Newgenics and the Politics of Choice: A Historical Look at Canada’s Psychiatric Institutions in the 1970s

  • Erika Dyck
Part of the Mental Health in Historical Perspective book series (MHHP)


The Canadian government changed its federal Criminal Code in 1969 permitting contraception and abortion. But this law applied unevenly across the population. This chapter examines debates over how this amendment affected individuals who, due to psychiatric, intellectual or physical disabilities, lived in institutions and for whom the change in law did not necessarily bring about an era of reproductive liberty, but instead brought an increase in state surveillance during a period of deinstitutionalisation. In some cases, institutions resorted to sterilisation for residents considered incapable of parenthood, or for stated reasons of managing menstrual hygiene, even though they did not subscribe to a particular eugenics programme or provincial law. The 1970s’ human rights discourse and social movements altered the context of discussions over sexuality and disability, producing a new sub-text for the rise of newgenics, and sustained control over psychiatric populations, along with the logic that restricting reproduction was, in fact, a form of preventing the spread of mental disorder and intellectual disability.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erika Dyck
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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