Back of the new $50 Canadian banknote
Emily’s Paradox was written and published on-line due to the frustration with mostly finding one-sided accounts available on the internet about her – the sanctioned, sanitized hero version.
With the minting of the Famous Five on the new Canadian $50 bill that just went into circulation November, 2004, discussion was swirling around the media once again about her legacy without much fanfare, though public acknowledgement of her less virtuous traits seems more widely known, and reinforce of some of the concerns expressed here.
The disappointment I felt after researching Emily Murphy, who has been conditioned into our psyche as a women’s hero, someone who fought for women’s equality, was huge. After learning more, I realized women already had the vote, could run for office, hold most public positions and her contributions to Canadian society are mainly relevant to women who desire to be appointed to the Senate or think forced sterilization or punishing people who use some drugs is acceptable. I couldn’t, and still don’t understand, our glorification of her.
Women activists and educators who actually opened doors for women to win the right to vote, study and practise medicine, such as Dr. Emily Howard Stowe, (the first Canadian woman to practise medicine in Canada) or her daughter, Dr. Augusta Stowe Gullen, (The first female doctor to graduate from a Canadian medical school) are obscured by history, yet probably impact more women’s lives in meaningful ways than Murphy could ever hope to.
I felt it was time to re-visit this paper, and update it to where Emily stands today in the annals of Canadian history. Also, links to new, relevant material have been added.
Emily Murphy has surfaced larger than life once again, not only enshrined in bronze on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, but as of the November 2004, circulating on the new Canadian $50 bill.
Were her acheivements really so significant that we should embed her further into the collective memory via our currency, or is a very small but persistant lobbying effort paying off with no opposition as expected. When we choose our battles these days, people are far less passionate about devoting time and energy to dead people and the past, as they are to fighting today’s tyrants and for a better future, so it was an easy victory.
Emily Murphy’s achievement was winning the right for women to be appointed to the Senate. Today, approximately 30 women benefit from appointments in the Senate as a result of her efforts while thousands suffer because of her equally arduous pursuit of spreading her particular brand of racism. It is somehow dismissed as not relevant to contemporary Canada, but it is very much so, which is what prompted Mr. Marc-Boris St. Maurice, the Leader of the Marijuana Party, to attempt to throw a pie at the statue of her during an Ottawa medical cannabis rally in 2000.
Fighting for the equality of women, in a larger legal sense, while simultaneously advocating that drugs used by immigrants be
prohibited, thus stripping users of some substances of equal rights, has mutated into the drug war
of today and now affects all races. In Emily’s day those were mainly the Afro-Americans and
Mexicans who enjoyed cannabis and the Chinese who partook of opium.
What Murphy didn’t understand, and judging by our laws, our government still does not understand –
is how can one fight sexism but promote racism, or the other way around as is often the case? Are
they not really one in the same thing; the delusional impression of superiority over other human
beings? Todays version supplants racism with plain old prejudice.
The side of Emily we want to ignore is her belief in white supremacy. Her contempt for other
races, mainly Oriental and black, has been immortalized in print for almost 80 years. In her book,
“The Black Candle”, which was actually derived from her columns written under the pen name “Janey
Canuk”, she wrote;
“The [marihuana] addict loses all sense of moral responsibility. Addicts to
this drug, while under the influence, are immune to pain, and could be severely injured without
having any realization to their condition. While in this condition they becoming [sic] raving
maniacs and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons, using the most
savage methods of cruelty without, as said before, any sense of moral responsibility.”
For Emily, erroneous statements such as this were a logical progression to or from, ” We naturally
classify these traitors (Chinese) as men of fishy blood who might easily be guilty of any enormity
no matter how villainous. We execrate [loathe intensely] them and take upon ourselves a kind of
Our modern day consciousness is discerning enough that The LeDain Commission included in the
forward of the book;
“Despite the recent revisions, many of Mrs. Murphy’s original
proposals are still reflected in our present narcotics legislation….of equal importance was Mrs.
Murphy’s impact on the public’s perception of drug use and users. Although her more outrageous
claims have been dismissed, many of her erroneous assumptions are still accepted by segments of the
“The public’s profound ignorance for drug use and the lack of objective information
enhanced her apparent expertise. …Her writings were extremely influential in shaping Canadian
drug laws which underwent significant changes in the 1920’s.”
They also contend:
“Perhaps the greatest legislative impact of her work was on the penalty
provisions of the law. She advocated the convicted offender be subject to longer prison sentences,
whipping at the judges’s discretion, and deportation if he was an alien. However, her
recommendations to establish treatment facilities for drug offenders were ignored….” (1)
By exposing what she thought was moral ‘weakness’, she exposed her own – intolerance.
We view Hitler, the KKK and others who shared Murphy’s great white vision as unacceptable, but her
views are merely dismissed as the norm for her time, even though many still suffer today. And that
is how we just sweep the whole matter under the rug?
Despite her, we have become a multi-cultural society and the people who were once
vilified along with their drugs have become our neighbours. Today’s hate crime legislation would
somewhat stifle her publicly stated opinions, but her bigotry and ignorance, along with American
influence, are largely responsible for the drug laws that exist in this country today.
We only have to look at where the USA is going to scare us off the drug war
completely. The high rate of incarceration, especially for non-violent crime and drug offences, and
prison conditions has prompted investigation by organizations such as Amnesty International . Eric
Schlosser, wrote in The Atlantic Monthly in his article, The Prison Industrial Complex,”The United
States now imprisons more people than any other country in the world — perhaps half a million more
than Communist China.”
He quotes Marc Mauer, the author of “The Race to Incarcerate,” “We have embarked on a
great social experiment. No other society in human history has ever imprisoned so many of its own
citizens for the purpose of crime control.” (2)
The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Canada’s latest version of national drug
policy, still includes sections originally put in place to ensnare other races and strip them of
their liberty. In today’s world, these sections have become nothing more than a euphemism for the
blackmarket. Prohibiting some drugs has now entwined and criminalized every class and race and both sexes in its web
because cocaine, heroin and cannabis are no longer strangers to any culture within Canada. In fact,
these substances and many, many others which have manifested, are deeply woven into the societal
fabric and has put the freedom of millions of people, or “strands” of that fabric at stake.
Some prominent journalists have criticized Murphy’s darker side, but either
overlooked, or did not want to mention, the connection to those currently affected by prohibition.
Peter Menzies wrote in the Calgary Herald, “One does not remake history outside of its context. But in casting Emily
Murphy in stone today, we make history in the present by excusing her racism in order to approve
her feminism. That methinks, would be wrong.” (3)
Ted Byfield stated, “The directors of the North Shore Crisis Service Society in North
Vancouver decided to eliminate Emily Murphy as the name of a transition house that caters to women
of all races. They did so after an article in the Calgary Herald pointed out that dear old Emily,
besides being a champion feminist, was also a white supremacist and one of the leading advocates of
the Alberta eugenics program which saw vast numbers of women sterilized as mentally unfit to bear
For that reason alone, how can we celebrate her as a ‘hero to women’ when she wanted
to do away with the right of other women to their sexuality through her support of eugenics? A
hero? Tell that to the women who were sterilized. Why is there this rationalization within part of
the women’s movement to make Emily Murphy a hero anyway?
We are expected to honour Emily with a revisionist view and for most people that
probably isn’t a problem. But for some of us, like Mr. St. Maurice, it is a problem. “The unclouded
eye is better…no matter what it sees.” (F. Herbert)
It is a mistake to honour the woman until we look at the whole picture. Everyone has
been taught that two wrongs don’t make a right – no matter how much the government and some
feminists try to convince us otherwise, because it was wrong of Murphy to advocate suppressing the
rights of others so honouring her is wrong too.
It is true many heroes have less than exemplary pasts, but in Murphy’s case, we are
still feeling the horrendous effects of her vision for the future. It makes it difficult, and for
some, too painful, to forgive and forget. Ironically this leads to fighting to right a wrong which
is an example she set that must now be used against her influence.
One group’s advances can not be made at a cost to another, because truthfully it
isn’t progress – it’s oppression, whether they are black or white; male or female, users of some
substances, or users of other substances. Her paradoxical handiwork suggests seeing more than one
side of her which we stubbornly refuse to do and pay for it every time a family member is arrested
for an illegal drug violation.
The time has come to demand a full accounting of Emily’s legacy and start looking at
the truth. We cannot change the past or it’s mistakes, but there is no excuse or reason why we
cannot correct today and the future.
More on Emily Murphy’s legacy can be found at:
The Medusa of Murphy
Why are we putting xenophobic feminist on the back of new bill?
Murphy Campaigned Against ‘Marijuana Menace’
Easing Pot Laws Would Burn Up Emily Murphy
Should the Famous Five be on the $50 bill?(Hannaford)
Should the Famous Five be on the $50 bill? (Public Response)
To some, it’s the Infamous Five
Putting Women In Their Place
The Real Janey Canuck
Reefer Madness Redux
If you think the bill should be changed, you can contact:
Bank of Canada
(1) Murphy, Emily F. (1922) The Black Candle
Published: Toronto : T. Allen,.
(2) Schlosser, Eric (1998) The Prison-Industrial Complex
The Atlantic Monthly, Dec./98, http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/98dec/prisons.htm
(3) Calgary Herald , May 6, 1998
(4) Edmonton Sun, May 24, 1998
Originally published: November 25, 2000
Updated: Feb. 2005