HE is acclaimed as the father of the Canada’s model of the NHS, is the grandfather of 24 star Kiefer Sutherland, and has been hailed as the biggest ever Canadian – however Tommy Douglas was born proper right here in Scotland and is little recognized in his homeland. In reality, his story solely got here to mild on this aspect of the pond as Canada celebrated its 150 birthday.
While he’s rightly celebrated in his adoptive house as a pioneer of radical social health care, Douglas was a bigger-than-life determine whose story might have come straight from the pages of a novel. From boxing champion to outstanding politician, Douglas’s life was not with out controversy, together with a darkish aspect that included flirtations with an ideology intently related to the Nazis.
Born in Camelon, Falkirk, in 1904, Douglas was the son of an iron moulder and travelled together with his household to Canada in 1910 once they immigrated to Winnipeg. Before his household departed, the younger Douglas suffered an damage to his leg which might later form his view of drugs and lead to the revolution of healthcare in Canada.
Plagued with osteomyelitis (a bone an infection) in his proper knee, Douglas underwent a quantity of operations however his mother and father have been ultimately informed his leg would have to be amputated.
However, a nicely-recognized orthopedic surgeon took an curiosity in his case and agreed to deal with the boy for free if his mother and father would permit medical college students to observe and the leg was saved.
Many years later, Douglas informed an interviewer: “I felt that no boy should have to depend either for his leg or his life upon the ability of his parents to raise enough money to bring a first-class surgeon to his bedside.”
The household would stay in Canada till the outbreak of the First World War, once they returned to Scotland. Douglas dropped out of faculty as soon as again in his place of birth aged simply 13 and labored as a cleaning soap boy in a barber store, after which in a cork manufacturing unit.
Returning to Canada in 1918, he started an newbie boxing profession and fought for the Lightweight Championship of Manitoba, profitable the title after a six-spherical battle regardless of a damaged nostril and the loss of some tooth.
He additionally witnessed the Winnipeg General Strike, and whereas perched on a rooftop noticed police charging strikers with golf equipment and weapons. One employee was shot and the incident would was stated to have had a deep influence on the younger Douglas, giving him a dedication to defending elementary freedoms.
While this may be sufficient life for some individuals, Douglas was simply starting – at the age of 19 he determined to turn into an ordained minister and enrolled in school, the place he was significantly influenced by the Social Gospel motion, which mixed Christian rules with social reform.
He studied socialism, and paid his approach by means of school by taking preaching jobs, the place he spoke of “building a society and building institutions that would uplift mankind”.
He additionally met his future spouse Irma Dempsey, a music scholar, and had a daughter. That daughter grew up to be actress Shirley Douglas, who in flip married one Donald Sutherland, the movie legend who starred in supernatural thriller Don’t Look Now. We in all probability do not want to join the dots, however in 1966 that Hollywood energy couple gave Tommy Douglas a grandson named Kiefer, higher often known as Jack Bauer to 24 followers the world over.
However, lengthy earlier than he turned a grandfather, Douglas had delved into the philosophy which might stain his character for years to come. In his college thesis, entitled The Problems of the Subnormal Family, Douglas endorsed eugenics. In the work, he charted the lives of a dozen “immoral” and “non-moral” ladies and their 200 descendants in his hometown of Weyburn, Sask in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. To Douglas, they have been these “whose mental rating is low, ie anywhere from high-grade moron to mentally defective,” “whose moral standards are below normal,” who have been “subject to social disease,” or who have been “so improvident as to be a public cost”.
In the thesis he additionally included suggestions to cleanse the genetic pool by enhancing marriage legal guidelines to certify a pair’s fitness to procreate, the “segregation” of the subnormal populace via pressured incarceration and institutionalisation and the state-sanctioned sterilisation of the genetically and intellectually “defective.”
“It is surely,” Douglas wrote, “the duty of the state to meet this problem.”
In 1935, solely two years after writing his thesis, Douglas was elected to the House of Commons. He went on to turn into premier of Saskatchewan province, and would introduce North America’s first common health care program, which might act as a mannequin for Canada’s Medicare system.
He by no means launched the concepts in his thesis into public coverage, and historians consider he deserted them after coming face to face with the finish end result of such considering throughout a visit to pre-warfare Germany, the place he noticed first hand the Nazis’ makes an attempt to manufacture a “grasp race”.
As an envoy to a World Youth Congress in 1936, Douglas wrote he skilled a “frightful” epiphany after attending one of Adolf Hitler’s mass rallies.
The stain on Douglas’s popularity has been confronted by Canadians, who’ve made their peace with it.
In a 2012 essay in The Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, Dr Michael Shevell, head pediatrician at Montreal Children’s Hospital, wrote that Douglas’s eugenic episode ought to act as a warning, that even the greatest of intentions can go down a darkish path.
However, Dr Shevell wrote, he thought it might be “self-defeating” for the nation to taint his qualities of compassion and equality by “lapsed judgments”.
Douglas not often talked about his thesis later in his life, and his authorities by no means enacted eugenics insurance policies, although two official evaluations of Saskatchewan’s psychological health system really helpful such a program when he turned Premier and Minister of Health.
As Premier, Douglas opposed the adoption of eugenics legal guidelines and carried out vocational training for the mentally handicapped and remedy for these affected by psychological issues.
Douglas would function premier till 1961 and apart from his healthcare reforms, created Canada’s first publicly-owned automotive insurance coverage service, handed the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights, turned the first head of any authorities in Canada to name for a constitutional invoice of rights. In 1962, he was elected into the House of Commons and remained there till 1979. In 1981, he was invested into the Order of Canada, and have become a member of Canada’s Privy Council in 1984. He died in 1986 in Ottawa. All in all it wasn’t dangerous for a boy from Camelon.