Join us for a free screening of Karin Lee’s Incorrigible: A Film About Velma Demerson on May 13, 2023, at 3 PM located at Innis Hall, University of Toronto’s downtown campus. Following the screening will be a panel bringing together the illustrious voices of KARIN LEE, writer and director; LISA MAR, associate professor for the Department of History at the University of Toronto; and ROSEL KIM, senior staff lawyer at the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), with moderator JAN WONG, Canadian academic, journalist, and writer.
2023 marks the centenary of Canada’s 1923 CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT, which deemed people of Chinese descent “unsuitable for citizenship”, and prevented people of Chinese heritage from entering Canada for 24 years. This dark part of Canada’s history is shared with the signing of the WILLIAMS TREATIES and the passing of the FEMALE REFUGEES ACT in 1913 by the Ontario Legislature, which created a unique intersection of vulnerabilities for women. This Act granted judges the power to order the incarceration of women in Ontario and the placement of girls identified as uncontrollable or ‘incorrigible’ into reform facilities, where they were expected to work to support the institution.
In 1939 Velma Demerson was labelled as ‘incorrigible’ and jailed for falling in love with Harry Yip, a Chinese man she would later marry. Demerson was only 18 years old at the time of her imprisonment at the Belmont Home and Mercer Reformatory for Women. Sixty years later, Demerson successfully sued the Ontario government for her wrongful incarceration, arguing that the FEMALE REFUGEES ACT was in fact disguised criminal law and is outside provincial jurisdiction. After her legal battle in 2002, Demerson received an official apology from Premier Ernie Eves and continued to advocate for women’s and children’s rights until her passing on MAY 13, 2019.
Co-presented with CCNC-SJ, we thank our co-sponsors from the University of Toronto, and from Toronto Metropolitan University’s Lincoln Alexander School of Law.