The Alberta Eugenics Movement and the 1937 Amendment to the Sexual Sterilization Act

W Mikkel Dack

Abstract


The scholarly study of eugenics legislation in Alberta has been seriously limited as research has focused on the province’s original Sterilization Act, passed in March 1928, and on the political, social, and economic conditions of the 1920s. Although the 1928 Act was of great significance, being the first sterilization law passed in Canada, it was its 1937 amendment and the permitting of involuntary sterilizations that made the Alberta eugenics movement truly distinct. During the late 1930s, a time when the great majority of regional governments were either decommissioning or disregarding their sterilization laws due to a lack of funding, the discrediting of scientific racism and an increase in public protest, Alberta expanded its own legislation. Although similar laws were met with fierce opposition in other provinces and in the United States, this new amendment of 1937 remained largely unopposed in Alberta.
As a result of such narrowly focused research, the explanations for why the Act was amended and why resistance to non-consensual sterilization remained minimal during the 1930s have been based almost entirely on political and social assumptions and not on sound evidence; explanations have proven to be exaggerated, inaccurate, and misleading. By dismissing the preconceived notions and arguments of the past we are left with a new grounding from which to build future propositions and with a new set of sharpened questions to help determine why the Alberta government, and presumably its people, were willing to support such regressive legislation when it was being ignored and rejected elsewhere. By doing so new theories arise, such as the influential role of individual personalities within the provincial government and the Alberta medical community, the definition and diagnosis of “mental deficiency” in Canada, and the means by which political resistance could be expressed.

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