, Volume 99, Issue 2–3, pp 185–198 | Cite as

Leilani Muir versus the Philosopher King: Eugenics on trial in Alberta

  • Douglas Wahlsten


The Province of Alberta in Canada was the only jurisdiction in the British Empire where a eugenic sterilization law was passed (in 1928) and vigorously implemented. The pace of sterilization orders accelerated during the Nazi era and remained high after World War II, terminating only in 1972 when the Sexual Sterilization Act was repealed. The Alberta Eugenics Board operated away from public and legislative scrutiny, and many things done in the name of eugenics were clearly illegal. Eugenics was put on trial in Alberta in 1995 and a judge of the Court of Queen's Bench ruled in 1996 that the government had wrongly sterilized Leilani Muir. After hearing evidence about the history of the eugenics movement, the origins of Alberta's Sexual Sterilization Act, the operation of the Eugenics Board, and details of Muir's life, Madam Justice Joanne B. Veit found that ‘the damage inflicted by the operation was catastrophic’, the ‘wrongful stigmatization of Ms. Muir as a moron ... has humiliated Ms. Muir every day of her life’, and ‘the circumstances of Ms. Muir's sterilization were so high-handed and so contemptuous of the statutory authority to effect sterilization, and were undertaken in an atmosphere that so little respected Ms. Muir's human dignity that the community's, and the court's, sense of decency is offended’. Veit awarded Muir damages of $740,780 CAD and legal costs of $230,000 CAD. The order for Muir's sterilization was signed by John M. MacEachran, founder of the Department of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Alberta and chairman of the Eugenics Board from 1929 to 1965. An exponent of Platonic idealism, MacEachran believed sterilization of children with a low IQ test score was a means of ‘raising and safeguarding the purity of the race’. However, the Alberta Sterilization Act was passed and implemented with cavalier disregard for the principles of genetics as well as the rights of children.

Key words

civil rights fascism intelligence racial purity sexual sterilization 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas Wahlsten
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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