Leilani (O'Malley) Muir, a survivor of the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta, Canada, passed away on the weekend of March 12 at the age of 71.
Following an abusive childhood, Muir’s mother committed her to Alberta's Provincial Training School for Mental Defectives at the age of eleven, falsely claiming that she had cognitive disabilities. The Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta allowed the province to sterilize any ward of a mental health institution whom its Eugenics Board considered "mentally defective" and at risk of transmitting “defective genes” to future children.
Under this act, nearly 3,000 residents of Alberta were sterilized between 1928 and 1972, when the law was finally repealed.
When she was fourteen years old, Muir was brought before the Provincial Eugenics Board and briefly questioned. After this session, the board recommended sterilization, citing as the reason "Danger of the transmission to the progeny of Mental Deficiency or Disability, also incapable of Intelligent parenthood."
Told doctors would be removing her appendix, Muir was sterilized without her knowledge. She only learned what had happened to her many years later when she and her husband were unable to conceive a child.
She grew determined to achieve justice for herself and others impacted by forced sterilization. In 1996, Leilani Muir became the first individual to sue the Alberta government for wrongful sterilization. She won her case, Muir v. The Queen in Right of Alberta, in a judgment that stated:
The circumstances of Ms. Muir's sterilization were so high-handed and so contemptuous of the statutory authority to effect sterilization, and were taken 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.Muir's case served as a precedent for many more lawsuits against the Alberta government on behalf of hundreds of survivors of eugenic sterilization. All told, the government paid more than $80 million to over 800 survivors.
In the years following the court decision, Muir became an advocate for other sterilization survivors and for the rights of people with disabilities. She continued her quest to educate the public about the history of eugenics in Canada. Muir wrote a book about her life called A Whisper Past, gave talks around the country, appeared in several documentaries and television programs, and even ran for a seat on the Alberta legislature in 2000 as a New Democratic Party candidate. Muir was recently featured in the 2015 documentary Surviving Eugenics which documents the survivor narratives of Alberta’s provincial schools.
Muir said of her experiences:
When I was born, God made me a whole person. When they sterilized me, they made me half a person. You never get over that hurt. . . . I don't want this to ever happen again to other children. My philosophy is that history repeats, but as long as I keep talking about it, it will not happen again.
Leilani Muir will be remembered for her courage to speak out, her strength to fight, and her determination to seek a more just world.
1. About Leilani, Leilani Muir: My Story Will Inspire You.
2. Dambrofsky, Gwen. Alberta woman who successfully sued province for wrongful sterilization dies, Global News, March 16, 2016.
3. Eugenics, Canada's Human Rights History.
4. Muir, Leilani. A Whisper Past: Childless After Eugenic Sterilization in Alberta. Victoria, BC, Canada: Friesen Press, 2014.
5. Muir v. The Queen in Right of Alberta. 132 D.L.R (4th) 695. Court File No. 8903 20759 Edmonton. Alberta Court of Queen's Bench. Veit, J. January 25, 1996.
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
Posted in Eugenics, Natalie Oveyssi's Publications, Other Countries, Reproductive Justice, Health & Rights
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