Velma Demerson

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Velma Demerson (born 1920) is a Canadian who was imprisoned in 1939 in the Province of Ontario for being in a relationship with a Chinese immigrant. Demerson, a Caucasian woman, was arrested at the home of her fiancé, Harry Yip by police acting on a tip from Demerson's parents who disapproved of their daughter's actions. Pregnant with Yip's baby, she was convicted of being "incorrigible" under an 1897 law the Female Refuges Act. It allowed the government to arrest and institutionalize women between the ages of 16 and 35 for behaviour such as promiscuity, pregnancy out of wedlock and public drunkenness. It was not repealed until 1964. Demerson was incarcerated at the Mercer Reformatory for Women in Toronto for a period of ten months.

While incarcerated she gave birth to her son, Harry Jr. who at three months was taken away from her until her release. She was also subjected to several involuntary medical procedures by a reformatory doctor, a leading eugenics practitioner searching for evidence of physical deficiencies contributing to the moral defectives of "unmanageable women."[1][2][3]

Lost Canadian[edit]

Upon her release the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women, she married her fiancé, Yip, but the marriage ended in divorce three years later. She said that her son was subjected to constant racist insults. He drowned in a swimming accident at the age of 26.

Her marriage with Yip had committed an act which she soon found had stripped her of her Canadian citizenship under the 1946 Canadian Citizenship Act, in which woman who married a non-Canadian were deemed to have taken their husband's citizenship. However, an application for Chinese citizenship was denied by Chinese embassy officials and she remained officially stateless until 2004.[2] Under the terms of the 1947 Citizenship Act a woman who applied to have her citizenship returned would receive it. Velma Demerson applied on November 13, 1948. She was finger-printed and given a "Declaration of Intention" to sign. This was an incorrect form signed by at least four persons. She was denied citizenship.

Incarceration and Legal Issues[edit]

In 2002, she sued the Ontario Government for pain and suffering during her incarceration. The Ontario Superior Court refused to hear the case, citing that the Ontario government is immune to lawsuits stemming from incidents prior to 1964. [4]

In late 2002 however, she settled out of court, receiving an apology and an undisclosed financial compensation from the provincial government.[1]

Velma was one of the only survivors who, 60 years after her incarceration at the Andrew Mercer Reformatory in 1939, received compensation from the Ontario government. She was 81 by then.[4]

Book[edit]

In 2004, she wrote a book about the events, Incorrigible, a part of the Life Writing Series from Wilfrid Laurier University Press.[5] In 2002, she was awarded the J.S. Woodsworth Prize for anti-racism by the New Democratic Party of Canada.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "An Honest Woman". This Magazine. July–August 2005. Retrieved 2014-02-03. 
  2. ^ a b "Lost Canadian Velma Demerson's tragic story of love and loss". Vancouver Observer. 28 February 2011. Retrieved 2014-02-03. 
  3. ^ http://www.carillon.uregina.ca/10.24.02/story15.htm
  4. ^ a b "Jailed as 'incorrigible' 60 years ago, woman wants compensation". CBC News. 7 October 2002. Retrieved 2014-02-03. 
  5. ^ Demerson, Velma (2004). Incorrigible. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 0-88920-444-6. 

External links[edit]