Feds refuse to out­law forced sterilization

First Nations chiefs’ pro­posal to change Crim­i­nal Code re­jected by gov­ern­ment

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - CITY + REGION - KRISTY KIRKUP

OT­TAWA The Liberal gov­ern­ment does not plan to change the Crim­i­nal Code to ex­plic­itly out­law co­erced sterilization, re­ject­ing a res­o­lu­tion passed by First Nations chiefs on Thurs­day.

Heather Bear, the vice-chief of the Fed­er­a­tion of Sovereign Indige­nous Nations that in­cludes 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said Thurs­day that Jus­tice Minister Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould — a for­mer Assem­bly of First Nations re­gional chief her­self in Bri­tish Columbia — must “do the right thing.”

“The prime minister of Canada has made all these state­ments on the na­tional stage about truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,” Bear said in an in­ter­view. “We know the jus­tice sys­tem doesn’t work for us but this is one way we can put an end to this. I’m re­ally sur­prised.”

Dozens of Indige­nous women say they’ve been pres­sured into sterilization pro­ce­dures they didn’t want, or had them car­ried out with­out be­ing asked when they were see­ing doc­tors for other rea­sons. Co­erced sterilization must be crim­i­nal­ized to en­sure le­gal ac­count­abil­ity, Bear said, adding the is­sue is con­nected to the is­sue of vi­o­lence against Indige­nous women, the sub­ject of a na­tional in­quiry un­der­way in Canada.

Wil­son-Ray­bould’s of­fice said in a state­ment to The Cana­dian Press that it’s tak­ing a pub­lic-health ap­proach to the is­sue.

“Our gov­ern­ment be­lieves that ev­ery­one must re­ceive cul­tur­ally safe health ser­vices no mat­ter where they live,” said the minister’s spokesman, David Taylor. “The co­erced sterilization of some Indige­nous women is a se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights and is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able.”

But he pointed to ex­ist­ing pro­vi­sions within the Crim­i­nal Code meant to for­bid “a range of crim­i­nal be­hav­iour” in­clud­ing forced ster­il­iza­tions.

Alisa Lombard, a lawyer lead­ing a pro­posed class ac­tion by Indige­nous women who al­lege they en­dured co­erced ster­il­iza­tions in Saskatchewan, said Thurs­day that chang­ing the Crim­i­nal Code is the most con­crete thing the gov­ern­ment can do about them.

Lombard’s firm, Mau­rice Law, has listed the Saska­toon Health Au­thor­ity, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and a hand­ful of med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als as de­fen­dants in its state­ment of claim. About 100 women have now come for­ward.

Hu­man-rights groups — the Na­tive Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional Canada, and Ac­tion Canada for Sex­ual Health and Rights — are ex­pected to re­spond to rec­om­men­da­tions to be re­leased on Fri­day.

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