Ot­tawa won’t out­law forced ster­il­iza­tion

The Chatham Daily News - - NATIONAL NEWS - 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.

“Now it is about killing the ones un­born,” Bear said. “It is re­ally a dev­as­tat­ing is­sue that I hope there is more and more aware­ness (about) each and ev­ery day.”

Bear’s com­ments come after Wil­son-Ray­bould’s of­fice said in a state­ment to The Cana­dian Press that it’s is 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 of 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 to re­port they have been forcibly ster­il­ized, Lom­bard said — a jump of 40 women since The Cana­dian Press pub­lished a story on the is­sue in Novem­ber de­tail­ing a push from On­tario Sen. Yvonne Boyer to study the is­sue na­tion­ally.

An ex­ist­ing Crim­i­nal Code pro­vi­sion speaks to the in­vol­un­tary ter­mi­na­tion of preg­nan­cies. An­other pro­vi­sion on ag­gra­vated as­sault ap­plies to any­one “who wounds, maims, dis­fig­ures or en­dan­gers the life of the com­plainant.”

A le­gal void re­mains, Lom­bard said.

“We can point to the fact this has been an on­go­ing oc­cur­rence since the 1930s and so the ab­sence of a pre­ven­tive mea­sure has clearly paved the way for it to con­tinue to hap­pen up un­til as re­cently as 2017,” she said.

Saskatchewan ap­pears to be the “epi­cen­tre” of the prac­tice, Lom­bard said, adding her firm has also heard from women from On­tario, Man­i­toba, Al­berta and Bri­tish Columbia.

Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould

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