Reflections of Canada's Eugenical Past: Contemporary Accounts of Structural Violence(s) Against Persons with Disabilities

Friday, 20 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Tess SHELDON, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Canada
This paper explores Canada’s eugenical legacy, and draws on accounts of social murder and social apartheid as relevant to the rights experiences of persons with disabilities in Canada. These accounts are reminiscent of the evidence of widespread institutional violence and structural violence against persons with disabilities in Canada. Its underlying legal questions are also reminiscent of public health law’s dark history, including the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in Buck v Bell (1927) upholding a Virginia law that authorized the involuntary sterilization of “feeble minded” persons. The law was found to serve the public’s health because “[t]hree generations of imbeciles are enough.” This paper adopts a broad understanding of the State’s eugenical authority beyond coercive sterilization. It also attends to the eugenical impact of neoliberal policies, oppressive living and working conditions, barriers to health care or disability supports, and the trauma caused by the (interlocking) operation of ableism, sanism, racism and poverty. The paper will offer four examples to illustrate the lingering of Canada’s eugenical past: immigration decisions about the inadmissibility of persons with disabilities including expectations of their “excessive demand” on health or social services, the police killings of racialized persons with (mental health) disabilities, Canada’s failure to adequately respond to the opioid epidemic, and the exacerbation of the Indigenous suicide crisis on- and off-reserve by the defunding of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. While the term “eugenics” is largely absent from current public discourse, the legacy of Canada’s eugenical history persists.