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“LE CENTRE FEDERAL DE FORMATION: Une prison sans barreaux ou les jeunes
détenus deviennent des hommes,” Le Devoir. November 12, 1955. Page 1 &10.  

par Jean Benoit

C’aurait fort bien pu être le pavillon d’un club de golf, ou encore un chic restaurant pour fins. gourmefs. N’eût été les hautes murailles, flanquées de tourelles aux quatre coins, l’édifice de l’administration du Centre fédéral de formation, à St-Vincent-de-Paul, m’aurait fait penser à certaines maisons cossues de Laval-Ouest.

La porte d’entrée à peine fermée derrière moi, je devais aller de surprise en surprise. Je
m’attendais à traverser deux ou trois grilles de fer cadenassées à double tour, avec à chacune un garde
armé en faction. En fait, j’ai franchi trois seuils, trois portes qui se sont ouvertes devant moi au
signal d’un bouton électrique, comme I’on en trouve dans n’importe quelle maison de rapport de
Montréal. Un garde, dans un bureau vitré, contrôle les entrées et les sorties. Comme tous ceux que je
verrai circuler dans les bureaux et dans l’enceinte de l’institution, il n’est pas armé.

Comme il m’avait fallu une permission
spéciale du Commissaire
fédéral des pénitenciers, j’étais
loin de m’attendre à visiter une
prison sans barreaux. Je me doutais
bien d’y trouver un régime
moins rude que dans les pénitenciers
proprement dits, puisqu’il
s’agit d’un Centre de formation,
mais je ne croyais pas y découvrir
un mode de vie identique à
celui des pensionnats ou des casernes
militaires

 

Car. c’est bien. Là l’impression
générale qui m’est restée des quatre
journées entières passées au
Cenlre fédéral de formation de
St-Vincent-de-Paul. J’y ai vu les
jeunes détenus en classe, au travail
dans les ateliers d’apprentissage,
au jeu dans le gymnase et
aux exercices militaires dans l’enceinte
des murs. J’ai vu les dortoirs.
le réfectoire, le parloir, tout1
comme dans les collèges. J’ai vu
des professeurs, des surveillants
en uniformes de gardes. En aucun
moment je n’ai aperçu de gardeschiourmes.

La fonction du Centre fédéral
de formation est comme son nom
l’indique, de pourvoir à la réhabilitation
de jeunes gens condamnes
au pénitencier et susceptibles d’è
ti e réadaptés à une vie honnête et
normale à l’expiration de leur peine.
Ce Centre n’est pas une école:
de réforme ou une ferme industri
elle. Tous ses pensionnaires vieil
lient du pénitencier voisin de StV’inccnt-dc-Paul,
où ils avaient été
incarcérés pour des sentences minimal de deux ans.

Deux fois par mois, cl plus souvent
si nécessaire, une commission
sélective, composée des sous-directeurs
et des préposés au classement
du pénitencier et du Centre
de formation, étudie les dossiers
et interroge les nouveaux venus
dans le but de découvrir ceux qui
donnent le moindre espoir rie réhabilitation.
Les sujets choisis seront
par la suite transférés au
Centre et soumis au programme
de formation. 

J’ai eu le rare privilège d’assister
à une de ces séances de sélection.
On m’avait énuméré les quatre
facteurs servant de base au
choix: peine maximum de cinq
ans: première condamnation pénitencière;
âges minimum et maximum
de I8 à 25 ans: détenus susceptibles
de réhabilitation. Mais,
j’ai pu constater que les membres
de la commission ajoutent à ces
facteurs un sens profond de la
compréhension humaine qui fait
que chaque détenu est certain d’obtenir
le maximum de chance pour
son transfert du pénitencier au
Centre.

A la séance particulière où j’ai
assisté, sept détenus sur neuf ont

été choisis. Dans les sept cas la
décision a été unanime. Quant aux
deux rejets, ils furent décidés
non pas d’après les dossiers des
détenus mais d’après leur altitude
devant les questions posées. 

Le rôle de la Commission sélective
est d’une importance capitale,
puisque lout le succès du Centre
de formation repose sur elle. Que
les membres choisissent un trop

grand nombre de détenus indésirables tout le programme de réhabilitation
est alors fortement
compromis.    

Les lieux

Le Centre fédéral de formation,
peut-on lire dans une brochure
rédigée par le directeur de l’Institution,
n’cxiste en réalité que depuis
le 1er août 1952. Cependant,
on en a conçu l’idée en 1929, alors
que le gouvernement fédéral décida
de faire l’acquisition du vaste
terrain situé immédiatement à
l’est du pénitencier de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul.

Les travaux d’excavation débutèrent
en 1929, et en 1930-31 commencèrent
les travaux préliminaires
sur remplacement tout d’abord appelé l’établissement Laval.
Des détenus étaient employés comme
niain-d’oeuvre ci au début, les
travaux de construction furent plutôt
lents. A cause du conflit mondial.
qui éclataon en 1939, et pour
d’autres considérations, le projet
lut abandonné à ce moment-là.
pour être repris activement en
1959. Des contrats furent alors
adjugés pour la construction des

principaux édifices, dont la plupart
furent, achevés à l’hiver de
1952. Le 1er avril de cette année-là, 149 détenus furent transférés du
pénitencier de St-Vinecnt-de-Paul:
ce fut la date officielle de la naissance
de celte nouvelle institution,
connue depuis 1951 sous le
nom de Centre fédéral de Formation.

La superficie à l’intérieur des
murs d’enceinte est de quelque
25 acres, dont près d’un tiers
sert de préau réservé à la récréation et la pratique des sports
en plein air. Physiquement, le
Centre Fédéral de Formation se
compose des édifices suivants:

Bureaux de direction et du
conseil d’administration, de classement
et de comptabilité; cour
du directeur; services anthropométriques; salle des surveillants
et parloir;

Deux chapelles, d’une capacité
totale de 609, pour les détenus
catholiques et protestants: 

Une infirmerie de 18 lits et
une clinique dentaire, sous la
direction d’un chirurgien et
d’un dentiste; 

Un centre d’admission et d’orientation
pour les nouveaux
venus; 

Un bloc cellulaire (actuellement
en construction); 

Trois centres d’apprentissage,
d’une capacité de 200 élèves,
pour renseignement primaire de
17 métiers; 

Un gymnase, servant également
de salle de récréation, de
théâtre et de cinéma, d’une capacité
de 600 personnes; 

Une bibliothèque, contenant
plus de 3,000 ouvrages divers,
et de nombreuses revues locales
et; étrangères; rédigées en français
et en anglais; 

Une école de trois classes,
d’une capacité totale de 60 élèves,
sous la direction d’un maître
d’études et de deux adjoints; 

Une cuisine principale, flanquée
de deux réfectoires d’une
capacité totale de 600 personnes,
où les détenus prennent
tous leurs repas; 

Un magasin central, pour la
réception, vérification et distribution
des approvisionnements; 

Une lingerie et une buanderie; 

Des ateliers d’entretien et de
construction générale;

     

Quatre dortoirs d’une capacité de 100 lits chacun. Les dortoirs ont dix étages. Chaque
étage comporte deux ailes distinctes,
composées chacune d’une
salle d’ablution, d’une salle
de récréation, de trois chambrées
de six lits chacune, de
sept chambrettes individuelles, auxquelles les détenus sont assignés au mérite. Les deux ailes
de chaque étage sont séparées
par un bureau cloisonné à l’usage
des surveillants en service.
Les détenus font eux-mémes le lavage et le repassage
de leur linge personnel, dans
les salles d’ablution, qui sont
munies de cuves, séchoirs à la
vapeur, planches et fers à repasser.
La literie est lessivée
à la buanderie centrale. Les
salles de récréation servent de lieu de réunion durant les heures
libres, soit pour lire, écrire écouter la radio, jouer aux cartes, aux dames, aux échecs, etc…

Programme formateur

A leur admission au Centre Fédaral de Formation, les nouveaux venus, qui sont transférés en

groupes d’une vingtaine par mois

s’ont d’abord admis au centre d’orientation, ils sont interviewés dès le debut par le directeur et par la commission de classement. 

Cette commission est le pivot de l’application du programme de traitement des détenus. Elle se compose du sous-directeur, de l’aumonier du maître d’études, du chef de cuisine, et des préposés au classement, à l’apprentissage et aux travaux. Elle se réunit hebdomadairement, pour déterminer le programme d’orientation des nouveaux arrivées; étudier certains cas particuliers; modifier le programme de certains autres; examiner les demandes de clémence et suggérer la liberation prématurée et conditionelle des cas méritants.

Au cours de cette période d’orientation de quatre semaines, les réglements, privilèges et obligations sont expliqués à fond aux nouveaux venus. Ils suivent des cours de culture physique, participent à des jeux organisés, reçoivent des instructionss en sociologie, en hygiene physique et mentale, etc. Ils sont soumis à des tests d’aptitude, en vue de les
diriger diriger vers l’apprentissage d’un métier de leur choix. A la fin de cette période de quatre semaines, ils sont assignés à une

chambree et sont habituellement placés dans une équipe de travail comme manoeuvres en attendant l’occasion de commencer leur apprentissage. Lorsque ce moment est venu, en leur enseigne

d’abord les éléments du métier choisi, et ils sont ensuite versésà un cours de formation proprement dit.

On enseigne, l’apprentissage des métiers suivants:

Ajustage mécanique

briquetage

dessin industriel
ébénisterie

électricité

finissage

forge

maçonnerie

mécanique automobile

menuiserie

métal en feuille

plâtrage

plomberie

rembourrage

tuyauterie

vernissage

soudure.

Ces cours, d’une durée moyennes de dix mois, correspondent à ceux donnés par les centres d’aprentissages provinciaux, subventionnes par le gouvernement provincial, les entrepreneurs généraux en construcction de batiments, et les syndicats ouvriers. Ces cours sont donnés dans de vastes ateliers, eclairés à profusion, munis d’outillage des plus moderne, par des techniciens diplomés d’écoles techniques d’arts ou de metiers, à la solde de l’institution. Ces instructeurs avaient acquis de l’expérience pratique dans l’industrie, avant leur engagement: après leur entrée au service pénitentiaire, ils ont reçu une formation pédagogique solide. Les classes se composent d’un nombre maximum de 15 élèves dont les progrès sont notés et enregistrés mensuellement. A la fin de leur apprentissage, les élèves sont affectés aux équipes d’entretien et de construction, pour y acquerir de l’expériencce pratique, jusqu’au jour de leur libération.

Lcs détenus travaillent de 8 h.

à 5 h., du lundi au vendredi inclusivement. Le samedi avant-midi est réservé au nettoyage général des locaux. Les offices religieux ont lieu vers 8 h. 30 le dimanche matin: immédiatement apres, les détenus obtiennent, de la cantine, des cigarettes, du tabac,des friandises, et autres menus articles, à même le résidu de à leur pécule. Les détenus sont rémunières à raison de 12, 18, ou 24 sous par jour, selon leur anciennete, leur conduite, leur travail et leurs bonnes dispositions.

A tous ceux qui n’ont pas obtenu leur brevet d’études de sixiéme année, on enseigne au minimun les elements de la langue francaise, de la langue anglaise, et de l’arithmétique. Plus de 150 détenus poursuivent, dans leur  temps libre, l’étude de coins divers. 

Par correspondance. Exceptionnellement, on enseigne également à l’école le solfege,la musique, la peinture, le dessin artistique et commercial, le dactylographie, la sténographie, comptabilité et les écritures.  

Des offices religieux ont lieu

tous les dimanches et jours de fêtes
religieuse. Les détenus catholiques et protestants y assistent, 

dans deux chapelles distinctes. Une retraite d’une semaine est prêchée annuellement à tous les détenus par des prédicateurs étrangers, durant la première semaine du carême. L’aumônier est en service régulièrement tous les jiours. Il circule à volonté dans l’institution, les ateliers et parmi les équipes, et accorde des entrevues particulières aux détenus

qui le demandent. Le Centre Fédéral de Formation est le seul pénitencier canadien où le Messe de Minuit est célébrée.

  

Les détenus sont autorisés à recevoir la visite de leurs parents immédiats une fois par mois. 

Normalement cette viste est d’une durée d’une demie heure. Ce privilège est accordé 

sur semaine et, exceptionnellement, le dimanche, lorsque les parents demeurrent à une distance considerable de l’institution 

ou que leurs occupations les empechenent de venir sur semaine. Les détenus ont la permission d’écrire une lettre par semaine

à. leurs parents de qui, cependant, ils peuvent recevoir autant de lettres que ces derniers veulent leur en écrire.

Les détenus de conduite, travail et disposition» exemplaires profiteront à peu près tous du privilège d’une libération conditionnelle surveillée. Depuis la fondation de l’institution au 31 mars 1955, de 499 détenus libérés, 329, soit 66%, ont bénéficié d’une réduction moyenne de trois mois de peine.

….      

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“10 Years in Jail Escapee’s Price For 13 Free Days,” The Globe and Mail. October 8, 1948. Page 05.

In 13 days, David Cameron, 24, committed offences which netted him a prison term of 10 years. Magistrate Thomas Elmore sentenced Cameron yesterday for the latter’s armed robbery of a taxi-driver; breaking into a service station; attempted break-in of a second station; carrying an offensive weapon, and escaping from Burwash reformatory.

Cameron was given the 10-year-term for his robbery of taxi-driver John Kusian. Terms on the other charges against Cameron were made concurrent. The 10-year sentence will be consecutive to a three-months term the accused is now serving for a conviction registered in May.

Cameron escaped from Burwash Reformatory in September. The total sentence, which included the concurrent terms, amounted to 17 years.

‘You have had seven previous convictions before all this,’ His Worship told Cameron. ‘It is fortunate that no one has been injured.’

Read Full Post »

“Youth Leaves Jail To Work Out Fine,” The Globe and Mail. October 7, 1948. Page 02.

At the request of Major Alec MacMillan of the Salvation Army, 16-year-old Terry Smith of Sackville St. was released from Don Jail Tuesday night. Terry, convicted of ill-treating a kitten, was unable to pay a $50 fine, and was sentenced to 10 days in jail by Magistrate Thomas Elmore.

Major MacMillan said Terry was a ‘good boy,’ and would work to raise money to meet the $50 fine.
====
“Faces Sentence In Taxi Robbery,”

The Globe and Mail. October 7, 1948. Page 02.


David Cameron, 24, will be sentenced today by Magistrate Thomas Elmore after being convicted yesterday of robbing taxi driver John Kusian about two weeks ago. Kusian charged that Cameron had placed a butcher knife against his back and robbed him of $16.

Cameron faces sentence on four additional charges; Breaking into a service station on Fleet St., possession of an offensive weapon, attempted break-in of a second service station on Front St., and escape from Burwash Reformatory.

Cameron, 24 years old, escaped from reformatory on Sept. 9, and was said to have committed all the misdemeanors since the date. He pleaded guilty to all except the armed robbery charge.

Read Full Post »

“Constructive Action Required,” Globe and Mail Editorial, July 14, 1948. Page 06.

The second riot at Burwash Industrial Farm in less than a year, following a violent disturbance in the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women, and now the trouble at Guelph Reformatory, all strongly emphasize the difficulties of administering this type of institution. Obviously, nobody likes being in jail, and there could seldom be noted a general spirit of contentment among the inmates. Nevertheless, experience has shown that conditions in a penal institution are generally poor before mischief-making leadership is able to create trouble. The climax of the outbreak ordinarily comes after a long period of increasing frustration, and represents a degree of desperation. By then, consequences have become insignificant in comparison with the conditions being endured.

The administration of a system of jails and reformatories, therefore, requires a particular sort of person with a high degree of competition. He should be a man who is able to lay down a clear and practical policy, and be certain that it is being carried out. He should be at once stern and kindly; wise in his understanding of human nature, and discerning in his judgement. Above all, he should know his job, and the complex problems of running institutions which are both punitive and reformative, to the end that those who have broken the law will be aware of the penalty, and at the same time desirous of leading a more constructive life upon release.

Despite the disturbances which have taken place recently, we have confidence in the officials of the Department of Reform Institutions, and in their capacity to deal with the situation. Their reputation and experience is substantial, and they are held in respect even by those who have had just cause to be critical of the Ontario prison and reformatory system. Numerous innovations and improvements have been put into effect in many aspects of the system, and the Ontario Plan for reformative institutions has been widely studied.

It is evident, however, that further reforms of a sweeping nature are overdue. Too little attention has been paid to salaries which will attract the right type of person into this important work. There has been an indication that personnel policies are erratic and even unjust. The discipline among prisoners cannot be maintained if morale is not present in the staff. These problems are basically administrative and the public expects the Government to take constructive action before further trouble develops. It is essential that the department’s officials be able to justify the progressive policies they have fostered through their consistent application in all parts of the system.

Read Full Post »

“Three Outbreaks in Less Than Three Weeks Is Record of These Ontario Institutions,” Toronto Star. July 13, 1948. Page 02.

6 Outbreaks in 3 Years in Three Reformatories

Six serious outbreaks of trouble have occured in the past three years at three of the reform institutions administered by the Ontario government. Two incidents were at Burwash, three at the Ontario reformatory at Guelph, and one last month at Mercer reformatory for women in Toronto.

Following are the dates:

July 18, 1945 – Three guards injured at Guelph during outbreak of trouble among inmates. Hon. George Dunbar, minister of reform institutions, blamed it on small potatoes served inmates.

July 12, 1946 – Donald Parks, 18-year-old orphan, killed by guards attempting to escape from Guelph.

Oct. 2, 1947 – Riot of 124 inmates at Camp No. 1 Burwash. Five prisoners escaped.

March 10, 1948 – Dr. Stuart Jaffary, school of social science, University of Toronto, reported on investigation he made into Burwash riot. He made 13 recommendations for improving conditions, and said that responsibolity for the Octobver riot ‘is clearly on the administration and not n the inmates.’

June 25, 1948 – 100 girls at Mercer reformatory stage riot by throwing dishes and using chair legs to hit Toronto police officers called to quell disturbance. Trouble continued for several days.

June 28, 1948 – Riot at Camp No. 2 at Burwash. Tear gas used. Hunger strike by inmates.

July 12, 1948. – Trouble at Guelph reformatory. Tear gas used. 311 inmates kept under close guard in yard.

Image captions (from top left to right):

Mercer, June 25 – 100 Girls Riot, Protest Treatment;
Burwash, June 28 – Tear Gas Used on Hunger Strikers;
Guelph, July 12 – Tear Gas Used, Over 300 Refuse to Work;
For the Third Time In Three Years, Guelph Reformatory, seen from the air, has Trouble

Read Full Post »

“Negro Barred From Dance Hall In Hamilton’s Dundurn Park,” Toronto Star. July 7, 1948. Page 01.

Hamilton, July 7 – (CP) – Parks board officials today denied responsibility for an incident in which a local Negro war veteran was denied admission to the dance pavilion at Dundurn park.

‘It is up to them; they will have to deal with the question,’ Thomas M. Wright, vice-chairman of the parks board, said today. He referred to the contract which Morgan Thomas, orchestra leader, has with the parks board for the operation of the dance in the pavilion.

Asked today if there would be any change in the policy:

‘There can’t be any change. The only change there can be is that we don’t run any more.’

The practice in all dance halls, he said, was to ‘keep them out.’  and added: ‘If I let one in, I’d have to let two in, and then more, and the crowd would fall off.’

Mr. Thomas said: ‘Last year they [the parks board] said I should’t refuse admission.’ He added that he explained the situation, and ‘they saw the point.’

Morgan Thomas’ brother, ‘Bud’ Thomas, was on the door when the incident occurred. He said the admission had been refused, and accepted, by the Negro applicant, but the latter returned with a girl who objected.

‘Bud’ Thomas said there was a sign on the booth, over the name of the parks board: ‘We have the right to refuse admission to anyone without question.’

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“Distinguishing what was intended to
facilitate psychotherapy from the aversion and behaviour modification therapies
may appear to some to be a hair-splitting exercise, but if we are to begin to
understand how a popular grassroots movement that favoured humane and
compassionate alternatives to imprisonment for sex offenders led to what
appears to be cruel and unusual experiments, then it is critical that we
understand the nature of and the intention behind various treatment practices.
For example, historians of the medicalization of homosexuality often begin with
the assumption that treating homosexuality is repressive and sexually
conservative. Indeed, traditional accounts of this period generally maintain
that liberal experts like biologist and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey and
psychologist Evelyn Hooker stood apart from their colleagues by openly
challenging the prevailing system of sexual morality, particularly with respect
to the treatment of homosexuality.

But the story turns out to be
rather more complicated. Many forensic sexologists became ‘sexual liberals,’
and espoused modern, progressive views. Kinsey had an enormous impact on many
forensic sexologists who eventually developed a hybrid approach to treating
sexual deviation that combined his theories of human sexual behaviour with
Freudian concepts. Alongside their American colleagues, staff at the Forensic
Clinic came to view homosexuals as victims of public opinion and prejudice. As
in California, where some forensic sexologists allied themselves with the
emerging homophile movement and openly spoke out against the social and legal
persecution of homosexuals, Canada’s first known gay rights group regarded the
clinical staff as allies, not enemies. Working at the intersection between
medicine and the law, a significant number of forensic sexologists agreed that
only behaviours causing harm should be criminalized. Acts that merely offended
the moral sensibilities of the public, they believed, should not be subject to
legal – or for that matter medical – regulation. The law should be concerned
with protecting citizens from danger, and medicine with healing them from
illness. Morality had no place in either realm.

The flip side of sexology’s
progressive liberalism and permissive stance toward human sexual behaviour is
significantly less appealing. Sexual assault against young girls, which is what
fuelled the drive for sexual psychopath laws and treatment programs in the
first place, was under-theorized and minimized throughout this period. Indeed,
experts believed that many young female victims of sexual assault were not
damaged physically, emotionally, or psychologically and they continued to
locate pathology in the victim’s family. Morever, the Forensic Clinic’s studies
drew on both Freud and Kinsey to give scientific legitimacy to the popular view
that young girls who were assaulted were willing participants. If we were to
limit our examination to the treatment of homosexuality, the history of the
clinic might offer us the comfort of knowing there were more sexual liberals
than were once thought. But the purpose of history is never to make us
comfortable. Instead, my goal is to deepen our understanding of the foundation
upon which forensic sexology is built. Homosexuality was an important area of
public concern and a target for medical treatment, but it was only a part of
the whole. The larger social concern was sexual danger, and we cannot afford to
ignore ides about pedophiles, exhibitionists, or victims of sexual assault.

The idea that sterilization could
eliminate crime and immorality in future generations was a product of eugenics,
a purportedly scientific theory that linked human behaviour to biological
heredity. Positive eugenics encouraged procreation among the white middle and
upper classes. Negative eugenics discouraged reproduction among those deemed to
have week or immoral constitutions. In Canada, support for sterilization was
high among the educated middle classes, particularly as a means to control sex
perversion. Though Canadian experts knew it did not eliminate or even reduce
the male sex drive, they believed that by eliminating the ability to reproduce,
they could eradicate immoral defectives for future generations.

Initially, reports of sex crimes
against children after the Second World War led to a revival of support for
compulsory sterilization. For example, an Ontario farmer wrote to the minister
of the Department of Reform, Major John Foote, to explain how ‘any stock
breeder’ knows a castrated animal can be ‘turned loose among any female without
the slightest danger of trouble’ and ‘those who attack children or make brutal
attacks on women sexually should get the knife.’ Foote agreed that in some
cases it seemed that castration was the only possible solution. But, he added
regretfully, ‘it looks as though there will be a tremendous lot of opposition
to amending the Criminal Code to make this possible.’

He was right. During the late 1940s
and through the 1950s, hundreds of citizens demanded that sex criminals be
castrated, but by that time most Canadian doctors abjured eugenic
sterilization. Historians have attributed the postwar renunciation of eugenics
as a theory, and of certain invasive medical procedures as a practice, to the
horrible revelations of Nazi medical experiments. While gruesome testimony at
the Nuremberg trials doubtless had an impact, Canadian doctors rejected
castration and sterilization based on local datat that showed castration had
not reduced immorality or the number of sex crimes committed. Furthermore, some
medical experts believed castration could actually aggravate a disturbed sex
deviant. Thus, the search for new treatment methods was underway.

In the 1950s, a number of North
American, European, and Scandanavian doctors experimented with hormone
(estrogen) injections, electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), castration, and
lobotomy (also known as leucotomy) for treating sexual deviation. A thorough examination
of psychiatric hospital records in Canada has yet to be undertaken, but in
Ontario at least, psychopaths, homosexuals, and other sex deviants were
formally excluded from the eligible pool of candidates for leucotomy. Virtually
all psychiatrists and medical doctors who testified before the Royal Commission
on the Criminal Law Relating to Criminal Sexual Psychopaths rejected lobotomy,
and only one spoke in favour of U.S. experiments with chemical castration. Not
one would advocate the surgical castration used at Denmark’s controversial
Herstedvester Prison, where the director of psychiatry firmly believed in its
effectiveness as a tool to help sex offenders overcome or gain control of their
‘impulses.’ According to the commissioner’s final report, psychiatrists from
one end of the country to the other generally felt that the whole concept of
castration violated Canadian views of civil rights.

Psychotherapy was by far the
fastest growing approach to treating deviancy. More than a repudiation of
eugenics, it reflected a fundamental shift in thinking about the aetiology of
human behaviour. What was once thought to be caused by heredity and biology was
now seen as the consequence of social and environmental processes. After the
war, most North American psychiatrists argued that every person was born with
the potential to be social or antisocial, normal or psychopathic. As
California’s leading forensic sexologist Karl Bowman bluntly put it all men
have the capacity to become ‘sadistic sex killer[s] or …emotionally mature,
respected citizen[s].’ Life experience alone determined what one became.

The combined popularity of Freudian
psychoanalysis, particularly among psychiatrists, and the child development
theories of G. Stanley Hall and George Stevenson, especially among
psychologist, meant that most postwar experts focused exclusively on early
childhood experiences to explain sexual deviancy. Mental health experts
believed that helping patients resolve the hidden traumatic experiences at the
root of their behaviour could eliminate sexual deviancy and would thus
eliminate the sex crimes deviants commit. In other words, psychiatrists would
fix what parents had broken.”

– Elise Chenier, Strangers in our Midst: Sexual Deviancy in Postwar Ontario. Toronto. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. pp. 120-123.

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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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