that any comments should be directed at the very competition and its lack of transparency and accountability, and questions towards the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, and [the competition’s] judges. I think it is really problematic that the judges have not stepped forward. [We should] hold them accountable, and not slip into exactly the problem that women have in being part of the political process — which is hateful and vile comments targeted towards them.”

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