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Last updated:
Oct 24, 2002

Apology for woman jailed over Chinese boyfriend

photo of Velma DemersonThe following articles are written by CBC News Online staff.

Tue, 08 Oct 2002

TORONTO - An elderly Toronto woman plans to keep fighting for an apology and compensation for abuse she suffered decades ago in a provincial reformatory.

Velma Demerson was arrested and jailed in a tiny cell 60 years ago after authorities decided she was "incorrigible." Demerson says her only crime was falling in love with a Chinese man.

Now she wants Canadians to understand how she was punished to clear the names of others like her.

Demerson says she was in pajamas when police burst into the home where she lived with the Chinese man she was in love with. She was questioned by a social worker about her morals and then sentenced to a year in a reformatory.

Even years later she still becomes upset when she recalls the tiny cell, the silence and the forced visits to the doctor.

Demerson, who was pregnant, gave birth while in detention. Her child was taken away until her later release.

She was one of hundreds, some estimate thousands, of women who were deemed incorrigible. That label was used in Ontario to brand women who were found drunk, or pregnant and unwed.

She waited for decades until her personal files were released before she could prove how she was treated and fight for an apology.

For 70 years the province could arrest women aged between 16 and 35 under the Female Refugees Act.

Demerson wants an apology from the province, but a court has ruled that Ontario is immune from lawsuits stemming from incidents before 1964.

She is hoping to appeal.

The NDP and the Ontario Federation of Labour are urging the province to stop fighting the case and just acknowledge that the laws were wrong, so that Demerson and others can move on.

Ontario wants to settle 60-year-old wrong

Wed, 09 Oct 2002

TORONTO - The Ontario government is trying to negotiate a settlement with an elderly Toronto woman who was jailed in 1939 for living with a Chinese-Canadian man.

Velma Demerson has been demanding an apology from the province and compensation for the nine months she spent in jail, after being found "incorrigible."

Attorney General David Young says he has asked government lawyers to get in touch with Demerson's counsel to start talks to resolve the issue.

Young says he does not want to let the dispute drag out in the courts. He says he feels there is more the government can do.

Apology for woman jailed over Chinese boyfriend

Tue, 07 Jan 2003

TORONTO - An Ontario woman who was jailed in 1939 for living with her Chinese boyfriend has received an apology from the provincial government.

Velma Demerson, 82, says the apology is a good first step, but she still wants financial compensation.

She was eating breakfast with her boyfriend Harry Yip in May 1939 when two police officers came and took her into custody.

Jailed 10 months

Demerson, who was pregnant at the time, was charged under the Female Refuges Act of 1897 for about 10 months.

Her son was born in prison and later taken from her.

The act, which was repealed in 1964, allowed authorities to jail women between the ages of 16 and 35 for behaviour such as promiscuity, pregnancy out of wedlock and public drunkenness.

Ontario government officials refused to discuss the letter, saying the province is negotiating with Demerson.

She says she also wants an apology for other women who went through a similar experience.

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