Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Not Applicable

Advisor Role

Not Applicable


Recently, a movement emerged in Ontario which attempted to ban the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a controversial psychiatric treatment. The purpose of this study was to describe and analyze the anti-ECT movement as a contemporary social movement. The research foci of this study pertained to: 1) the movement’s goals and organizational structure, 2) its resource mobilization efforts, and 3) the political environment in which it evolved. Three sources of data were used: key informant interviews, newspaper archives, and OHIP data depicting aggregate numbers of ECT use in Ontario. The anti-ECT movement developed from the activities of self-help groups within a larger anti-psychiatry movement. Like the anti-psychiatry movement, the anti-ECT movement was characterized by its redemptive ethos and focus on systemic change. The goal of the anti-ECT movement, to abolish ECT, prevented the development of interim goals, such as the regulation of ECT use. Consequently, the movement’s resource mobilization efforts were attenuated. The primary resources of the anti-ECT movement were the constituent support received from the New Democratic Party, and the press coverage of the movement events provided by City TV. The political environment in which the movement evolved facilitated both its development and demise. Because of the influence of the Canadian Charter and its attendant statutory changes, ECT use symbolized the absence of legal safeguards for psychiatric patients and the infringement of constitutional rights. Movement members, divided on the issue of whether to direct activities toward the legal issues of ECT use, ceased protest activity. The underlying issue in the ECT controversy was the power of institutional psychiatry. The passage of Bill 7, which allowed psychiatric patients the right to only refuse ECT, co-opted the ECT issue in exchange for the preservation of that power. The effects of the movement in terms of ECT use is unclear, although ECT use has been on the decline in recent years, particularly in the Toronto area where protest activity occurred. The implications of this and other study findings are discussed.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season