A ‘heinous’ prac­tice in health care

Indige­nous women across Canada forced into ster­il­iza­tions

The Peterborough Examiner - - Canada & World - KRISTY KIRKUP

OT­TAWA — When she was 17 years old, Liz was co­erced by a Chil­dren’s Aid worker into hav­ing an abor­tion and be­ing ster­il­ized at a north­west­ern On­tario hospi­tal, she says — an ex­pe­ri­ence she’s car­ried for 40 years.

“It was a mat­ter of me al­most (be­ing) cor­nered, if you will, by my worker at the time say­ing, ‘You bet­ter have an abor­tion be­cause if you don’t, ei­ther way, we are go­ing to take that child from you,’” Liz says.

New re­search shows the forced ster­il­iza­tion of Indige­nous women is not just a shame­ful part of Cana­dian his­tory. Re­ports from Al­berta, Saskatchewan, Man­i­toba, On­tario and the ter­ri­to­ries sug­gest it is still hap­pen­ing.

Tubal lig­a­tions car­ried out on un­will­ing Indige­nous women is one of the “most heinous” prac­tices in health care hap­pen­ing across Canada, says Yvonne Boyer, a Métis lawyer and for­mer nurse who is now a se­na­tor for On­tario.

She was first con­tacted by Liz (who asked not to have her last name pub­lished, so she could talk freely about some­thing so per­sonal) in 2017 af­ter a news story de­tailed re­search Boyer pro­duced with Métis physi­cian and re­searcher Dr. Ju­dith Bartlett. Their re­port de­tailed how Indige­nous women were co­erced into tubal lig­a­tions — the sev­er­ing, burn­ing or ty­ing of the Fal­lop­ian tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus — af­ter child­birth in the Saska­toon Health Re­gion.

Boyer now wants the Se­nate to study the scope of the is­sue na­tion­ally, mak­ing it the fo­cus of her first ad­dress to the up­per cham­ber.

“If it’s hap­pened in Saska­toon, it has hap­pened in Regina, it’s hap­pened in Win­nipeg, it’s hap­pened where there’s a high pop­u­la­tion of Indige­nous women,” Boyer says in an in­ter­view. “I’ve had many women con­tact me from across the coun­try and ask me for help.”

Some Indige­nous women in­ter­viewed for the re­port also felt pushed into sign­ing con­sent forms for the pro­ce­dures while they were in ac­tive labour or on op­er­at­ing ta­bles, Boyer says, not­ing a class-ac­tion law­suit against the Saska­toon Health Re­gion was launched in 2017 by two of the af­fected women.

Each claimed $7 mil­lion in dam­ages. Now, about 60 women are part of the law­suit, she adds.

“If there are 60 women just in the Saska­toon area, there are many more that haven’t come for­ward in that area and there are many more that wanted to come for­ward, but were too trau­ma­tized to,” Boyer says. “There’s many more that have buried those mem­o­ries.”

Alisa Lom­bard, an as­so­ciate with Mau­rice Law — a firm lead­ing the pro­posed class ac­tion — says women from out­side Saska­toon Health Re­gion have also re­ported be­ing ster­il­ized with­out proper and in­formed con­sent. She says she’s heard from oth­ers in Saskatchewan as well as Man­i­toba, On­tario and Al­berta.

Records and re­search show the prac­tice was preva­lent in the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries and Nunavut as well, she adds.

Lom­bard says her firm will raise the is­sue of co­erced ster­il­iza­tions of Indige­nous women at the UN Com­mit­tee Against Tor­ture this month.

In its sub­mis­sion to the com­mit­tee, Lom­bard’s firm calls out provin­cial and fed­eral au­thor­i­ties for not in­ves­ti­gat­ing and pun­ish­ing those re­spon­si­ble for the prac­tice de­spite hav­ing re­ceived “nu­mer­ous re­ports of nu­mer­ous cases of forced ster­il­iza­tion.”

It also out­lines spe­cific steps to com­bat the prac­tice, in­clud­ing crim­i­nal­iz­ing forced ster­il­iza­tion through the Crim­i­nal Code and hav­ing Health Canada is­sue guid­ance to health pro­fes­sion­als re­gard­ing ster­il­iza­tion pro­ce­dures.

Canada must en­sure the prac­tice stops, says Indige­nous Ser­vices Min­is­ter Jane Philpott, with poli­cies, ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness-rais­ing.

“The is­sue of forced ster­il­iza­tion of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, in­clud­ing Indige­nous women, is a very se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights,” she says, not­ing it has gone on in Canada for a long time.

She also calls what hap­pened to Liz “ab­so­lutely ap­palling and rep­re­hen­si­ble.”

ADRIAN WYLD THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Se­na­tor Yvonne Boyer, a Métis lawyer and for­mer nurse, says tubal lig­a­tions car­ried out on un­will­ing Indige­nous women is one of the “most heinous” prac­tices in health care hap­pen­ing across Canada.

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