Emily Murphy was a racist but her statue is safe, for now

Emily Murphy and John A. Macdonald were racists but Murphy’s statues won’t come down anytime soon. Here’s why.

image: Famous 5 Foundation

Macdonald may have been one of Canada’s greatest prime ministers but his reputation as a nation-builder has been tarnished because of his role in the creation of residential schools. His opinions now are offensive:

“When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write.”

The view that Indigenous people were savages was common. Seen from today’s perspective, those views are abhorrent. Macdonald’s popularity is demonstrated by the 18 years he served as prime minister.

If you lived at that time, you probably would have thought the same.

Oh no, you protest! I am an enlightened person. Our treatment of Indigenous people has been cruel. I would never agree to the inhumanity perpetrated on them.

Yes, you (and I) would. We are creatures molded by the times we live in, formed by the zeitgeist of our times. Like fish, we don’t notice the water we swim in –it’s all pervasive.

But while Emily Murphy was also a racists, her statue in Emily Murphy Park, Edmonton, will remain undisturbed -for now.

Murphy was a champion of women’s rights. She is responsible for winning the rights for women to be declared legal “persons.” After women gained personhood, they could become members of the senate. She became a respected police magistrate and juvenile court judge in Edmonton.

Murphy made no secret of her distain for Canadians of Chinese decent. In her 1922 book, The Black Candle, and in articles she wrote for Macleans magazine, she claimed that good white women were being led into lives of depravity by Chinese immigrants who drugged them with opium. In her book, Murphy says:

“It behoves the people of Canada to consider the desirability of these visitors – for they are visitors – and to say whether or not we shall be ’at home’ with them in the future.”

Why hasn’t Murphy been condemned for her views? Although we have been sensitized by the atrocities against Indigenous people, that’s not so for Asian Canadians.

We have not yet woke to our deplorable treatment of Asian Canadians. While the internment of Japanese Canadians is an historical fact, it is not part of the milieu of our everyday experience.

In 1942, 22,000 Japanese Canadians, the majority of them Canadian citizens by birth, were imprisoned in camps in the B.C. interior. We know that but it’s not much more than a dry fact.

The attacks on Canadians of Asian decent have increased.  Vancouver experienced an increase of 717 per cent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021. With 98 reported cases – more than all US cities combined – Vancouver was dubbed the “anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America”.

Eventually, we will become incensed at our blatant abuse of Canadians of Asian descent.

When the spotlight shines on Emily Murphy, watch as her statue is toppled and the plaque now reading “An author and a mother, she was a leader of social reform and political issues,” is smeared with paint.

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