Saskatchewan ster­il­iza­tions shame the na­tion

Cape Breton Post - - Editorial -

When the Al­berta gov­ern­ment apol­o­gized in 1999 for more than 40 years of forced ster­il­iza­tion of its cit­i­zens, one of the vic­tims ¬ a man wrongly deemed a “men­tal de­fec­tive” ¬ demon­strated his con­sid­er­able hu­man­ity by say­ing he hoped “that some­thing like this will never hap­pen to any­body again.”

Un­hap­pily, it has.

Shame on Canada that this lat­est case has oc­curred years af­ter the pro­found wrong of such poli­cies was for­mally ac­knowl­edged through apol­ogy and com­pen­sa­tion. Shameful, too, is the fact the 21st-cen­tury vic­tims of such bar­barism were In­dige­nous women, al­ready among the most vul­ner­a­ble and most abused peo­ple in the coun­try.

In Saskatchewan last week, the Saska­toon Health Re­gion apol­o­gized to In­dige­nous women who felt they were co­erced into tubal lig­a­tion surgery that pre­vented them from bear­ing chil­dren.

An investigation was launched ear­lier this year af­ter a num­ber of women com­plained they were pres­sured by med­i­cal staff and so­cial work­ers to have the pro­ce­dure, which clamps or sev­ers the Fal­lop­ian tubes.

The vic­tims, who had the pro­ce­dures urged on them dur­ing labour and af­ter child­birth, felt “in­vis­i­ble, pro­filed and pow­er­less,” the au­thors wrote.

In a coun­try in which an in­quiry has been launched into Mur­dered and Miss­ing In­dige­nous Women, the news out of Saskatchewan is yet more ev­i­dence of the harm and hu­mil­i­a­tion per­pe­trated against In­dige­nous women.

It also adds yet an­other chap­ter to Canada’s dark his­tory of ster­il­iza­tion poli­cies.

In 1999, then-Al­berta premier Ralph Klein apol­o­gized and of­fered com­pen­sa­tion to vic­tims for a cam­paign in that prov­ince be­tween 1928 and 1970 that ster­il­ized more than 2,800 peo­ple.

Many of those ster­il­ized were deemed “men­tal de­fec­tives” and youth, women and mi­nori­ties ¬ es­pe­cially In­dige­nous and Metis women ¬ were ster­il­ized in dis­pro­por­tion­ately high num­bers.

In 1933, Bri­tish Columbia be­came the sec­ond prov­ince to in­sti­tute a sex­ual ster­il­iza­tion law. (In 2003, the B.C. gov­ern­ment apol­o­gized to the roughly 400 vic­tims of that cam­paign.) Large num­bers of Inuit women were also ster­il­ized in the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries in the 1970s.

The ef­fects on the vic­tims in Saskatchewan have been pro­found. A lost sense of wom­an­hood. Failed re­la­tion­ships. Di­min­ished prospects for new ones. De­pres­sion. Numb­ing self-de­struc­tive be­hav­iours. Ad­dic­tion.

Such was the dis­trust caused by the un­sought pro­ce­dures that most of those in­ter­viewed had not been to a doc­tor or had re­ceived very lit­tle health care since, the au­thors said. “Even in sit­u­a­tions that may be se­ri­ous or even life-threat­en­ing, women re­sist hav­ing to see a health-care provider.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors said they were told that “be­cause of the in­her­ent racism ex­pe­ri­enced by abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple in many health-care set­tings” the re­view should be ex­panded beyond Saska­toon and across Canada.

There is a body of thought in this coun­try that says In­dige­nous peo­ple should sim­ply get over the trauma of the cul­tural geno­cide and dis­crim­i­na­tion, the res­i­den­tial schools and the so-called scoop of In­dige­nous chil­dren from fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties that have been per­pe­trated against them.

Surely that is far too much to ask when the sys­temic racism of our in­sti­tu­tions and the abuse of In­dige­nous peo­ple per­sist.

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