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Who is safe from the cancel mob?

October 2020

The danger of judging the past using today’s morals and standards.

For the past several years, the “woke” crowd have been calling for the Stalinesque erasure of people from Canada’s past. Our first Prime Minister and Father of Confederation Sir John A. Macdonald has been a favourite target for his support of Indian Residential Schools. Now the cancel mob has turned its sights on Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, a Scottish politician and the name-sake of Dundas Street and the Town of Dundas.

This is another example of why there are times when you need to be careful what you wish for.

Dundas, a man that frankly few, myself included, were aware of before this cancel campaign began, advocated for the gradual abolition of slavery during British House of Commons debates in 1792, something that is quite offensive to the cancel mob.

Oxford University professor Brian Young, who has written about Dundas, points out that Dundas, who was ultimately in favour of abolition, “…saw that the immediate abolition of slavery was impossible: there were simply too many established interests,” and that he wanted the word “gradual” included in the legislation, “…to ensure it made it to the statute book and that slavery would ultimately be abolished. Anything other than this would have been a provocation that would have put back the cause of abolition by decades.”

While some could argue Dundas was putting business profits over human lives, others could argue he was simply being realistic, not only in its effect on business, but in its ultimate passage into law and public acceptance. Need I remind everyone that the Americans fought a war over slavery?

Another reality that seems to be lost on the cancel mob is we do need to be careful about judging the past using today’s morals and standards.  Yes, there are some things in the past that were truly reprehensible, like slavery.  However, slave ownership was once not only legal, but socially acceptable. By advocating for abolition, even if it was a gradual process, politicians like Dundas were going against the social norms of the time and a commonly held view world-wide that slavery was essential to profitable business.

Similarly, Sir John A. Macdonald’s views on Residential Schools, or even his opinions of Aboriginal people, were in line with others of his time.  That’s not to say that things like Residential Schools or slavery weren’t reprehensible, but societies evolve and some things that were acceptable even 10 years ago are no longer acceptable today.

If we are going to denounce and destroy any honours and memorials to those from the past, where do we stop?

Does Tommy Douglas, the “father of socialized Medicare in Canada” get a pass?  He is a hero to many Canadians, not just to those of the left, yet in his day, he advocated for labeling homosexuality as a mental illness.  Ironically, this was a very progressive opinion because homosexuality was considered a criminal offence at the time, so despite the repugnant nature of this opinion by today’s standards, it was a step forward.

Douglas also wrote his master’s thesis in Sociology, supporting the then popular social philosophy of eugenics, the idea that the genetic quality of people can be improved by interning in camps those deemed “subnormal” (those of low intelligence, loose morals or suffering from sexually transmitted diseases) and sterilizing those judged “mentally defective.”  Eugenics was something the Nazis practiced.  Was the socialist Douglas a Nazi supporter?

How about Nellie McClung, a Canadian feminist, politician and social activist?  McClung was an activist who promoted social and moral reform movements prevalent in Western Canada in the early 1900s and one of “The Famous Five” who launched the “Persons Case”, a constitutional case that declared women were eligible to sit in the Canadian Senate.  Well, McClung also espoused eugenics and she contributed to the passage of eugenics legislation in Alberta.

How about celebrated Mohawk warrior and political leader Chief Joseph Brant, who fought with the British forces during the American Revolutionary War. Brantford, Ontario and Brant County are named in his honour, as is Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ontario, which occupies part of the original land grant given to Brant in recognition of his service to the crown. Brant was a slave owner, so should he be erased from Canada’s history too?

If it’s appropriate to remove statues and monuments to people like Macdonald or Dundas, how about the great Civil Rights leader Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was against homosexuality.  Should we remove monuments to him, like the one recently unveiled in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia?

Bottom line, if we are going to denounce those from the past whose views and actions we disagree with now, where do we stop? Sometimes, you really do need to be careful what you wish for.

Sources: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-53041048.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/who-is-safe-from-the-cancel-mob/

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