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“Six Years for Horrible Offence,” Kingston Daily Standard. August 1, 1912. Page 08.

For committing one of the most repellant acts which has ever been brought to the attention of the Toronto authorities, John Ryan, a middle-aged man, a hostler by calling, was sentenced to six years in the Portsmouth Penitentiary. The maximum which can be given for an offence like Ryan’s is imprisonment for life.

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“This “social space” that Eribon yearned to flee was marked by the deprivations and frustrations of working class life in postwar France. His father worked long hours in a factory and his mother cleaned houses. The family lived in a series of cramped government-provided apartments where he and his three brothers shared a single bed, and where each floor in the apartment building had only a single communal bathroom. One of the few bright spots in Eribon’s bleak upbringing were the neighborhood dances and festivals organized by the local branch of the French Communist Party. Eribon’s parents were staunch supporters of the Party, which provided them and their fellow workers with a sense of collective identity and hope for the future. “The Communist Party,” as Eribon explains, “was the organizing principle and the uncontested horizon of our relation to politics.”

Eribon began to chafe against this community at a young age. He liked to read books instead of play sports, which put him at odds with his father, his brothers, and virtually every other boy in his working class neighborhood. He was the first person in his family to attend high school (doing so wasn’t mandatory in France at the time), and this produced the first of many ruptures with his family: “The educational process succeeded in creating within me, as one of its very conditions of possibility, a break—even a kind of exile—that grew ever more pronounced, and separated me little by little from the world that I came from.” This separation grew wider when, at the age of 13 or 14, Eribon fell in love with a male classmate. Homosexuality was scorned in Eribon’s hyper-masculine milieu, so he was forced to conceal his desires. Sometimes he even leveled homophobic insults against other boys to ward off any suspicion about himself. This psychic disjunction—a nerdy gay boy hiding behind a fake manly facade—produced within Eribon a split self. He found himself perpetually “shuttling back and forth between two registers, between two universes.”

….

Eribon finally escaped at age 20, when he moved to Paris to continue his graduate studies. He immediately found himself in an environment that embraced his intellectual ambitions and gay identity. But at the same time, it was an environment where working class tastes and experiences were denigrated. In a fascinating parallel, Eribon reveals that at high-brow social gatherings in Paris, he employed the same techniques he once used to conceal his homosexuality to now conceal his class origins. This entailed “a constant self-surveillance as regards one’s gestures, one’s intonation, manners of speech, so that nothing untoward slips out, so that one never betrays oneself.” Eribon’s move to Paris also precipitated a shift in his politics. In his late teens he had been a devout Trotskyist, but the latent homophobia of his comrades ensured that he never felt completely comfortable in this milieu. “I was split in two,” he says. “Half Trotskyist, half gay.””

– Michael Andres, “Return To Sender.The New Inquiry, January 30, 2014. 

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“Buckner’s short-lived program at
the Neuro-Psychiatric Clinic (NPC) was the closest Ontario came to transforming
the prison into a therapeutic environment, and to treating sex offenders as
more mentally disturbed than criminally motivated. In this respect, the
transfer of ‘sex deviants’ from Guelph to the newly opened maximum-security
facility in Millbrook was a giant step backward for the prison reform movement.
Touted by the Department of Reform Institutions as the first North American
facility for psychopathic inmates, Millbrook was intended to house the ‘tougher
and meaner breed of inmates’ that guards complained were overrunning the Guelph
Reformatory and corrupting young, first-time offenders. Officials claimed that
the province’s most incorrigible inmates were to be reformed by the new
prison’s highly regimented and strictly controlled environment, in which
treatment, not punishment, would be the guiding spirit. However, it was
precisely the opposite. By the mid-1960s, critics denounced Millbrook as
Ontario’s Alcatraz.

Intended to house the province’s
most violent prisoners, Millbrook was an extremely punitive environment.
Situated on one hundred acres of bucolic Ontario countryside, the prison
buildings were immured in a twenty-foot concrete wall. Eight glass-enclosed
towers housed guards who were on watch twenty-four hours a day. According to
the sentencing guide for magistrates, an inmate was ‘lodged in a single cell
bare of anything but a matressless steel bunk, bedding, and flush-to-wall
button wash-basin and toilet; with a frosted bullet-proof glass window set in
masonry and solid flush-with-wall door. The atmosphere of the place is chill,
clean, silent, and self-revealing.’ Though each cell had a window, it was too
high to look through, and prisoners were forbidden to stand on their beds to do
so. In an effort to prevent organized protests and riots, there were no dining
facilities where inmates could gather. Meals were delivered through a small
opening at the bottom of cell doors and consumed alone. In a letter to his
father, one inmate wrote, ‘You read about the palace a while back how tough it
is. You either resolve to a zombie state of mind or go out of it completely
whether that is the intention or not. All I can say it is a survival of the
fittest this is mentally.’ Indeed, a year earlier Millbrook’s consultant
psychiatrist, F. E. Webb, expressed grave concern over the growing number of
inmates showing signs of severe emotional and psychological damage. At least
one Group II (Sex deviant) inmate was sent to the nearby psychiatric hospital
in Penentanguishene, Webb anticipated that it was only a matter of time before
more would follow.

A major aspect of the disciplinary
regime at Millbrook was the Progressive Stage System, which aimed on the one
hand to force compliance with prison regulations through the withdrawal of
sensory stimulation, and on the other hand to reward compliance by
incrementally introducing the pleasures of food, human contact, and leisurely
pursuits. Upon arrival, inmates spent sixteen days on a ‘special diet’ without
letters, visitors, opportunities to exercise, and with only a Bible to read. At
Stage 2, inmates were permitted regular meals, one non-fiction book, tobacco,
forty-five minutes of recreation, and one thirty minute visit from a family
member each week. The best-behaved inmates entered Stage 3, where they were
granted library privileges, one letter out to family, one movie a week, and the
opportunity to take a correspondence course. Initially, all inmates entered at
Stage 1, but staff pointed out that Group II (sex deviants) and Group III (drug
addicts) were not sent there for punishment, and therefore should not be forced
to endure two weeks of what ammunted to solitary confinement. Soon thereafter,
the policy was changed so that Groups II and III entered at Stage 2. It was a
slight improvement, but they still had to ‘earn’ their way to Stage 3.

Despite promises that Millbrook would be a laboratory for the treatment of
sexual deviation, the reality was that the warehousing of homosexuals, sexual
predators within the inmate population, and men charged with crimes of sexual
violence and the sexual assault if children violated every tenet of the
treatment ideal. First, Millbrook made to distinction between male homosexuals,
male sexual predators within the prison system, and men incarcerated for sex
crimes. While it is true that male homosexuality was medically and popularly
regarded as a sexual deviation, public demands for prison treatment programs
grew out of a concern over sex crimes against children and, to a lesser extent,
women. Most would have agreed that homosexuals should have the opportunity to
receive treatment, but pedophiles were the primary object of concern. Second,
placing sex ‘deviants’ of any kind in a maximum-security facility was
diametrically opposed to the fundamental belief that perpetrators of sex crimes
needed psychological help, not punishment. Sending them to a maximum-security
prison for the ‘disturbers and disturbed’ is ‘really a terrible way to deal
with this type of offender,’ complained Helen Kinnear, one of the three
commissioners who studied and reported on Canada’s criminal sexual psychopath
legislation. ‘[The commissioners] would think that was discriminating against
the sex offender as compared with other offenders.’ Some experts simply
protested against the inclusion of homosexuals in the Millbrook program. For
example, W. T. McGrath, a leader in Ontario’s prison reform movement,
complained that the criminal justice system was being used to enforce a moral
order that ‘made criminals out of otherwise normal people.’ Learning to see
that most homosexuals are ‘in no way dangerous’ would solve the problem of
homosexuality in prison, he argued. It would reduce the number of homosexuals
committee to prisons and would ‘remove the need to plan for these special types
of inmates.’

Department of Reform Institutions
officials were unfazed by their critics. In fact, Frank van Nostrand
acknowledged that there was no plan to treat Millbrook’s homosexual prisoners
and that the policies were intended only ‘to remove them as a disturbance
factor.’ Officially, the primary objective of Millbrook’s ‘sex deviate’ unit was
the ‘complete segregation of some of the sexual perverts … for the protection
of other inmates,’ but even this was a gross abuse of the purpose of treatment
programs for convicted sex offenders. As far as the supporting public was
concerned, treatment was intended to facilitate safe release of sex criminals
into the community, not to provide inmates with protection from sexual
predation within the institution. Yet this is precisely how van Nostrand
justified the sex deviate unit. Providing treatment was never an imperative.

Emboldened by the 1958 retirement
of van Nostrand and the hiring of long-time reform activist J. D. Atcheson as
director of treatment services, Millbrook’s treatment staff, its pastor, and
its pro-reform Superintendent R. H. Paterson appealed to the deputy minister to
move forward with a sex deviant treatment program. Concerned that some staff
treated homosexual inmates poorly that non-homosexual Group II inmates were
distressed by the ‘constant sex talk’ among homosexuals, Millbrook staff
pressed Basher to allow the two groups to be separated from each other. They
claimed that homosexuals showed ‘a higher incidence of major personality
disorder, or potential mental illness,’ and that they ‘present less criminal
tendencies’ than other Group II (sex deviant) inmates. If homosexuals could be
separated, staff that had a strong dislike of homosexuals would not have to
work among them. They recommended hiring ‘Custodial Staff who are manly,
well-adjusted types and who have some understanding and acceptance of their
charges’ to work with them exclusively.

The suggestion that homosexuals
would benefit from appropriate role models whose gender presentation fit the
masculine ideal demonstrates the enduring link between gender and sexuality in
the 1950s and was consistent with popular theories of developmental psychology,
now widely considered oppressive. However, DRI records clearly demonstrate that
Paterson’s advocacy on behalf of Group II inmates was intended to ease the
extremely punitive and hostile conditions homosexual inmates were forced to
endure. At that time, there were a total of forty-four Group II (sex deviant)
inmates, almost half of whom were labelled homosexual (often based on prison
activity, not criminal conviction). Surprisingly, the deputy minister approved
the request and hired two new guards to work in a special wing created for
homosexual inmates. Custodial staff were given the option to refuse work in
that section.

Millbrook had an even worse track
record for providing treatment than did the Guelph Reformatory. Millbrook’s
first consultant psychiatrist, F. E. Webb, prescribed narcotics to the ‘sex
deviant’ population to ‘jump start’ the therapeutic process, and just before
retiring in the early 1960s began to administer ECT to those willing to
volunteer for the treatment. Based on the few surviving case files, it is clear
that he administered both sodium pentothal (popularly known as ‘truth serum’)
and shock therapy to make patients ‘more accessible to psychotherapy.’ …both
types were becoming a popular aid to facilitate psychotherapy. However, at
least one file suggests that ECT may also have been used punitively. In
February 1958, ‘Norman,’ a French-Canadian prisoner in an Ontario facility, was
cited for ‘doing his hair in a feminine way’ and was docked seven days good
conduct remission. One month later, Officer Woodly reported the same prisoner
for ‘biting his lips and rubbing his cheeks to make them red and also plucking
his eyebrows.’ This time Norman was sentenced to three days in solitary
confinement on a rationed diet. On 1 April he received yet another misconduct
report for ‘failing to achieve the required standard in conduct and industry
for 5 weeks,’ and lost yet another five days of good conduct. Two weeks later Norman
was admitted to the prison hospital for a course of ECT. He received a total of
six treatments and was released back into the prison. It is impossible to
conclude with certainty that his refusal to conform to institutional masculine
ideals and the disciplinary regime resulted in his receiving ECT, but given the
absence of any other documented explanation – medical or otherwise – it seems
reasonable to assume that his persistent effort to feminize his appearance was
the problem in need of treatment.

Despite ongoing requests from the
superintendent to create a therapeutic community, Webb’s ECT experiment was the
last significant venture in treating the sex criminal and homosexual population
at Millbrook. Yet, over the next four years, the Group II population almost
doubled from forty-four to eighty-three. In 1962, the few remaining members of
the treatment staff unanimously agreed that a program for sex offenders could
not be carried out at that institution and that other alternatives should be
pursued. Potts cited Millbrook’ss remote location as one of the reasons quality
staff were difficult to attract and retain. Other obstacles to building up a
program included conflict with the prison administration, lack of flexibility,
and the architecture of the building itself. The abandonment of treatment was
abetted by Webb’s successor, B. A. Kelly, who maintained that ‘incarceration is
a useful thing’ for Group II inmates and that most sex offenders were not
amenable to treatment. Even among those who were, Kelly insisted that treatment
in an outpatient setting was most suitable, since ‘sincere motivations for
changed sexual behaviour can only be assessed by a patient’s willingness to
keep appointments.’

In 1957 Minister Major John Foote,
the DRI’s most important advocate, retired. In the six years that followed, the
DRI portfolio changed hands five times. J. D. Atcheson, an outspoken activist
for criminal justice reform and former head psychiatrist of the Toronto Family
and Juvenile Court, was hired as the director of research and treatment
services the year Foote left, but could do little to keep the Ontario Plan
vision alive. In 1958 he complained to the minister that inmates were being
transferred to Millbrook simply to keep the marker plant running at full capacity,
to no avail. A year later, following a series of articles in the Toronto
Daily Star
and the Toronto Telegram denouncing the continued use of
the strap to administer punishment for rules infractions, ministry staff held a
special meeting on the issue, but because of Atcheson’s known opposition to
corporal punishment, he was not invited to attend. In light of the negative
publicity, Ontario Premier Leslie Frost approved its continued use only at
Millbrook. Alarmed by reportss that inmates were actually requesting transfers
to Millbrook Frost warned his deputy minister to ‘Keep Millbrook tough,’ and
custodial officers were told to keep their distance from inmates. Millbrook’s
pro-reform superintendent resigned in disgust.

By 1963 Millbrook’s skeletal treatment team of
two part-time consulting psychiatrists could no longer provide even a general
counselling service for inmates. Staff agreed that the maximum-security needs
of Group I inmates, the ‘troublemakers,’ clashed with the therapeutic needs of
Group II inmates, and the clinical program never got beyond conducting intake
assessments. R. R. Ross, the supervising psychologist for the region, reported
that treatment services would ‘henceforth be extremely limited in scope,’ and
that because of the shortage of staff, ‘there is little room for optimism about
future expansion.’ Ross recommended that the department transfer to a custodial
officer many of the duties that normally fell to the social worker and
psychologist, such as general counselling, psychological testing, and intake
interviewing. Various political appointments and public promises during the
late 1950s and 1960s kept afloat the illusion of the DRI as a therapeutic
haven, and magistrates continued to assume homosexuals and others charges with
sex crimes would receive treatment in prison. However, insiders regarded
Millbrook as little more than a ‘storage bin’ for problem inmates. In 1965 tow
inmates tried to draw public attention to the poor conditions at the prison by
hoarding their lighter fluid rations and lighting a fire. Guards anonymously
met with journalists to describe the appalling conditions inmates were forced
to endure. The opposition party called Millbrook the ‘Alcatraz of Ontario,’ and
demanded its closure.

The problem was not limited to
Millbrook. The treatment sham exploded in 1961 when all but two of the staff at
Toronto’s Juvenile and Family Court quit after the government imposed new and
highly punitive policies on the clinical management of the court’s clients.
Later that same year, eight staff members at the Alex G. Brown Memorial Clinic
resigned en masse. The DRI claimed the problem was budget cuts, but
according to Stuart Jaffary, increasingly rigid custodial regulations and
practices were creating insurmountable obstacles for professional staff who
were operating treatment programs in the clinic. ‘Despite its name,’ Jaffary
argued, ‘ they got little indication that the therapeutic program was really
the primary purpose of the clinic.’ The only hope for saving the system was for
the DRI to take concrete steps toward resolving the conflict between punishment
and treatment. ‘Does the institution exist for the man, or the man for the
institution?’ he asked. ‘If the former, it will have to have a full complement
of treatment services, and use them. If the latter, all you need is a rockpile
and a treadmill.’ As it stands, the pretense of ‘treatment,’ he concluded,
gives a show of humanity with one hand and keeps a firm hold on the inmate
population with the other.

By 1961, the director of treatment
services, director of psychiatry, and director of social work positions in the
Department of Reform Institutions were vacant. F. H. Potts, the first
psychologist hired by the department, was the only mental health administrator
remaining on staff. Minister George Calvin Wardrope announced that he was
retreating from the ‘idea that every offender, given the proper treatment and
assignment, could be successfully molded into a useful citizen. Penologically
speaking,’ he concluded, ‘the pendulum is swinging nearer to where it should
[be].’ Allan Grossman revived the rhetoric of rehabilitation while he served as
minister from 1963 to 1971, but the DRI continued to function in much the same
manner as it had since the Second World War, if not earlier.  

As the only province to respond to
public pressure and provide treatment for incarcerated sex criminals, Ontario
must have appeared progressive indeed. Appearances, however, were deceiving.
Unfortunately, Ontario was not unique in this regard. The conflict between the
postwar treatment ideal and the military-style disciplinary regime played out
whereever treatment staff were hired. Guy Richmond, a psychiatrist at the
British Columbia federal prison, lamented that prison doctors were forced to render
unto Caesar, not Hippocrates. According to another British Columbia
psychiatrist who undertook a study of sex offenders in prison, ‘the real power
structure in the institution is mainly concerned with custody, with keeping the
inmates in line, in order, and above all, inside…This is not an
environment in which the principals of reform and rehabilitation can even exist
and to say otherwise would be a mockery.’ Showing predictable restraint, the
1969 report of the Canadian Committee on Corrections concluded that the
relationship between prison services and treatment professionals in the federal
system was an uneasy alliance of opposing ideologies, the latter lacking the
support of the former.

As for the Group II program, top administrators would concede only that
Millbrook’s remote location and the nature of the work undermined any chance of
success. In 1962 Potts concluded that the only solution was to continue to
court outside help by building bridges between reformatories and faculties of
psychiatry, psychology, and social work. In the meantime, he recommended that a
sex deviant treatment program be set up at the Alex G. Brown Memorial Clinic
(AGBMC), where the DRI ran a pre-release treatment program for alcoholics and
drug addicts. There, he argued, research into the effective treatment of
homosexuals, who constituted approximately 25 per cent of the Millbrook Group
II population and who posed the greatest discipline problem for prison
administrators, could be set up.

If the use of mental health treatment
as a means to control prison discipline can be taken as a measure of the clash
of ideologies, Potts’s last proposal is a clear indication that nothing had
changed. Sex between inmates remained the primary concern. The public demand
for treatment for pedophiles, exhibitionists, and other sex criminals who were
considered a serious danger to the public was of no interested to the
Department of Reform Institutions.”

– Elise Chenier. Strangers in our Midst: Sexual Deviancy in Postwar Ontario. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. pp. 152-159

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“Psychiatrists repeatedly
challenged the idea that homosexual men were dangerous, and argued that, like
exhibitionism and ‘Peeping Tomism,’ homosexuality harmed only the men that
engaged in it. Quebec psychiatrist Bruno Cormier and his colleague Justin Ciale
argued ‘though they may create annoyance and conflicts for the offenders and
the milieu in which they commit their offences, they present more often than
otherwise no really great danger. Such offences are not to be considered
similar to offences that involve bodily harm such as sadistic acts.’ Dr.
MacLeod concurred: ‘They are offensive to the public or repulsive in their
behaviour but they are not necessarily dangerous.’ Some social service
agencies, such as the British Columbia John Howard Society, argued
homosexuality ‘and other socially distasteful, rather than socially dangerous,
conduct’ should be dealt with more leniently.

While psychiatrists agreed that
public sex was a problem, some used the hearings to denounce the heavy-handed
tactics that local police forces used against urban homosexuals. During a
private session with the commission, respected Quebec criminologist Revered
Noel Mailloux reported that homosexuals are ‘very often…despised and treated
with contempt, and often the way the police talk to them it is just as if they
were the very dust of humanity, and it is an extremely poor way to handle such
cases. I have seen worse than that, and this I would like to leave off the
record, if you please.’ The chief psychiatrist for the Department of Reform
Institutions in Ontario, Frank H. Van Nostrand, was asked his opinion of
Montreal’s 1954 ‘aggressive police campaign’ to clean up the mountain and other
prime cruising and social meeting spots. Though not generally sympathetic to
homosexuals, van Nostrand insisted that ‘they were not violent people,’ and
that ‘after their haunts were found out,’ they simply ‘moved off to some other
place.’ He dismissed police tactics as accomplishing little more than ‘a
certain tidying up.’ In fact, mass arrests of homosexuals were denounced by
even the most hard-nosed proponents of old-fashioned methods of punishing
criminals, who were less concerned about the human rights and dignity of the
men targeted by the police than the unnecessary strain such actions placed on
medical, psychiatric, psychological, and social work professionals who were
expected to provide assessment and treatment services. Psychiatric facilities
were becoming a dumping ground for those caught ip in police sweeps in the
United States as well.  In 1952 Dr. E.
Kelleher, the director of the Chicago Psychiatric Institute, complained that the
police, acting under pressure from the media and various public organizations,
conducted a campaign to clean up North Clark Street. On one particular night,
forty-two suspected homosexuals were dropped on his institute’s doorstep,
overloading the staff with work that they were neither interested in nor had
the proper resources to cope with.

Virtually every mental health
expert agreed that sex between adult men did not cause harm, but the experts
also maintained that it was a sickness requiring treatment. Even Dr. D. Ewen
Cameron, Canada’s greatest champion of America’s best known opponent of the
criminalization of homosexuality, Dr. Alfred Kinsey, favoured medical
intervention. Borrowing a page from Kinsey’s 1948 tome, Cameron testified that
33 per cent of men engage in at least one homosexual act in their lifetime, yet
only 7 per cent become exclusively homosexual. ‘It is unfair to send a man off
to prison for what might be a one-time act,’ he argued, and as for the others,
why send them to prison when there is no treatment or help available? ‘Humanity
has many unhappy occurrences on its records, but certainly incarceration of the
homosexual man in a prison with no contacts save other men, where he is
given no treatment to rectify his condition
and where he is kept, not until
a predetermined priod of time has elapsed, certainly ranks high among those
things in which we can take little pride. For Cameron, the real offence was
that homosexuals were being thrown in jail but were not being offered any treatment
to cure their disorder.

The experts remained adamant that
sexual deviation was a medical, not a criminal, problem, but they were also
forced to admit that it was a disease without a cure, yet. By the 1950s, the
few who already had treatment programs running were cynical as to whether they
could bring about a heterosexual orientation in homosexual men. But while only
the most sanguine held out any hope for a cure, more and more experts were
turning to behaviour therapies to teach homosexuals to conduct their lives in
socially appropriate ways. During the commissioners’ research visit to New
Jersey’s Menlo Park Clinic, where sexual psychopaths were sent for assessment
and treatment, Director Ralph Brancal explained ‘we do not attempt to
change…the deep-seated homosexualist…all we are interested in the lifelong
homosexual is that he is able to contain himself and sublimate his own sexual
activities and channels so that it does not make him publicly offensive.’
Vancouver’s Dr. Alcorn echoed this view, describing homosexuality not as a
disease but a ‘defect of taste. One could perhaps not speak of curing them any
more than one could speak of curing a person who liked Bach or Stravinsky.’
Alcorn’s method of treating homosexuality, exhibitionism, voyeurism, and
‘occasionally playing with children’ consisted of teaching their practitioners
how to ‘live with their peculiar tastes, to teach them the dangers that they
may encounter in allowing tensions to develop, to avoid those tensions which
arise, and which create the setting in which most of these offences occur.’ If
mental health experts could not teach some way to be normal, then they
hoped they could teach him to at least act normal.

Private sex was one thing, but
public behaviour remained cause for concern. Cruising in parks, making out in
the bushes, congregating in clubs, and having sex in public washrooms had long
been considered inappropriate behaviour for any person, male or female, but in
the 1950s, the gay male cruising practices took on new meaning. Given the
social, economic, and familial consequences of being discovered in homosexual
‘haunts,’ homosexual men’s repeated visits to such places appeared compulsive,
irrational, and consequently provided a direct link to the criminal psychopath model.
Viewed through the lens of the postwar middle-class heterosexual family, men
(and exhibitionists) who had sex in public places appeared both out of control
and dangerous. Canadian psychiatrists agreed that in such instances
homosexuality constituted a social nuisance, and sex between men should
continue to be subject to criminal, as well as medical, regulation.

Some witnesses defended male
homosexuals on the grounds that many made important contributions to Western
civilization. Even Minister of Justice Stuart S. Garson, responding to the
rising level of hysteria surrounding the commission of sex crimes, took up this
angle during a House of Commons debate. ‘The picture is not all bad,’ he
reassured his fellow Mps. ‘If one goes back through the history of music and
literature and the arts, one will find that some of the greatest masterpieces
in these fields have been achieved by sex deviates to whom we are in fact
greatly indebted for what they have created and handed down to their fellow
man.’ But during the commission hearings, Toronto Police Chief Constable John
Chisolm dismissed such characterizations outright, calling this line of
reasoning ‘a dangerous trend and an insult to the intelligence of the masses.’
A Saskatchewan member of the Canadian Mental Health Association similarly
described homosexuals’ ‘tendency to acquaint their behaviour with the
achievement of high intellectual and cultural achievements’ as a means to
seduce ‘susceptible and impressionable persons.’ Attempts to normalize homosexuality
by associating its practitioners with the middle and cultured classes failed
dismally, demonstrating that to be middle class in the 1950s did not just mean
having a car, a house, and a good-paying corporate job. It also meant being
married with children, signalling not only material success but also healthy
and positive sexual and social adjustment. Oral and anal sex in marriage might
be ‘normal,’ but similar sexual acts between two men were certainly not. Though
the science of sex paid a good deal of attention to parsing individual acts
from ambiguous concepts of immorality, the issue was never just what kind of
sex, but with whom.

One lone witness objected to the
pathologization of homosexuality, Axel Otto Olsen appeared before the
commission as a private citizen without connection to any group or profession.
Unprotected by the armour of science, and vulnerable to pubic scrutiny, Olsen
requested and received a private hearing, though his comments were transcribed
into the official record. He argued that sexual relations between men over the
age of sixteen should be of no concern to the state. Perhaps Olsen was
encouraged by similar arguments then being made in Britain, where the
government-appointed Committee on Homosexuality and Prostitution proved amenable
to recommending the removal of sexual activity between men from the purview of
the criminal law. However, while the English committee drew on the testimony of
a number of homosexual men to challenge some of the myths and misconceptions
about male homosexual behaviour, there was no effort on the part of the
commission in Canada to seek out the views of homosexual men. This is partly
because of the different directives the two commissions were given. However, it
is also because the Canadian commissioners were not convinced that male
homosexuality did not constitute a menace to society.

If the commission were to support a
law that distinguished between harm-causing behaviours and those that were
merely morally distasteful, witnesses who supported the continued
criminalization of homosexuality would have to persuade the commission that
homosexuality was indeed harmful. This goal was achieved by linking
homosexuality with pedophilia. Men who congregated in parks, restaurants, and
theatres at night posed little threat to children, but the Toronto police chief
suggested otherwise. ‘Homosexuality is a constant problem for the Police in
large centres,’ he argued at the Toronto hearings, ‘and if the Police adopt a
laissez-faire attitude toward such individuals, city parks, intended for the
relaxation of women and children and youth recreation purposes, will become
rendezvous for homosexuals.’ Concern over the way public park space was being
used extends almost back to when they were first created. Completed in 1877,
Mont Royal Park was the subject of very similiar complaints not twenty years
after it opened. Then, the local bourgeoisie complained that the park was
overrun with prostitutes, vagabonds, flaneurs, and unmarried couples. Parks
were intended to serve as an antidote to the pollution created by industrial
factories, the germ and disease-ridden urban slums, and the immorality spawned
by commercial leisure activities. Grand landscapes like Montreal’s Mont Royal,
Toronto’s High Park, and Vancouver’s Stanley Park were meant to promote
individual well-being by combining healthful and leisure pursuits. Poverty,
filth, and sex had no place in city parks.

Struggles over park usage were
microcosmic versions of wider contests between defenders of middle-class familial
morality and those whose lives challenged conventional social mores. How
after-dark ‘cruising’ interfered with the daytime use of Mont Royal was never
explicitly stated, but Queen’s Counsel J. Fournier defended the Montreal police
drive to ‘clean up’ the mountain on the grounds that ten years earlier a boy
was murdered there. What Fournier implied, Police Chief Chisholm made explicit.
From Chisholm’s vantage point, Toronto parks were in danger of becoming
recruiting grounds for homosexuals. We might expect nothing less than a
law-and-order response from a chief of police, but Reverend Noel Mailloux,
Quebec’s leading proponent of positive penology, also argued that homosexuals
were dangerous because ‘they constantly recruit new members…younger boys, usually
around eighteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen to twenty.’ Sexual cruising among
men in Canada’s urban green spaces posed threat to their daytime users, but the
symbolic value of parks as places of bucolic relaxation for Canadian families
tightened the link between male cruising and the perceived danger to families
of pedophilia.”

 – Elise Chenier, Strangers in our Midst: Sexual Deviancy in Postwar Ontario. Toronto. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. pp. 92-96.

Photo is: Parc La Fontaine, 1947. 

Les archives du journal La Presse.   

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“Most Canadian mental health
professionals recognized the culturally and historically variable nature of
perceptions around normative sexual practices. Sometimes this led to some
rather extraordinary claims: social worker John Arnott argued against including
incest under the sexual psychopath laws because, he explained, in societies
such as the Inca it was a revered practice. More typically, however, medical
doctors explained that the range of ‘sexual expression’ was wider than was once
believed, and doctors were redrawing the lines around what constituted
acceptable behaviour. Dr. D. Ewen Cameron, for example, described how, when he
first began to practice psychiatry in the mid-1920s, it was not uncommon to
treat anxious patients of both sexes who were concerned about masturbation. Up
until at least the First World War experts warned that ‘the solitary vice’ led
to infertility, blindness, and insanity. However, Cameron told the commission,
‘now that we know masturbation is a practically universal phenomenon…there
are very few people I ever see who are concerned about it all.’ Psychiatrists
had also ‘discovered’ that married couples had a much longer and more varied
sex life than was previously assumed. Not only were married Canadians
continuing to enjoy sex well beyond their reproductive years, but they were
also engaging in oral and anal sex without showing any evidence of physical,
mental, or moral damage to either partner. ‘It may be repugnant to a widely
held view of decorum and aesthetics,’ Cameron argued, ‘but [it] is certainly
not a matter of pathology.’ He felt confident that it was only a matter of time
before other forms of sexual activity enjoyed the same level of acceptance.

While few had as much experience treating sex problems as Cameron, almost all
psychiatrists agreed that sex crimes were committed by people from ‘all walks
of life.’ This was a significant departure from earlier beliefs, which located
sexual immorality in poor and immigrant neighbourhoods. Cameron’s testimony
reflected the wholesale abandonment of eugenic and other biological theories
that attributed criminal and pathological behaviour to inferior races and
classes. Residue of older ideas concerning class degeneracy left its mark on
the hearings: Dr. R. R. Maclean of Saskatchewan told the commission that incest
was most often the result of ‘special home circumstances and conditions, namely
crowding in the home and poor morals.’ But Maclean was the exception. No matter
when or where they trained and began practising their profession, most mental
health experts in the 1950s dismissed poverty as a cause of sexual deviancy or
crime, and paid virtually no attention to those other early-twentieth-century
sources of immorality – racial inferiority and immigration.

However, while social and economic
class were no longer seen as determinants of the aetiology of sex deviation,
class was widely used to legitimize certain sexual practices. Psychiatrists
emphasized that people were having sex in ways never imagined (or at least not
openly discussed), and, more important, that the upper and middle classes were
also participating in ‘abnormal’ sexual practices. For example, Vancouver
psychiatrist Dr. Douglas Earl Alcorn explained to the commissioners that ‘the
practice of whipping is by no means limited…to people we think of as inferior
or deteriorated. Some of these people are extremely brilliant and are actually
outstanding people in the community.’ Through a patient he learned of a club of
sadists, some of whose members he was able to read up on in Who’s Who – ‘people
qualified for that on the basis of their public service.’ Clearly, the Kinsey
study and similar research endeavours were casting new light on old questions
about the boundaries of normal human sexuality. This was indeed one of the
great ironies of the 1950s: the effort to provide definitions of what
constituted normal behaviour faciliated public and professional dialogues that
recognized, validated, and to a large extent normalized sex beyond a
reproductive function. By recognizing (hetero)sexual pleasure, a wider range of
activities was legimitized.

Another activity popular among men ‘from all walks of life’ was same-sex sex.
Homosexuality emerged as a central point of reference throughout the
commission’s hearings, especially when it sat in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver,
Canada’s three largest urban centres. Indeed, despite the fact that the
public’s attention was squarely focussed on sexual assaults against female
children, homosexuality was the single most discussed criminal act…[despite]
buggery and gross indecency, the two criminal charges for sexual acts between
men, were initially excluded from section 661 of the Criminal Code, and were
added only in 1953.”

–  Elise Chenier. Strangers in our Midst: Sexual Deviancy in Postwar Ontario. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. pp. 88-89.

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