Edmonton

Alberta cabinet minister disavows racist, sexist essay that won prize

Alberta's associate minister in charge of women's issues Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk says that an essay with sexist, racist and white nationalist elements never should have been awarded a prize in a contest for young women launched earlier this year. 

Public outcry forces legislative assembly to remove essay from its website

UCP MLA Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, pictured with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, was sworn-in as Alberta's associate minister for the status of women in June. (Government of Alberta )

Alberta's associate minister in charge of women's issues Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk says that an essay with sexist, racist and white nationalist elements never should have been awarded a prize in a contest for young women launched earlier this year. 

The author, identified only as S. Silver, won third prize in the "Her Vision Inspires" contest.

The essay states that women are not equal to men and that their ability to bear children takes priority over trying to break into male-dominated careers. 

The contest, which was a partnership between the legislative assembly and the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Canadian Region, asked women between the ages of 17 and 25 to describe their "unique vision for Alberta" and what they would do if elected an MLA. 

The author adds that women who have given birth to two children or more should receive medals and financial incentives to prevent the "import" of "foreigners to replace ourselves."

"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," Silver writes. 

"The first rule of health for any biological population is their ability to reproduce and pass along their way of life into the future."

A screenshot of an essay.
The third-placed essay states that women are not equal to men and that their ability to bear children takes priority over trying to break into male-dominated careers.  (Screenshot )

The essay was removed from the Alberta legislative assembly website Monday night after NDP MLA Janis Irwin posted screenshots of the essay on social media. 

Armstrong-Homeniuk, the UCP MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville and the newly appointed associate minister for status of women, tried to distance herself from the contest on Tuesday through a written statement. 

Initially Armstrong-Homeniuk said the essay should never have been chosen. Hours later, after hearing from her caucus and cabinet colleagues about how the essay was chosen, she issued a second statement.

"It's clear that the process failed, and I apologize for my role in that," Armstrong-Homeniuk said. 

"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's statement did not address questions about who else was on the judging panel. 

According to the contest rules, Armstrong-Homeniuk was to choose submissions during the month of March with the help of a panel of female Alberta MLAs.

The Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Canadian Region said it had nothing to do with the essay contest and said any questions should be directed to Armstrong-Homeniuk as it was a local initiative.

NDP calls essay 'hate speech'

Rakhi Pancholi, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud, said no one from the NDP caucus was involved. She demanded the government release the names of the MLAs who were so they can explain how the essay was chosen in the first place.

"I am deeply troubled by this," she said. 

"I'd like to know how this happened and how it happened without anybody raising the alarms and saying this is inappropriate. Not just inappropriate. This is tantamount to hate speech. 

"This has to be the speech that we condemn, not celebrate."

Although the essays were published on the legislative assembly website, neither the office of Speaker Nathan Cooper nor the Legislative Assembly Office were involved in choosing the winning entries, according to a statement issued by the Speaker's office. 

"The Her Vision Inspires essay contest was conceived and administered by the chair of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Canadian Regions Alberta branch," the statement said. 

"As soon as the content of the third-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."

Lise Gotell, professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Alberta, said the views promulgated in the essay about providing medals and money to encourage women to have more children reflect programs in Nazi Germany. 

She said the essay suggests a woman's job is to make babies "to shore up the race."

"This essay is not only sexist, it is also quite racist," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada. You can reach her at Michelle.Bellefontaine@cbc.ca.

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