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Widening the Story - Artifact 5

Eugenics and Sterilization in Ontario


Ontario has never enacted an official Sterilization Act. Nevertheless, this has not prevented the widespread practice of eugenics. The Ontario government has sanctioned and paid for sterilizations for decades.1(footnote) Unethical sterilizations have been performed in Ontario on those categorized as poor and “mentally unfit.” Over a thousand sterilizations are said to have taken place over many decades. By 1928 First Nations Peoples of Ontario were also being classified by white settlers as mentally unfit based solely on the results from Eurocentric intelligence testing. This classification made them targets of unethical sterilization practices. For example, Peter Sandiford, who called himself a social Darwinist, conducted such tests on First Nations children in Ontario in the 1920s.2(footnote)

It wasn’t until 1986 when the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that sterilization procedures should not be conducted without a patient’s consent, even if requested by their family (in E (Mrs) v. Eve, 2 SCR 388).

The CBC’s The National highlighted the disability rights activism and advocacy, in part by Peter Park, involved in winning the Eve Case.3(footnote) The Eve Case exemplifies the power of activism coming from those labelled with a disability who speak for themselves to reduce the profoundly negative control and influence of eugenic thinking in Ontario. These rights activists have fought for a future that respects the rights of all people under the law, including disabled people and people labelled with disabilities.

Media is also a tool for disability activists to educate people about why it is important to respect peoples’ rights. Individuals who are asked to suffer for the “greater good” also tend to be excluded from that “greater good,” including disabled people and people labelled with disabilities.

CBC The National - Court Say No To Forced Sterilization

Credits | Transcript

Captioned and ASL Interpreted Video

Harmful Language

Described Video Introduction
Described Video

Harmful Language


At Macdonald Institute, eugenics leaders used education to teach sterilization as an ethical approach to building a better future for the greater good of society.

The “Eugenics” course exam represented here asks learners to recount what they learned from Dr. Madge Macklin’s guest lecturer.4(footnote) In addition to being a repeat guest lecturer for Macdonald Institute’s eugenics course in the 1930s, Dr. Madge Macklin was a co-founder of the Eugenics Society of Canada and Professor of histology and embryology at the University of Western Ontario Medical School. In her 1934 address to the Ontario Education Association, called “The New Deal in Education,” Macklin argued that while those who demonstrate high intellect should be rewarded with scholarships, the presence of “defectives” in schools was undermining the public school system by lowering the average level of intelligence. Macklin supported a biological (eugenic) perspective of human betterment and not an environmental (euthenics) one when she explained to the assembled delegates that the “lack of enterprise, intelligence, and ambition [of defectives] had kept them living in the slums and hovels.” She claimed that charity work and the “environmentalist’s delusion that brains could be put into heads that lacked them at birth” were misdirected and, worse, created “a larger and larger army of persons who desire to perpetuate the existing conditions, an army composed on the one hand of the inadequate, and on the other of those paid by the community to look after them.”5(footnote)

Macklin was also a strong supporter of sterilization to improve the human race. Macklin seems to have shared the position of the Ontario Department of Health on sterilization 1938, which was the following:

  • Sterilization operations are performed under the conditions of three different circumstances:
    1. to benefit the health of the person sterilized;
    2. for eugenic reasons to prevent the birth of defective offspring;
    3. for economic reasons where the parents cannot afford to maintain additional children.6(footnote)

The following news media articles from Waterloo Chronicle (1936), Maclean’s Magazine (1946), and The Globe and Mail (1980) demonstrate the ongoing presence of eugenic efforts to control the fertility of people with disabilities in Ontario for the “public good.”

#1 - Waterloo Chronicle, December 1936: One of Canada's Leading Industrial & Philanthropic Families Headed by Mr. A.R. Kaufman.7(footnote)


#2 - Maclean’s Magazine, Sterilizing “The Unfit” in Canada, February 15, 19468(footnote)

Article Transcript

Eugenic Sterilization in Ontario

#3 - The Globe and Mail, “OHIP Pays for Sterilization of Retarded,” August 13, 1980, 15.9(footnote)

Harmful Language

Article Transcript

  1. Dorothy Lipovenko, “OHIP Pays for Sterilization of Retarded,” The Globe and Mail, August 13, 1980.

  2. For more information, see Karen Stote, An Act of Genocide: Colonialism and the Sterilization of Aboriginal Women (Fernwood Publishing, 2015), (Source)

  3. “Court Says No To Forced Sterilization,” The National, CBC News, Oct. 23, 1986. Media republished here with express permission of the CBC.

  4. Courtesy of University of Guelph McLaughlin Library Archival & Special Collections, RE1MACA0004, Box 3, Folder 1935-1936.

  5. Macklin quoted in Angus McLaren, Our Own Master Race (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), 140-141.

  6. R.C. Montgomery, the Director of Hospital Services for Ontario, quoted in Karen Stote, An Act of Genocide: Colonialism and the Sterilization of Aboriginal Women (Fernwood Publishing, 2015), (Source)

  7. University of Waterloo Library. Special Collections & Archives, “Report on Birth Control Activities and Procedure,” Waterloo Chronicle, December 1936, Parents’ Information Bureau Fonds, GA172-4-55 (Source)

  8. Clarence Hincks, “Sterilize the Unfit.” Maclean’s Magazine, February 15, 1946, (Source).

  9. Dorothy Lipovenko, “OHIP Pays for Sterilization of Retarded,” The Globe and Mail, August 13, 1980, 15. Media republished here with express permission of The Globe and Mail.

  10. Video Credits


    Dominique Ireland (Deaf Interpreter, Connect Interpreting Services), and Debbie Parliament (ASL-English Interpreter, Connect Interpreting Services). ASL video overlay by Aaron Kelly.

    Described Video:

    Writing/ dramaturgy: Kat Germain, Rebecca Singh, Jennifer Brethour

    Consultations: Melanie Marsden, Melissa George-Watson

    Voice Actors: Elder Glenda Klassen, Christine Malec, Colette Desjardins, Scotty Yams

    Sound Engineer: David Stinson