Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ten + 9 years after

On Jan 25, 1996 Alberta QB Justice Joanne Veit issued her ruling on the case of Leilani Muir - marking the end of an unsavory era in Alberta history - the period of eugenic sterilization that began in 1928.  By 1928, forced sterilizations were performed in over 30 U.S States and various countries. Such eugenics programs suffered negative publicity during the post-WWII Nuremberg Trials and many such programs were abandoned throughout the free world after that - except for Alberta that continued until 1971.

Leilani herself was sterilized on Jan 19, 1959 at age 11 after being told (falsely) that she was undergoing an appendectomy that was needed.   Her mother had abandoned her as an unwanted burden to the Michener Institution for Mental Defectives in Red Deer - and due to a series of mis-communications by various doctors and bureaucrats, Leilani was never properly evaluated or tested.   Soon after she was sterilized it became clear to staff that she did not have below-average mental ability and that she was closer to normal than credited and could have been properly educated and integrated into society.

Leilani did not find out about her sterilization until she was unable to conceive during her first marriage.  This led her first marriage to fail and in her second marriage, attempts at adoption were sabotaged by false insinuations of child abuse due to her presence at the Michener Institution.

Here is the Wikipedia background noting that three of the "Famous Five Feminists" who advocated for the right of women to vote (Emily Murphy,  Henrietta Edwards and Louise McKinney) were also major proponents of this Alberta Government legislation to protect against "the scourge of moral laxity" promoted by "mental defectives", "male drunkeness", unwanted non-white immigration, "prostitutes" and other inferred moral criminals.  It should be well noted that it was the United Farmers of Alberta - (Brownlee Liberals) who designed and introduced this legislation and not the Social Credit Party (who under William Aberhart inherited a conservative mantle but with a unique brand of populist monetary theory and swept to power in the August 1935 Provincial Election). 

The Bill was sponsored and introduced by the then Minister of Agriculture and Health for Alberta, the Honourable George Hoadley.   During Second Reading of the Bill, Mr. Hoadley referred to the "need for the state to be protected from the menace which the propagation by the mentally diseased brings about" (Edmonton Journal, 1928a).  Likewise, during Third Reading of the Bill, Premier Brownlee is reported as stating that the Bill applied only to those who were a "menace to the community" (Edmonton Journal, 1928b).  During Second Reading, Mr. Hoadley stated that: 
"If it is quantity of production of the human race that is desired, then we don't need this Bill, but if we want quality, then it is a different matter" (Medicine Hat News, 1928)
Likewise, when the National Council of  Women passed a resolution in 1925 calling for the sterilization of mental defectives, the greatest support came from its members in Alberta and British Columbia. These included such prominent women as Nellie McClung and Emily Murphy, who were at the forefront of the campaign for eugenic sterilization in Alberta (Christian, 1974; McLaren, 1990). 
The same connection between sterilization laws, marriage laws, and the eugenics movement is evident in Alberta and British Columbia. A provision prohibiting a marriage where one party was "an idiot, insane or mentally incompetent" was first introduced in Alberta in 1925 (Solemnization of Marriage Act, S.A. 1925, c. 39, s. 29), only three years before the Sexual Sterilization Act. Likewise, a similar marriage prohibition was enacted in British Columbia in 1930, three years prior to that province's Sexual Sterilization Act (Robertson, 1994).
It was the perceived benefits to society, rather than the interests of the individual, which were the driving force behind the Act (Alberta Institute of Law Research and Reform, 1988; 1989).
Among the discredited academics involved in this case was Prof. John M. MacEachran who was founder of the Department of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Alberta, and served as its first Head. He also served as the University of Alberta’s first Provost. He retired from the University in 1945, and died in 1971 at the age of 94.  He was Chair of the Provincial Alberta Eugenics Board from 1929 to 1965. 

Retrospectively - Prof. MacEachran was heavily criticized for how he handled a number of these decisions. It was noted that over 2800 sterilization decisions were made while the legislation was in force from 1928 - 1972 (44 years or 64/yr) and that each took 10 minutes on average.
One of the most dominant and recurrent themes of eugenics philosophy in the late 19th and early 20th century was the emphasis on this link between mental retardation and criminality, and the consequent "menace" which mental deficiency posed to society. For example, in his influential book published in 1914, Feeble-Mindedness; An Inquiry into its Nature and Consequences, Henry Goddard, a leading specialist in delinquency in the United States, emphasized the correlation between mental retardation and crime, noting that "the Moron ... is a menace to society and civilization ... he is responsible to a large degree for many, if not all of our social problems" (Linn & Bowers, 1978: 627). 
The link between feeblemindedness and crime, and the resulting "menace" to society was also very much alive and well in Canada in the early part of the 20th century. For example, E.W. McBride, the Strathcona Professor of Zoology at McGill University in the early 1900's and a leading proponent of eugenics in Canada, called for the weeding out of prostitutes, criminals and drunkards by means of sterilization. Similarly, the work of Carrie Derick, a professor of botany at McGill and a prominent Montreal feminist, purported to show a high degree of mental deficiency among criminals, which she concluded indicated the need for society to free itself of the "menacing shadow of the mental defective" (McLaren, 1990: 24). 
The same themes are evident in the work of Dr. Helen MacMurchy, a medical doctor and a government inspector of the feebleminded in Ontario from 1906 to 1916. Professor McLaren  describes MacMurchy as the "best-known Canadian defender" of the argument that sterilization was better than segregation as a way of dealing with the menace of feeblemindedness (McLaren, 1990:42). In one of her annual reports, MacMurchy concluded that mental defectives were responsible for up to 60% of society's alcoholics, 66% of its juvenile delinquents, 50% of its unmarried mothers, and possibly 97% of its prostitutes. She expressly endorsed the view originally coined by Henry Goddard, that "every mental defective is a potential criminal" (McLaren, 1990:40). This was also a favourite phrase of Emily Murphy in 1996 (CanLII 7287 (AB QB)) the many speeches which she gave throughout Alberta in the 1920's, espousing the benefits of eugenic sterilization (Christian, 1974).
The emphasis of eugenics philosophy on preventing criminal behaviour is also apparent from the famous judgment of Mr. Justice Holmes in Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927), a decision of the United States Supreme Court upholding the constitutional validity of the sterilization laws of Virginia. In the words of Justice Holmes (at 207):
"It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes ... Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
The Law Reform Commission of Canada described the decision in Buck v. Bell as having validated the "foundation of the eugenists' argument - the belief that mental illness, mental retardation and criminality are inherited" (Law Reform Commission of Canada, 1979: 26). Buck v. Bell unquestionably had an influence on the enactment of the sexual sterilization legislation in Alberta and British Columbia (Alberta Institute of Law Research and Reform, 1988).
The Suffragettes/Feminists including Murphy, Edwards and McKinney were also strong supporters of Liquor Prohibition that was introduced into Canada with support of the Christian Women's Temperance Union (CWTU) as Wartime Measures in 1916-17.

However once the soldiers returned from WWI, the end of formal prohibition was neigh and most  Provincial Liquor Controls Boards were established by 1924.  But a booming trade in illicit, cross-boarder "rum-running" to our American friends took up the slack until U.S Prohibition finally ended in Dec 1933.

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