Saskatchewan sterilizations shame the nation
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.