In the early 19th century Canada began forced sterilization of women and some men without their consent as a part of the eugenics movement. First coined by Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton in 1883, it included marriage laws and segregation. This psdeo-science was based in racism rather than fact. It appealed to the fears of Protestant Anglo-Saxons in Canada.
Who was affected
Sterilization, another aspect of eugenics, was to stop “undesirable” traits from being passed on genetically. These traits included but weren’t limited to:
being an immigrant
having a disability
being a victim of abuse
having a mental illness
being a person of colour
being an unwed mother
There was never any shred of consent. Some survivors say they were told that they were going into surgery for unrelated operations, like removing their appendix.
Canadian suffragists and temperance advocates were among the strong supporters of eugenics. Liberal MLA Nellie McClung helped pass the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act on March 7, 1928. The Act included the creation of a eugenics board which decided which individuals should be sterilized. From 1929 to 1972, 2822 people were officially sterilized.
British Colombia also had a similar act in 1933, though it was not used as often as in Alberta.
The act wasn’t erased until 1972. On June 12, 1995 Leilani Muir took the Alberta government to court for her injust sterilization. In January 1996, she won the case. Along with more than 700 other victims of forced sterilization in Alberta, Muir was awarded damages.
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