27. Immigration and other evils: A profile of Dr. C. K. Clarke and the eugenics movement in Canada

L. Lee


Dr. C.K. Clarke (1857-1924) was one of Canada’s most prominent psychiatrists. He sought to improve the conditions of asylums, helped to legitimize psychiatry and established formal training for nurses.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Canada experienced a surge of immigration. Yet – as many historians have shown – a widespread anti-foreigner sentiment within the public remained. Along with many other members of the fledgling eugenics movement, Clarke believed that the proportion of “mental defectives” was higher in the immigrant population than in the Canadian population and campaigned to restrict immigration. He appealed to the government to track immigrants and deport them once they showed signs of mental illness. Clarke’s efforts lead to amendments to the Immigration Act in 1919, which authorized deportation of people who were not Canadian-born, regardless of how many years that had been in Canada. This change applied not only to the mentally ill but also to those who could no longer work due to injury and to those who did not follow social norms.
Clarke is a fascinating example of how we judge historical figures. He lived in a time where what we now think of as xenophobia was a socially acceptable, even worthy attitude. As a leader in eugenics, therefore, he was a progressive. Other biographers have recognized Clarke’s racist opinions, some of whom justify them as keeping with the social values of his era. In further exploring Clarke’s interest in these issues, this paper relies on his personal scrapbooks held in the CAMH archives. These documents contain personal papers, poems and stories that proclaim his anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner views. Whether we allow his involvement in the eugenics movement to overshadow his accomplishments or ignore his racist leanings to celebrate his memory is the subject of ongoing debate.
Dowbiggin IR. Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada 1880-1940. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1997.
McLaren A. Our Own Master Race: Eugenics in Canada 1885-1945. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1990.
Roberts B. Whence They Came: Deportation from Canada 1900-1935. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1988.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.25011/cim.v30i4.2787


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