Compulsory, But Not For Everyone

February 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm Leave a comment

In 1861, the Province of Canada enacted the first statute to require compulsory vaccination in British North America. Similar to a statute passed by the British Parliament in 1853, the 1861 law mandated the vaccination of infants within three months of birth, and provided for free optional vaccination of others who could not afford the expense of vaccination. However, unlike the British law, the Canadian statute applied only in select cities: Quebec, Three-Rivers, St. Hyacinth, Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto, Hamilton, London and Sherbrooke. I am trying to determine what these cities had in common, and welcome comments on this point. My guess is that given how unpopular coercive measures such as mandatory vaccination were at that time (the British law gave birth to the anti-vaccination movement, and measures like flagging of houses where smallpox residents resided were deemed “despotic” and “unnecessary” by pundits during this period), the legislature decided to test the measure in heavily populated areas where outbreaks were more likely to occur. The Province of Canada legislature received petitions to extend the provision of the Act to Sorel and Bonaventure, but an 1863 bill that would have made the law applicable throughout the Province never passed.

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Entry filed under: diseases, Health legislation. Tags: , , , .

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Reflections on health law and policy in early Canadian history

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