Arriving in Vancouver on the last weekend of April for their sixth annual meeting and convention, members of REAL Women found themselves again under attack.
This time the furor was caused by a newsletter signed by Peggy Steacey, the president of the B.C. chapter of REAL Women, and sent to members across the country.
The letter discussed such topics as abortion, the Montreal murders, explicitly graphic sex ed materials, homosexual activities, the Gay Games and Chantal Daigle’s nomination as Newsmaker of the year.
A copy of this mailing somehow found its way into the hands of non-member Jan Pullinger, New Democrat MLA of Nanaimo, who brought the attention of the Legislative Assembly carefully selected passages. These she declared, were hate literature.
She was particularly incensed that B.C. REAL Women had benefited from a 12-year old Ministry of Tourism program that provides envelopes and postage in return for the inclusion of promotional material in mail outs to convention delegates. Only later was it revealed that some 3350 other groups, including the organizers of the Gay Games, and used the same government service this year.
New Democrats and representatives of gay rights group and related movements repeatedly described the letter as hate literature, a theme quickly picked up by the local and national media.
The statements they found particularly offensive included the following: “Strangely, someone who practices bigamy is called a bigamist, but if you call someone who practices sodomy a sodomist, you are preaching hate,” and “The thought of Vancouver being known as Sodom North because we are more accepting of the gay lifestyle is sickening.” Most decent people do not know the disgusting filthy activities indulged in by these people (homosexuals and lesbians).” Most of the women’s centers are nothing more than drop-in centers disseminating a lot of anti-government, feminist literature.” “Most homosexuals suffering from AIDS are simply reaping what they have sown.”
Citing the new president of the Canadian Advisory Council of the Status of Women as an example, one passage noted that though many members of ethnic minority groups achieve leadership roles in Canada, they still persist in denouncing Canada as a very racist country. One paper called this an attack on black women.
In his address to the convention, editor Ted Byfield said, “I had no trouble understanding what Peggy was saying. She was expressing concern about the continued erosion of Christian standards, the demise of the family and the disintegration of our society.
That, of course, was what the attackers had in mind. They didn’t even attempt to disprove the statements they objected to. Instead they concentrated on what they do best: raising smoke screens and distorting the facts.
They implied that the newsletter was a policy statement by the national organization, although it was clearly no such thing.
They ignored the fact that a private mailing had been scrutinized and made public, leading Vancouver writer Paul Nielsen to ask, “Is Big Brother alive and well?”
They called for cuts to REAL Women’s funding, although the organization does not receive funding and functions on donations from members’ grocery money.
They demanded that REW be denied the freedom to express either truth or opinion, while expressing their own opinions with great disregard for accuracy and truth.
Decrying the “insults” in REAL Women literature, some commentators themselves demonstrated a remarkable selection of invective in their denunciations. “Real loonies.” Outrageous fringe group.” “Homophobic racists.” “Ignorant hateful intolerants.” Bigots hankering for organized oppression.” “Reactionary elitist and anti-feminist losers.” “No different from the KKK.”
REAL Women officials quickly became aware that the attack was carefully orchestrated. “It is very strange that although the offending letter had been circulated several weeks earlier, it came to public attention only on the eve of our national convention,” noted one. “They were obviously biding their time.”
They also became convinced that they were witnessing a deliberate attempt to discredit Premier Bill Van der Zalm as well as REAL Women.
Every effort was made to portray the Social Credit Party as supporting a hate-mongering extremist group. The Premier’s routine welcome letter, included in the mail out, was made to look like a particularly warm welcome to a group of bigots.
The scheduled visit to Fantasy Gardens, partially owned by the Premier and said to be one of Vancouver’s fine attractions, was presented as additional evidence. And the objectors castigated the government for not screening such mailings, though they would otherwise be the first to protest such censuring as a violation of rights.
Despite the distractions and stress of coping with the media, REAL Woman members carried on with a busy schedule on board meetings and workshops.
The constitutional review committee presented 27 amendments to the national bylaws. The changes provided for male membership on a non-voting basis, expansion of the Board of Directors from 12 to 20 members and establishment of several standing committees. Resolutions addressed such issues as the payment of child care subsidies directly to parents, and improved tax treatment for the two-parent, one-earner family.
Judith Anderson, a Toronto special education teacher, was elected national president. Three regional vice-presidents were elected; Barbara Stasuk of Burnaby, Gwen Landolt of Toronto and Dr. Jeanne Chevrier of Aylmer. Carole Roy-Blais also of Aylmer, was given special responsibility for liaison with the Francophone community. Other members of the national executive are Treasurer Sophie Hoannou and Secretary Anne Hartmann, both of Ottawa.
Major workshop presentations included the impact on women of Government Economic Policies, Shaping the Social Environment through Media, Children’s Needs, Legislation Affecting Canadian Life, and Reproductive Technology. Speakers included Economist Dr. Walter Block of the Fraser Institute, Editor Ted Byfield and Child Psychologist Dr. T.P. Millar.