Components: Self-Guided 1

Three green gears working togetherComponents: Self-Guided 1 – Sterilization as Law and Practice

Timing: 45 minutes
Mode: In-class; online

Sterilization legislation in Alberta was a legal response to broadly-held eugenicist ideas which understood the larger social good to be dependant on limiting the reproductive capacity of certain citizens.  This set of historical documents and audio commentary allows students to unravel the reasoning behind the 1928 Sexual Sterilization Law of Alberta as well as its later amendments.  Students analyze historical documents (a Superintendent’s report that attempts to justify this kind of legislation as well as the legislation itself) and hear University of Lethbridge Sociologist Claudia Malacrida explain the history of eugenics and outline key developments to eugenic thought and law in Alberta.

Head and shoulders photo of Claudia Malacrida.
Claudia Malacrida, sociologist


But laws are not just legal acts, they shape our lives, and unjust laws impinge particularly on the circumstances of marginalized and vulnerable people.  So social historians, cultural historians and sociologists are interested not only in laws, but also in uncovering and explaining how power operated “on the ground.”  In Alberta, a Eugenics Board determined the sexual and reproductive fate of those who were brought before it.  But how did the Eugenics Board actually operate?  What did it do and how did it carry out its work?

The following text and set of audio commentaries and primary historical documents allow students to investigate the ideas behind Alberta’s sterilization legislation and the mechanics of the province’s Eugenic’s Board.  Students can work through this material online or in class.  These self-guided resources are well suited for flipped classroom use with an in class or online discussion or learning activity.

Ask students to use the following questions to guide their exploration of these components:

  • What do these components tell us about the historical role of medicine, science and the law and their institutions in violating the human rights of mental health patients? 
  • What is the danger of unchecked professional power and authority as evidenced in the theory and practices of Eugenics? 
  • What are the possible consequences of professional practice that negates individual autonomy and agency?

Listen to University of Lethbridge sociologist Claudia Malacrida explain the history of eugenics and outline developments in Alberta.


Download and read the 1926 Provincial Training School Superintendent’s Report which describes his reasons for being in favour of “selective eugenical sterilization.”  Transcription

Download and read the original Sterilization Act of 1928, to compare how it relates to the 1926 Provincial Training School Superintendent’s report aboveTranscription

After the Second World War, many Canadians were revolted by the eugenic program they learned had been carried out in Germany under the Nazis. Yet provincial sexual sterilization laws in Canada remained on the books until the 1970s.  Listen to Claudia Malacrida explain some of the reasons why the laws were not repealed earlier.


Download and read excerpts from the 1938 and 1941 reports.   Transcription

Listen to Claudia Malacrida explain what these routine yearly reports reveal about the everyday violence that was inflicted on individuals.


The 1968 Eugenics Board Annual Report has many of the “simple numbers” that Claudia Malacrida mentions. It contains statistics, dates of meetings, numbers of operations performed, and tabular summaries.  Download and read an excerpt from the 1968 Annual Report, and consider what it does tell us and what it cannot tell us about how the sterilization laws affected individuals.  Transcription

But bureaucratic reports usually do not reveal very much about individual experience.  Listen to Claudia Malacrida explain how the sterilization law worked, and describe the format of a Eugenics’ board hearing.