UN calls on Canada to halt ster­il­iza­tions

Treat­ment of Indige­nous women un­ac­cept­able, com­mit­tee says

Times Colonist - - Diversions - KRISTY KIRKUP

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 hu­man-rights groups and the fed­eral NDP.

All such al­le­ga­tions, in­clud­ing re­cent ones in Saskatchewan, must be im­par­tially in­ves­ti­gated and that those re­spon­si­ble are 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, re­it­er­ated that mes­sage as he an­swered Blaney’s ques­tion.

“The co­erced sterilization of Indige­nous women is a se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights and it is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able,” he said.

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. “What we want to see is a firm com­mit­ment from gov­ern­ment to demon­strate how that is go­ing to hap­pen.”

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. The UN com­mit­tee’s re­port speaks to the lack of ac­tion, Hansen added.

“We re­ally look for­ward to Canada’s re­sponse to how it is go­ing to im­ple­ment the strong rec­om­men­da­tions is­sued by the com­mit­tee against tor­ture,” she said. “It is clear that there is stigma, there is shame around this is­sue and it is very dif­fi­cult for women to come for­ward and re­port what has hap­pened to them.”

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. “The Cana­dian med­i­cal pro­fes­sion must re­spect con­sent and the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment must de­fend con­sent.”

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. “Co­erced sterilization is a form of gen­der-based vi­o­lence, it is a vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights and a vi­o­la­tion of med­i­cal ethics.”

A pro­posed class-ac­tion law­suit led by lawyer Alisa Lombard and her firm Mau­rice Law is also un­der­way, tar­get­ing the Saska­toon Health Au­thor­ity, the Saskatchewan gov­ern­ment, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and a hand­ful of med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als as de­fen­dants.

More women have dis­closed their ex­pe­ri­ence with co­erced sterilization as me­dia cov­er­age of the is­sue has con­tin­ued, Hansen said.

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 in Novem­ber de­tail­ing a push from On­tario Sen. Yvonne Boyer to study the is­sue na­tion­ally.

Boyer and Philpott met this week to dis­cuss the is­sue.

On Thurs­day, chiefs in Ot­tawa at a spe­cial meet­ing of the Assem­bly of First Nations also passed a res­o­lu­tion to re­it­er­ate their sup­port for ef­forts to raise aware­ness on forced ster­il­iza­tions and to stop the prac­tice.

The res­o­lu­tion also di­rected the or­ga­ni­za­tion to sup­port the law­suit claimants and to ad­vo­cate for changes to the Crim­i­nal Code to crim­i­nal­ize forced sterilization in Canada.

Wil­son-Ray­bould’s of­fice has pointed to ex­ist­ing pro­vi­sions within the code meant to for­bid “a range of crim­i­nal be­hav­iour” that would cover forced ster­il­iza­tions, in­clud­ing ag­gra­vated as­sault and ter­mi­nat­ing preg­nan­cies against ex­pec­tant moth­ers’ wishes.

Assem­bly of First Nations Na­tional Chief Perry Bel­le­garde urged Wil­son-Ray­bould on Fri­day to con­sider chang­ing the law and stressed the im­por­tance of a full ex­am­i­na­tion of the scope of the is­sue.

There must also be re­dress for vic­tims, Bel­le­garde said.

“Forced sterilization is a gross vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights and First Na­tion rights and it must be crim­i­nal­ized to help bring an end to this in­hu­mane prac­tice,” he said in a state­ment.

“We need to im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions by the United Nations to stop this, and we need jus­tice for the vic­tims of this im­moral prac­tice.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Na­tive Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada pres­i­dent Fran­cyne Joe, right, looks on as Sarah Ken­nell, di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions for sex­ual and health rights, re­acts to a UN com­mit­tee re­port on tor­ture.

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