The Kaufman Kabaret presents the audience with a little known piece of Canadian history: the acceptance and decriminalization of birth control as a result of one Mr. A.R. Kaufman’s legal challenge in 1936. It became known famously as ‘the Eastview birth control trial’. Birth control and women’s rights were not, however, the only contentious issues the trial raised. The Eastview trial was as much about French Canada’s tension with the rest of Canada as it was about birth control.
The trial began as a result of Miss Dorothea Palmer’s arrest in the largely French-speaking and Catholic neighbourhood of Ottawa known as Eastview. Palmer was a social worker employed by Kaufman to distribute contraceptives to working class people, and unfortunately the Francophone clergy in Eastview did not take kindly to her intrusion on their culture and values. It is rumoured that the clergy orchestrated Miss Palmer’s arrest.
Kaufman, who despised French Canadians and their Catholicism, was determined to take his Quebecois prosecution to task, and recruited a team of expert witnesses who chided the backwardness of Francophone morals in open court.
In response, Crown prosecutor Raoul Mercier sensationalized Kaufman’s attack on Francophone culture. There were soon many articles circulating in the media about how the Eastview trial was yet another attempt by English culture to silence French Canadians.
This story gained much traction across Canada, and the Quebecois population was reminded, yet again, of their difference from the rest of Canada. The history of conflict between French and English cultures dates back to the beginnings of their colonial conquests in Canada.
Initially, the French colonized large parts of Canada—they dominated the fur and timber trade, while setting up administrative and economic centres in Quebec City and Montreal respectively. But after the Seven Years’ War broke out in Canada, France ceded its territories to Britain in 1763.
For the first few decades, relations between the two cultures were relatively peaceful, and in 1791 the British renamed Quebec “Lower Canada”. Then, the fur trade went into sharp decline and soon French Canadians were faced with an economic crisis and a realization of their second-class status in the colony. As a result, a sense of French Canadian nationalism began to grow.
This nationalism exploded into the Lower Canada rebellion of 1837 headed by the Patriotes, which was quashed violently by British troops. The rebellion prompted the British to reassess Upper-Lower Canada relations and by 1841, they decided to unite both into the Province of Canada.
The experiment of uniting French and English cultures was wrought with several tensions and uprisings, but was eventually solidified in 1867 with the birth of Confederation. The present-day province of Quebec came into being.
French Canadian identity generally relies on three factors: occupation of space (Quebec), language (French) and religion (Roman Catholic). These contrast sharply with English/rest of Canada’s identity, which is more diffuse.
The Eastview Trial in The Kaufman Kabaret by Hannah Moscovitch. March 2016. Photo by Ed Ellis.
The 1936 Eastview birth control trial brought all these aspects of French Canadian identity into the spotlight and questioned their legitimacy. Francophone culture was portrayed as backward and oppressive to women, and one that could be rescued by the decriminalization of birth control.
Ultimately, Kaufman’s victory was celebrated throughout the country, but it left people wondering: could the trial have been won without demonizing French Canadian culture?
Presenter: U of A Studio Theatre
Event Title: The Kaufman Kabaret
Dates: Mar. 24 – Apr. 2, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.
Matinee Thursday, Mar. 31 at 12:30 p.m.
Venue: Timms Centre for the Arts, University of Alberta
Single show tickets: $12 student, $25 adult, $22 senior, available online now at TIX on the Square and at the Timms Centre box office one hour before each performance.
For the full creative team, show dates and ticket details, see https://uofa.ualberta.ca/events/the-kaufman-kabaret
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