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Eugenics in Canada


The Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives housed “mentally defective” citizens in the city of Red Deer, Alberta. The Training School ran from 1923 to 1977, when it was renamed the Michener Center. When the name changed it still housed those with intellectual disabilities, but it was no longer a training school (Leung, n.d). The Provincial Training School largely partook in sexual sterilization, due to the passing of The Sexual Sterilization Act of 1928, which allowed for “the Eugenics Board, the body that ruled on cases for the sterilization of those deemed mentally deficient or otherwise genetically inferior” (McCavitt, 2013). This sterilization of “mental defects” was used to prevent the passage of poor genes and attempted to eliminate intellectual disabilities.

Between 1928 and 1972, close to 3,000 people were sterilized based on IQ and socioeconomic status through Alberta’s Eugenics Program. Peter Lougheed’s government, appalled by what previous administrations had overseen, repealed the Sexual Sterilization Act in 1972. The Eugenics Board was dismantled shortly after. In the late 1990s, 700 to 800 sterilization victims drew global attention by filing cases against the Alberta government following Leilani Muir’s historic 1996 lawsuit. (“Leilani Muir,n.d.).

A popular case that brought much of these topics into the media was the case of Leilani Muir. Leilani Muir is a survivor of the Provincial Training school and was sterilized while at the school. She was told that her appendix was removed when the sterilization occurred and it was not until many years later she was told the truth of her surgery. Muir has inspired others to speak out about their mistreatments and won at trial against the abuse, all the while bringing Alberta’s dark era to light. The court did find that:

- Ms. Muir was sterilized;

- Ms. Muir's appendix was removed;

- while at PTS, Ms. Muir was disciplined in a harsh and inappropriate way;

- while at PTS, Ms. Muir was essentially confined;

- while at PTS, Ms. Muir was dealt with as if she were a mental defective;

- Ms. Muir was at no greater risk of having mentally defective children than anyone else in society;

- nothing in the evidence suggests that Ms. Muir was incapable of intelligent parenthood;  (1996 CanLII 7287 (AB QB)).


Julie MacFawn is a Pre-Service teacher at the University of New Brunswick, working towards becoming an Elementary School Teacher. She is constantly looking to learn about Canada’s hidden past and present that has been historically pushed aside and silenced in order to educate her students about the land that they live and are educated on. She hopes to be able to introduce issues not explicitly mentioned in the curriculum that are imperative to students becoming members of civil society, such as multiculturalism, indigenous histories, and LGBTQ2SIA+ issues and histories.

Further Reading:

1.     Krepakkevich, J. (Producer), Whiting, G. (Director). (1996).  The Sterilization of Leilani Muir [Motion Picture]. Canada: National Film Board of Canada.

2.     Leung, C. (n.d.). Provincial Training School. Retrieved February 13, 2018, from

3.     McCavitt, C. M. (2013). Eugenics and human rights in Canada: The Alberta sterilization act of 1928. Journal of Peace and Psychology, 19(4), 362-366.

4.     Leilani Muir. (n.d.) Retrieved from

5.     Muir v Alberta, 1996, CanLII 7287 (AB QB). Retrieved from:


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