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Sterilizations Were "Sexual Assault", Former Institution Residents Claim
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 7, 2003

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--Nineteen former residents of a BC mental hospital are suing the provincial government for sexual assault because it allowed them to be sterilized illegally.

The plaintiffs in the case -- 18 women and one man -- claim they were sterilized between 1940 and 1968 when British Columbia law allowed for people with mental illness or mental retardation to be sterilized if experts believed that they might pass their mental disabilities along to their children.

The law was passed during the eugenics movement, which was based on the racist belief that society would be improved if people with "undesirable" traits were not allowed to have children. More than 60,000 Americans were sterilized in the early and middle of the last century. Adolph Hitler is known to have used American eugenics laws for the blueprint of his Nazi policies calling for sterilization of hundreds of thousands of people with and without disabilities.

The legal action filed last year was initiated by Jay Chalke, the province's public guardian and trustee for people with mental disabilities. Chalke said that official hospital documents show these patients were sterilized for reasons other than eugenics -- reasons that were not allowed under the sterilization laws.

"The history that's provided in support of the sterilizations is not a eugenics or genetic concern, but rather one that's really more institutional management," Chalke said.

The suit, scheduled to go to trial March 17, is similar to one filed during the mid-1990s in neighboring Alberta, the only other Canadian province that allowed for sterilizations of people with these disabilities in institutions. As a result of that suit, Alberta paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to institution residents who were sterilized without their consent.

Thomas Berger, the attorney representing the group, explained that this case is different from the Alberta case because BC says the statute of limitations has run out for legal action based on its eugenics laws. So Berger plans to argue that these were victims of sexual assault -- a crime that has no time limit for prosecution in the province and that does not require "sexual gratification" on the part of the perpetrator.

"What is necessary is an act of 'power, aggression and control.' That is what we have in each of these cases," Berger said.

"There is, in fact, a smoking gun in this case," claimed Berger, citing a memo by Dr. W.J.G. McFarlane, clinical director of the mental hospital in 1971, which stated: "These cases were in all honesty not primarily referred for eugenics purposes."


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