UN committee tells Canada to stop forced sterilizations of Indigenous women
OTTAWA — Canada has to stop the “extensive forced or coerced sterilization” of Indigenous women and girls in Canada, the United Nations Committee Against Torture told the country on Friday, a finding that prompted calls for federal action by humanrights groups and the federal NDP.
All such allegations, including recent ones in Saskatchewan, must be impartially investigated and those responsible held to account, the Geneva-based committee said, and the state needs to take legislative and policy measures to stop women from being sterilized against their will.
The conclusions confirm Canada is torturing Indigenous women through forced sterilization, NDP MP Rachel Blaney said in the House of Commons.
“Do the Liberals not understand that this is a stain on our country, a stain on every one of us in this House?” she said during question period. “Why are the Liberals tolerating forced sterilization of Indigenous women?”
Prior to the release of the report, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s office said the government is taking a “publichealth approach” to the issue, though the government believes everyone must receive culturally safe health services no matter where they live.
Wilson-Raybould’s parliamentary secretary Arif Virani answered Blaney’s question, saying, “The coerced sterilization of Indigenous women is a serious violation of human rights and it is completely unacceptable.”
Outside the Commons, Amnesty International Canada’s gender-rights campaigner Jackie Hansen insisted that the federal government needs to take more concrete steps than condemnation.
“I think what everyone wants to see is this practice ended,” she told a news conference on Parliament Hill.
Hansen’s organization has called on the federal government to appoint a special representative to hear from Indigenous women coerced into being sterilized to learn what justice would look like for survivors.
Indigenous women and girls deserve the same level of respect as anyone else when they receive medical services, said Native Women’s Association president Francyne Joe.
“To engage in an invasive, medically unnecessary surgery without one’s free, full and informed consent is a very serious violation of a person’s right to bodily integrity,” she said.
Ottawa plans to engage “shortly” with the provinces and territories, health educators, associations of health professionals and Indigenous partners to examine next steps, said the offices of Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott and Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor.
“Our government has received the UN committee’s concluding observations, and will be reviewing the recommendations,” a joint statement said.
Francyne Joe, right, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, looks on as Sarah Kennell of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights reacts in Ottawa to a UN committee’s recommendations on sterilization of Indigenous women without consent.