Jailed as 'incorrigible' 60 years ago, woman wants compensation

Woman, 81, wants province to compensate her for jail time in 1939 on charge of 'incorrigibility'.

A woman in Ontario who spent nine months in jail more than 60 years ago wants the government to apologize.

Velma Demerson, 81, is waiting for a response from the Ontario government to a lawsuit she filed in April of this year.

An Ontario Superior Court judge ruled in June that the provincial government can't be sued in connection to incidents before 1963. That ruling is under appeal.

She was jailed for nine months in 1939 under the Female Refugees Act a law she wants the province to declare unconstitutional. It was repealed in 1964.

"The damage still exists," she told a news conference Monday morning. "You can't pretend that something never happened."

Enacted in 1897, the law allowed females aged 15 to 34 to be jailed for "incorrigibility" for such behaviour as public drunkenness, promiscuity or pregnancy out of wedlock.

Demerson was 18 years old in 1939, and living with her Chinese boyfriend, Harry Yip. She gave birth to a son while in jail.

The boy was later returned to her, and Demerson married Yip.

More than 60 years later, she has asked for an apology and $11 million in compensation.

Demerson said she's not the only woman to have suffered.

"These women need to know they didn't do anything wrong," she said. "Their families need to know they didn't do anything wrong, too."

The Ontario government has yet to respond to the suit.

Support for the suit has come from the Ontario Federation of Labour and the New Democratic Party. They say she was a victim of state-sanctioned racism and sexism.