BIRTH CONTROL ON TRIAL
At the time Charles Millar wrote his will, it was illegal to disseminate information about contraception. A movement to educate the public about birth control, which had been started in the United States in the 1910s by advocates like Margaret Sanger, soon spread to Canada. In the 1930s, A.R. Kaufman, a manufacturer in Kitchener, Ontario, opened the Parents’ Information Bureau after he noticed a correlation between large families and productivity: Simply put, men with large families missed more work.
Since women were less likely to confide in male doctors, Kaufman hired women to visit families and to offer birth control information and supplies. In 1936, one of them, Dorothea Palmer, was arrested in Eastview (now the Ottawa neighbourhood of Vanier). Palmer’s trial revolved around the question of whether her actions were in the public interest. In addition to Kaufman’s own testimony, defence witnesses testified to the oppressive size of their families, the general ignorance of physicians regarding contraception, and the fact that middle- class and wealthy women could already obtain birth control materials from druggists.
The trial lasted six months and is still among the longest in Canadian history. On March 17, 1937, Judge Lester Clayton acquitted Palmer, recognizing that the law disadvantaged the poor and that overpopulation was a social burden. A later appeal by the Crown was dismissed.