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“As soon as child poverty is problematized in this way [as the fault of the parent and the local society], it becomes possible to invoke the need for public intervention in a broader range of cases – not just for young offenders and abandoned children, but for children neglected by unfit parents. This is a remarkable, cascading development that sets the stage for the systematic implementation, throughout the West, of child welfare and correctional systems consisting of prisons and reformatories, farm or penitentiary colonies, reform and industrial schools, and so on. Foster placement went hand in hand with these 1840s developments, paralleled by the development of the penitentiary system. From the 1880s on, new child protection associations sprang up in an effort to systematize the offensive against ‘unfit’ or deficient families, a movement that would be supported, in countries such as France and Belgium, by legislation providing for the loss of parental rights in such cases.

In Quebec, this problem gained sporadic public attention starting in the 1830s. The debate around the implementation of public institutions truly got going, however, only after the Act of Union of 1840. This debate, where it touched on young offenders, pitted proponents of punishment against theorists of reform. In 1851, the reformers worn a resounding victory with the passage if a series of resolutions by the House of Assembly of United Canada [which created the legal framework for reform schools and tackling youth delinquency]. In 1858, Lower Canada got a ‘reformatory,’ or reform prison, at Ile-aux-Noix on the Richilieu River, built in a clumsy effort to imitate Mettray [in France]. The terrible condition of the facility and the frequent instances of children running away to the nearby United States led to its being moved to Saint-Vincent-de-Paul in 1862. Ile-aux-Noix housed youths sentenced for serious crimes. It was clear soon after its opening, however, that it would not suffice. It made no provision for the incarceration of the juvenile petty criminals who still languished in the jails, much less for the housing of street children or abandoned children. It was unclear what was to be done with these children.”

– Jean-Marie Fecteau, The Pauper’s Freedom. Translated by Peter Feldstein. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press, 2017. French edition 2004. pp.142-143.

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“In so far as education has proved successful, in repressing vagrancy, I would answer, (without intending disparagement of the benevolent intentions of the projectors of the
scheme, or the zeal of the officials employed in its administration) No! 

The children of the dissolute and careless remain, to a great extent, outside its influences; progressing to crime and vagrancy is expanding yearly into still more frightful
dimensions, presenting now too alarming an aspect not to call for prompt and grave consideration
in the proper quarter. 

In the neglect of the proffered advantages of education, the children are frequently
to blame; but the parents are more generally the guilty party. Had they the welfare of
their offspring at heart, they would compel their attendance at school, where the opportunities
were available; but, instead of doing so, they, too often, not only connive at their
truancy, but absolutely encourage it, and find for them, instead, occupations calculated to
make them idlers and rogues; the children thus growing up pests to society, shunning
alike industry and education. 

Those who have gardens within a city, know the aptitude of the vagrant boys to strip
them of everything worth carrying off; and the owners of’ house property are aware, to
their cost, of the sharp artillery practice of this class, when the destruction of the windowglass
of their untenanted houses has to be accomplished. 

The encouragement given to vice, through the random charity bestowed in the public
streets on the “please give me a copper” class of vagrants, is much greater than the
benevolent contributors are generally aware of. The quantity of poison, yelept whiskey;
bought in a week or month with the alms thus given, would make a frightful flood, if collected
in one reservoir. 

Not alone by the parents and their vile associates the baneful beverage thus obtained
is consumed. hie youthful mendicant through whose doleful whines it had been procured, is also a partaker of it, and the harrowing spectacle of the innocence of childhood degraded,
through the example of the parents, to the level of brutality, may be witnessed on walking
through the slums inhabited by this wretched class, in the vagrant of some seven or eight
summers, the tyro drunkard, proud of mimicking, in its little maudlin swagger and hiccup,
the daily action of the miserable parent. 

Should any imagine that the picture here is overdrawn, let them but refer to the police
authorities of our populous cities, and they will receive the saddening confirmation of it.
It is, perhaps, whilst his heart is filled with the courage inspired by the liquor, the
youthful beggar first attempts a higher part in the role of vagrant life. The fear of being
pounced on by some lynx-eyed police officer, is no longer before his fuddled vision.  In
strolling about lie comes across something which his infant intelligence tells him can be
turned into money; he sneaks off with it unseen, and reaches home with it, undetected, where, through the agency of a “receiver,” or the accommodating officers of the grogseller,
it is speedily converted into whiskey.

From thus picking up small waifs on the wharves and market places, carrying home
“stray ” sticks of cordwood, taking off keys carelessly left in doors and such small beginnings,
the vagrant acquires confidence by success, creeping up into the bigher walks of
pickpocket, burglar, counterfeiter, in short everything which an adept in his profession
may aspire to until filling a cell in the Penitentiary…or a felon’s grave. 

The end so shocking, what was the beginning? Too generally, Vagrancy!


If the vagrant is to be reclaimed and the public spared the injury and cost of his misdeeds, some organized agency for the purpose is requisite.

This must necessarily be a state institution. The support desirable from private
beneficence is to uncertain to base on it the maintenance of a permanent undertaking. 

While simply pointing out the necessity that exists for some salutary measure, I do
not intend to enter upon the details of its organization, these would necessarily follow on
the adoption of the principle. 

The plans devised in those older countries, where vagrancy has been a subject of
state legislation, would supply the best information that made valuable by experience. 

That mode of treatment would best succeed, which would be gentle and compassionate.
The proceedings of the tribunal before which the vagrant should be brought for
examination, should be different from those pursued towards adult prisoners, and divested
of the exposure consequent on actual crime. 

The detectives employed (men tender and considerate) should be a body distinct from
the civic police, not alone in the duties discharged, but in the externals of dress. 

The vagrant, when taken up, should not be confined in an apartment used by the
criminals or disorderly classes, nor examined at the same time, or at the same place, with
them. Every harsh and repulsive feature should be put aside, that could give the appearance
of criminal prosecution to this first movement of benevolence in behalf of the vagrant.
The case should be enquired into in the presence of the parents, if the vagrant have
any, and they could be found; and every information possible should be obtained, in the
meantime, touching their reputation and habits. 

As, with every other scheme proposed for public consideration, objection may be made
to this one, on the ground of its expense, there need be but little room for this objection,
I imagine. 

Thus officers, one of them holding rank over the others, and competent to keep the
records of the department, and an office in which to keep these, which would also answer
for the Court, would constitute the bulk oi the expense, and this simple arrangement
would, at least for the present, embrace the necessary machinery for working the system. 

There are benevolent institutions at present in operation in Toronto which, under
suitable arrangements, would be found adequate to give the experiment a trial, and at
very small cost, I would suppose.
In the “ Boys’ Home,” an institution founded by some benevolent ladies of that city, and which has already done much to check the evil which is the subject of these remarks, would probably be found at least for some time a refuge for those vagrants of the Protestant
faith, and in the Reformatory Farm School, established by His Lordship the Catholic
Bishop of Toronto, would, I have no doubt, be received, those belonging to the Catholic
body. 

The establishment of such a tribunal and its machinery would, I have little doubt, be
hailed by many a sorrow-stricken parent as a blessing.
For the refractory youth-so often spoiled by blind indulgence, who does truant shuns from school and the parental roof, and associates with none but the worst of companions, and over when the parents have lost all influence, yet whom they cannot bring themselves to place in a prisoner’s dock; this tribunal and its-sentence of committal to a
strange but benevolent home, would be a merciful recourse, and, in all probability, restore
many a repentant prodigal to welcoming parents.”

– Inspector Terence O’Neil, “SEPARATE REPORT FOR THE YEAR 1864,” Annual Report of the Board of Inspectors of Asylums, Prisons &c for the year 1864. Sessional Papers of the Province of Canada, Sessional Papers No. 14, 29 Victoria, A. 1865. pp. 79-82

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“I have again to express my opinion that, there is no sure prospect of these institutions being attended with the success they are capable of producing, so long as the courts continue
to send the boys to them for short periods. It neither holds to reason or to-experience,
that evil habits are to be eradicated of a sudden. If the evil lessons of the streets required
time for their acquisition and for their development, surely the lessons of the school-room
require still more. The lad who has seen by example, nothing but iniquity and has heard
no Ianguage but that of vice, has much to unlearn before the precepts of religion; and
morality can have room in his mind, and much to get rid of before they will influence his conduct. If the heathen adage “Nemo est repenti turpissismus,” strike one, as true
when enunciated, the truth of the converse of it must strike the mind with still greater
force. I hold that when the natural guardians of a boy have renounced the proper care
of him which they are bound by every obligation to take, and have abandoned him to be
a prey upon society, as evidenced by his condemnation in a court of justice, society has not only the right, but it is a duty forced upon it  to assume the obligations of the guardians and act as it sees best for the benefit of the boy.

With a boy of tender age, the consideration of punishment for the offence which brings him before the courts, ought not to enter into the sentence as an ingredient, so
much as a humane and enlightened consideration of the most effectual means of preventing a repetition of it in all time to come. ln weighing this, the Judge could do well not only to foresee, it strikes me, what is to be done with the little culprit  before him, when the sentence is about to be pronounced, but what he is to do with himself once his sentence expires, seeing that he has no protector to shield and guard him. There is now a boy of ten years of age undergoing a sentence of three years in the Reformatory;
he will, consequently, be thirteen years old when he is turned out into the highway again,
from the Reformatory gates. What is that boy to do at that age? In, three years he will
not have acquired sufficient knowledge of his trade to be master of it; and if he does, how
is he to search and struggle for an engagement? He has no experience of the world, or,
at any rate, the little he had, previous to his sentence, was all bad; and employers are not
likely to take a child of his age, on is own application, off the streets, with the further
recommendation; that he is just discharged from a Reformatory prison. We look for
steadiness of conduct in a man of mature judgment, who can reason on the right and the wrong of a course of conduct, and who can take into the effects on his after position of an
action he is to do in the.present. But is all that to be expected of a child of thirteen?

The fact is to be expected that the boy alluded to, unless a proper place, by some
happy accident, is found for him, must be driven by necessity to old companions, who will
not refuse to receive him, and to old haunts which will still be open for his shelter. ln
a short time, he will be, again face to face before the same judge, who probably will lecture
him on his hardened disposition, and send him for another three years to the Reformatory
again, or perhaps to the Penitentiary as an incorrigible, nor will it ever probably occur to
the judge that he is himself the man to blame for the boy’s backsliding. Had he placed the
child in the Reformatory for the period, at once, that he will most likely spend there under
any circumstances the boy would have had some chance of departing from it a young man of
good habits and principles, or, at all events, with judgment sufficiently matured to choose
his course. Had the court sent him, when then years of age, for five years (the limit permitted
by law, or better for eight if the law allowed it) to the Reformatory at first, it
would have dealt with the purest feeling of mercy to the child, and perhaps rescued from
perdition a good member of society. But by discharging him at thirteen, to throw him
back once more upon the streets, where all the good he may have imbibed at the Reformatory
is sure to be speedily taken out of him, and then, when again sufficiently depraved, to
order him to undergo a renewed course of discipline, with a diminished chance of profiting
by it, is to profit the boy nothing; it is rather to condemn him to a lie of crime And then
there is an outcry against Reformatory establishments, and such a case as the once alluded
to will be commented upon as the strongest evidence of the uselessness of the attempt to
reform vicious youth, and of the folly of wasting money upon it.

The fact, in place of being an argument against the reformatory, its system, and I
state it ‘with all becoming respect, or its efficiency, is the strongest argument against the
wisdom of the judge. If a boy of ten years of age is brought before a court, the judge knows that in three years more the child will be only still a child; and that, if it be necessary
to keep him off the streets or out of dens of infamy at ten, it is no less so at
thirteen. The judge keeps his own boy of ten years not only at school, until he
is thirteen, but at school and college until he is twenty, nor does he permit him, in an
that time, ta be from under his own careful eye. The Almighty has established naturally
no difference between the boys; but his Honor on the Bench intends his son, by
an appropriate education and training, to occupy the position of his father; the boy in question should be intended, by appropriate education and training, to earn his bread
by the cunning of his hands. But nature requires for each – time.  Let each have
the time, and there is every reason to expect that an equal result will be arrived at.
The judge’s son at 18 or 20 will be ready to enter on a course that will do honor to
his parent; the reformatory tradesman, on one that will do credit to society. 

There may seem to be a harshness in condemning a child of ten years of age to a reformatory
for eight years for stealing a dollar’s worth of stuff, but the real harshness is
in condemning him to less. If he steals at ten, he will steal more at thirteen, and more at
sixteen, less the desire to steal becomes eradicated. The question to look at is, whether
’tis more likely to become eradicated on; the streets of a large city, where he seeks a
opportunity for indulgence and finds it, or on the farm of a reformatory, where there
is no-opportunity, and if there ‘were, it cannot be taken advantage off. It really resolves
itself into this: shall a boy culprit receive one sentence at once, between the date of his appearance in the dock and the day that he is eighteen or twenty years old, or shall he receive two or three? If he receives the one, I think there is hope for his reformation;
if the two or three, I see none.

The system of short sentences and that of a juvenile Reformatory, are positively antagonistic.
The principle of a reformatory – a place where juveniles are to be reformed – cannot
be carried out, so long as boy human nature is what it is, unless with time extend unless that time extend beyond the boy period. It is of no consequence what age the
culprit may be when brought before the Court, so far as reformation is to be provided for;
the real age to be regarded is that at which the sentence is to expire. If a boy of sixteen
is sentenced to four years in the Reformatory, there is a prospect of god for him;if a boy
of twelve is sentenced for no more, there is much less.”

–  Inspector James Moir Ferres, “GENERAL REMARKS ON THE REFORMATORIES – 

SEPARATE REPORT for the year 1862,” from Annual Report of the Board of Inspectors of Asylums, Prisons &c for the year 1862. Sessional Papers of the Province of Canada, Sessional Papers No. 66, 26 Victoria, A. 1863. 

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“The liberal logic of regulation effected an increasingly strict separation in the penal order between the necessity of punishment and the desirability of reform. In so doing, it made it possible to reconcile the principle of individual culpability with a modicum of respect for physical and mental integrity. The legitimacy of the penal order came to revolve around punishment of the deliberate act, which was to be governed by strict rules of due process and proportionate sentencing.

These principles of regulation entailed two important operational constraints. The first was that punishment was unequivocally predicated on the offender’s free will, so that persons defined as lacking this capacity – the insane, or children under a certain age, for example – were not subject to it. The second was that the principle of proportionality implied a gradation of punishment corresponding, at least in part, to the gravity of the offence. The worse the offence, the greater the legal power of detention (and hence the possibility of prolonged treatment). This led to a fundamental paradox: the conditions for the effectiveness of punishment (and the prisoner reform expected to flow from it) were in stark contradiction with the dictates of prevention. The latter, after all, necessitated prior intervention, before the irremediable occurred. Moreover, prevention is unable by definition to react ex post facto to tangible acts; its whole logic of operation consists of a focus on certain factors that define a social or human condition rather than a particular act. 

This demarcation between the right to punish and the need to prevent – blurred in the case of adults by the waning enthusiasm for the ideals of criminal reform – came fully into play in the case of children. Here, hopes of reform had remained alive and had indeed begun to take priority over the imperatives of punishment. The discourse of the development of child reform institutions depicts reform as inextricably linked to the notion of prevention.

The work is not cleanse the polluted stream after it has flowed on in its pestilential course, but to purify the fountain whence it draws its unfailing supply. What we have to do is devise and carry out such measures as shall take possession of all juveniles who may be placed in such circumstances as to be evidently precarious for a life of crime, or who may already have entered upon it, and keep hold of them until they have been trained in the knowledge of the right way and fairly started in a course of well-doing.

Where children were concerned, the liberal legal order was regarded as a constraint that need not be obeyed with any great strictness – in the words of Toqueville, “the children brought into into it without being convicted, were not the victims of persecution, but merely deprived of a fatal liberty.”

As it happened, the fraught relationship between the penal and the charitable developed, in the case of children, in two stages. In the first, continuing until the mid-19th century, the distinction between young offenders and abandoned children because increasingly clear, with the penal law applicable to the first giving the state the legal means to justify incarceration, while the tendency was for abandoned children to be entrusted to the care of private initiatives, subject to the rules governing parental responsibility and custody. In the second, the fate of children, runaways in particular, was to inspire state measures to provide for their welfare. There ensued a gradual enlargement of compulsory powers beyond the domain of criminal law. In this process, the power to remove children from their homes was extended to cases beyond the bounds of classical penal law. Thus, runaways and abandoned children who kept company with criminals, or whose parents were in prison, could be legally confined.”

– Jean-Marie Fecteau, The Pauper’s Freedom. Translated by Peter Feldstein. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press, 2017. French edition 2004. pp.146-47.

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“Bad Boy Makes Escape,” Kingston Daily Standard. July 11, 1912. Page 02.

A boy under twelve years old, who was convicted in the children’s court of theft and forgery and sentenced to two years in the Industrial school escaped when being taken to the railway station.

“Rained In Portsmouth,” Kingston Daily Standard. July 11, 1912. Page 02.

A remarkable phenomenon was witnessed on Tuesday in connection with the rain which fell in the surrounding district. Rain fell heavily in parts of Portsmouth, but while the Penitentiary received a copious drenching, not a drop fell on this side of it. It also rained heavily at Kingston Mills.

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“Among Ourselves: What Happens to Juvenile Delinquents,” The Globe and Mail. November 29, 1939. Page 09.

“This question has formed the subject of a follow-up study of 161 boys referred to the Big Brother Movement by the Toronto Juvenile Court, and has been prepared by V. Lorne Stewart, Secretary of the Older Boys’ Department, and Kenneth H. Rogers, General Secretary of the Big Brother Movement.

The cases came to the Big Brothers in 1932, and after a period of supervision were allowed on their own. Then toward the end of 1938, they were again located and interviewed. ‘Some,’ says the leaflet on the subject that has come to our hand, ‘had become fine, upright, successful young business men. Some had married, and had become the fathers of small families. Others had grown bitter and hopeless in their continued unemployment. Others had gone the hard, sterile way of jail, reformatory, or penitentiary. Comparative figures give a more accurate picture of the situation.

How They Turned Out:
‘Based upon the objective judgements of a ‘group of three’ – a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a social worker – the boys were classified according to three groups, as follows: 115 or 71.5% were rated ‘Successes’; 25 or 5.5% ‘Partial Successes,’ and 21 or 13.0% ‘Failures.’ Boys classed as successes included those who had no prolonged juvenile court record after 1932, had no adult court record, tried to get work, displayed industry and ambition, tried to continue their studies, and who had participated in group activities.’

The factors concerned in the success or failure of these boys, the investigators list under: harmonious homes; the districts from which the boys came, and housing conditions there; the class of companions; police court experiences; education, and supervision.

Four Fundamental Factors:
The study of the ‘failure’ group led to the conviction that ‘four factors are very fundamental – especially psychology – in the causation of crime: (a) Overindulgence, overprotection, and ‘spoiling’ by the home, i.e. lack of independence of thought and action, and lack of the idea of self-reliance; (b) inability to ‘get along’ freely and naturally when playing, working and living with otrhers – a psychological factor underlying these expressions; © idleness; (d) home ‘atmosphere.’ This refers to those tensions that are natural in a home in which there is marital discord, an unsatisfactory relationship between parents and children, low moral standards, or overcrowding.’”

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“By the late 1910s juvenile
justice reformers’ optimism had flagged. New players, notably medical
doctors and psychiatrists, raised alternative theories about
Toronto’s boy problem and argued the necessity of psychiatric
involvement in juvenile justice. Of the three major social welfare
inspired programs that addressed the boy problem during the late 19th
and early 20th centuries the eugenics strategy has received the least
amount of attention in the juvenile justice literature. Perhaps
because eugenicists tried desperately but eventually failed to gain a
permanent foothold in Toronto’s juvenile justice system they have
been overlooked. However, early proponents of eugenics, such as C.K.
Clarke and Helen MacMurchy, conferred considerable attention on the
problem of working-class juvenile delinquency in Toronto as a social
evil intimately tied to biology. Although eugenics discourse and
policy did not achieve the same level of success in the juvenile
court as it did in other spheres, many of its strategies and
diagnostic techniques continued to influence investigative
procedures.78 Intelligence testing and body measurement, for example,
continued to be used by Court appointed psychologists well after
eugenics lost momentum during the 1950s. 

Throughout the early 20th
century a new set of relations between the governors and the governed
unfolded. Not only were important elements of juvenile deviance
reconceptualized along psychiatric lines, but professional experts in
mental science also claimed an important role in the adjudication of
juvenile delinquents – a state of affairs that would continue well
into the 1970s. The first phase of organized psychiatric involvement
in juvenile delinquency can be located in the period between 1914,
when the Toronto psychiatric clinic was organized at the Toronto
General Hospital in conjunction with the Social Service Department
for the diagnosis of feeble-mindedness, and Clarke’s death in 1924.
According to C.K. Clarke, “true, amateur social reformers have
found this unknown world a rich soil in which to cultivate
speculative theories; [which were] valueless, unless supported by
facts which cannot be contraverted.” Clarke and others found the
explanations offered by 19th-century reformers of no significant
value. University trained experts in the burgeoning mental sciences
increasingly cast their gaze toward the problem of the working-class
bad boy and questioned whether smoking, truancy, the street, the
family, and delinquent peers were essential to understanding the boy
problem, or whether they were merely symptoms of much deeper
deficiencies situated in delinquent boys’ minds and biology.

There were two basic
differences between the elite reformers of the late 19th century who
defined boys’ deviance in relation to learned behaviour and the
eugenics professionals of the 1910s and 20s who were convinced
inferior breeding was the foundation of deviant outcomes. First,
accompanying the rise of psychiatric dis course and its subsequent
involvement with juvenile justice practice was the proliferation of
trained experts. ’ No longer were volunteers and well-meaning elites
central to attempts at reforming the delinquent character of bad
boys. Christianity, class position, and respectability were not the
defining qualifications for work in the field. University trained
experts largely replaced the interested philanthropist. The second
distinction centres on what elite reformers and eugenicists
understood as the underlying cause of the “boy problem.”
Instead of depraved circumstances and corrupting role models,
eugenicists were certain the mind and biology were the essential
elements for understanding and solving the delinquency problem.
Psychiatric experts inspired by late 191 Os eugenics knowledge argued
that bad boys were not the product of role models and life
circumstances that could be re built, but were the result of mental
deficiency that could not be cured. According to Clarence M. Hincks,
an apprentice of Clarke’s and medical inspector of schools,
feeble-mindedness was: 

condition of brain defect
which renders the affected individual incompetent to earn a living,
and incapable of conducting personal affairs with ordinary prudence.
The defect is present in childhood and usually demonstrates itself by
marked backwardness in learning to walk, to talk and to obey simple
commands… Heredity is the chief disposing factor. 

Along with Hincks, Clarke
founded the mental hygiene and eugenics movements of Ontario.
Clarke’s emphasis was on hereditary factors and the whole thrust of
the early mental hygiene movement was directed toward containing the
problems which arose from feeble-mindedness. Dr. Helen MacMurchy,
chief of the Division of Child Welfare, joined Clarke in his efforts
to incapacitate those with defective minds. MacMurchy’s understanding
of the problem was cultivated in her experience as Inspector of the
Feeble-Minded in Ontario. In this capacity she studied the problems
that resulted from defective youth being at liberty and advocated
their identification and permanent segregation in order to prevent
what she thought would be inevitable racial decline. As Inspector of
the Feeble-Minded she grew increasingly concerned about the obvious
connection between mental deficiency and juvenile crime. Together
MacMurchy and Clarke laboured to exclude mental defectives from
entering Canada, warned that feeble-minded children should be
sterilized lest they produce offspring with similar deficiencies, and
successfully linked feeble-mindedness with juvenile delinquency.

Feeble-minded offenders were
considered a greater nuisance than a threat to the public’s physical
safety. Some experts placed an upper limit on the criminal ingenuity
of the “truly” defective. Noted English psychiatrist Cyril
Burt, for example, concluded that defective youth were only capable
of certain crimes: “He seldom forges; for he can scarcely write
and barely spell. He seldom embezzles; for the arithmetic of all but
the simplest transactions in money lies wholly beyond his reach.
Fraud too, where it rises above verbal misrepresentation requires
planning and resource." 

Deviance by defective
delinquents was infrequently violent. According to Burt, their
actions were more often the result of "blind and childish
impulse rather than of intelligent deliberation.” Mental
defectives were not by nature predisposed to criminality nor were
offences committed by feeble-minded boys the result of vicious
proclivities. In Nova Scotia the feeble minded person was called an
innocent. In “normal” youth socialized values reigned in
wayward deliberation. Mental deficiency, however, removed some of the
usual checks on deviant thought and behaviour. For example, in her
annual reports MacMurchy suggested that a feeble minded youth may set
fire to a haystack just to revel in the roaring fire, while another
would set flame to an employer’s offices for revenge.

Although feeble minded and
defective individuals were not considered capable of committing
higher order offences, mental health experts linked affected
mentality with delinquency. One commentator exclaimed, “every
feeble-minded child [was] a potential criminal!”  Whether their
behaviour was innocent seemed irrelevant to juvenile court officials
such as British Columbia judge Helen Gregory MacGill who made the
case that feeble-minded delinquents lacked the “mentality to do
right” and had “no power over inhibition.” MacGill
concluded they were the “real menace to society.” That
working-class boys were truant or exposed to evil home conditions was
not the underlying cause of criminality according to Clarke and his
colleagues. Rather, the boy problem was the product of defective
genes and inferior breeding. To stem the spread of flawed genes and,
as a result, immoral con duct, eugenicists promoted permanent
solutions such as sterilization, incarceration, or deportation of
recent immigrants to Canada.

While class-related concerns
were the pillars around which the activities of white Anglo
eugenicists were constructed, they were not the only or primary
reason for the emergence and relative success of eugenics discourse
in the late 1910s. Success here is measured, not in policy outcomes,
but by the intrusion of eugenic ideas of degeneration and
feeble-mindedness into the consciousness of leading legal officials,
public school representatives, and, but certainly not limited to,
medical professionals. Valverde has demonstrated how the early
20th-century Anglo elites and professionals who dominated social,
economic, and political life for more than a century grew
increasingly anxious that “the nation” was in danger of
decline. In the eyes of many in this group nation was a generic term
that referred to those of Anglo descent, while racialized “others”
were viewed with increasing suspicion. Eugenics discourse, even if it
did not acquire the radical quality of Nazi rhetoric, was
nevertheless a racially motivated program.

By the 1910s a widely accepted
racial hierarchy was firmly established in Canada. This ordering was
not structured solely through skin colour, but also by degrees of
whiteness. The mostly British upper-middle class professionals who
spear-headed eugenics campaigns constituted themselves and the nation
in opposition to Irish and Italian immigrants’ modes of life. The
eugenics program was influenced by and created a common-sense racial
logic which associated whiteness with the “clean and the good,
the pure and the pleasing.” Whiteness meant purging the social
body of anti-social and degenerative influences that were
predominantly concentrated in the immigrant working class. More
specifically, it was about exclusion of presumed biological
inadequacy which eugenicists could map through IQ tests and physical
inspection of the inferior “non-white” body. British
middle-class professionals did not consider the rogues and
prostitutes, who were thought to be over-represented among the
Italian and Irish, “white” in the same way as them selves.
If this was not always their point of reference, it was because
racial ordering was largely taken for granted among the professional
middle class.

As in other western nations,
the fear of degeneration of the racial stock inspired concern about
the deviant, the criminal, the prostitute, and the subnormal. It
seemed to professional upper middle-class authorities, such as
Clarke, that the only way to combat degeneration was to strive toward
racial purity, a goal that was inextricably connected to the working
class. Clarke was convinced that his studies of the financially poor
who attended the psychiatric clinic at Toronto’s General Hospital
demonstrated that immigrants suffered disproportionately from
feeble-mindedness.  Carolyn Strange has argued that commercialized
sex was at the centre of professional efforts to purify the nation,
since it involved the co-mingling of races in the poverty stricken
neighbourhoods (the “low dives”) largely populated by
immigrants and members of the dangerous working class. The products
of such insidious unions could not help but be “inferior.”
Propelled by such concerns, eugenicists directed their attention
toward the problems of feeble-mindedness and foreigners. Similar
fears about racial degeneration were central to eugenicists’
involvement with the juvenile court.

Linkages between immigration,
deviance, and feeble-mindedness were firmly established by the late
1910s and justified intrusive means of eradicating the bio logically
and mentally inferior from the general population. The Juvenile Court
was a logical place from which to concentrate eugenicists’ attention.
Youth deemed biologically inferior were a persistent problem for
Toronto’s first Juvenile Court Judge, John Edward Starr. During his
first year as a judge Starr estimated that 25 per cent of youth who
appeared before him suffered from mental defect. In one month, Starr
identified 30 offenders whom he stated were mentally inferior. To
make his point that feeble-minded juvenile deviants were not only
overrepresented in the Juvenile Court, but a public nuisance, Starr
recounted the following incidents in a letter written to Toronto City
Council: in the city, “half a dozen boys, not yet ten years of
age, are wearing their mothers into nervous wrecks; the same is true
of several girls with a mania for roaming; a boy decapitated a cat by
means of a hatchet and knife, the following week he chased a
neighbor’s child, axe in hand, threatening to cut off her head.”

Medical authorities employing
modern methods of scientific analysis contributed to the belief held
by early 20th-century psychiatric officials that the most wide spread
cause of deviance was the defective mind. Charles Goring’s
statistical survey of English criminals affirmed that “the one
vital mental constitutional factor in the etiology of crime is
defective intelligence.” William Healy in Chicago concluded that
among the personal characteristics of the offender, “mental
deficiency forms the largest single cause of delinquency.” Most
American and Canadian investigators concurred. A New York
psychologist estimated that “probably 80 percent of the children
in the juvenile courts in Manhattan and the Bronx were mentally
defective.” According to Helen MacMurchy, “it is the same
in all Juvenile Courts.” While MacMurchy and others estimated
that 1 per cent of the public were biologically inferior, a quarter
of all juveniles coming to the Court’s attention were feeble-minded.
Given this heavy concentration of defective youth, the Juvenile Court
was a very attractive sight from which to weed out biologically
inferior stock from the nation and, in the process, purify the race.”

– Bryan Hogeveen, “"The Evils with Which We Are Called to Grapple": Élite Reformers, Eugenicists, Environmental Psychologists, and the Construction of Toronto’s Working-Class Boy Problem, 1860-1930.” Labour / Le Travail, Vol. 55 (Spring, 2005), pp. 56-62

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