By Skyler Lee
Indigenous women are suing doctors in the province of Saskatchewan as well as the government of Alberta for a shocking human rights violation.
Over 60 women have joined together in the pending class action lawsuit in Saskatchewan seeking $7 million each in compensation for forced or coerced sterilization. According to the Huffington Post, the lawsuit in Alberta seeks "$500 million in damages, plus an additional $50 million in punitive damages, and has been brought on behalf of all indigenous women sterilized in Alberta without their prior and informed consent before December 2018.
According to Amnesty International, forced sterilization occurs when a woman has a tubal ligation without their knowledge or informed consent, while coerced sterilization is when women give their consent but due to incorrect or misleading information (such as the procedure can be reversed; while this is the case in some instances, it is not in many others), intimidation or threats, or incentives such as money or access to services.
As reported by The Guardian, many indigenous women claim their tubes were tied, burned or cut in public hospitals without their knowledge or when they were unable to give sufficient consent, which would be a breach of medical ethics and the law.
Some say they were threatened with not being able to see their newborns unless they agreed to the procedure. Others claim they were pushed into signing the consent forms for the procedure when they were in active labor or on the operating table.
In fact, a whole report has been put together with personal testimonies of victims. Some are included below:
“It was just, like, we’re going to do this and after, I wasn’t told anything, no explanation that it was permanent.”
“When [I was] in for C-section, nurse came to [get] me to sign the paper for tubal ligation…Even though I didn’t want to, I signed it.”
“The hospital family worker is the one who started [it], say[ing], ‘Well, we want you to have a tubal.’”
“We don’t want you to leave until the tubal ligation is done.”
“I said, no, no, and the doctor would tell me stories, about women. ‘A woman had her first C-section and passed away with her firstborn’ and the tubal ligation came up again.”
“Because my daughter had cerebral palsy, the doctor told my husband that all future kids are going to be sick, have some kind of health problem.”
“And I just said, ‘I don’t want to do this’ and [the doctor] just didn’t hear me. I was being ignored.”
“I told the anesthesiologist that I don’t want this. The doctor was talking to the nurses and said, ‘Did she sign consent?’ The nurse said ‘yes’. But the doctor clearly heard me say, ‘I don’t want this.’”
“I’ve never talked to the doctor [about it] after because I just feel like I had to do something I didn’t want.”
“Then the doctors and nurses said, ‘It’s for your benefit. You have all these children. Enjoy her while you have her.’”
“The consent form for tubal ligation was just given to me, not explained.”
“I don’t recall signing anything, but I did think of it when I was pregnant, but…I knew at time [of delivery] that I didn’t want it done.”
“No means no. It was no in the beginning and should have been left alone.”
This is not the first time this has happened either. According to The Guardian, “in 1928, the province of Alberta enacted legislation aimed at sterilizing those considered mentally challenged and other disadvantaged groups. An estimated 2,800 sterilizations were carried out – including on many Aboriginal people – before the act was repealed in 1972. Authorities in British Columbia, which passed its own act in 1933, sterilized some 400 people.”
Then in 2015, four women came forward with similar claims and an investigation was launched. The Saskatchewan province’s health authority issued an apology and implemented new rules regarding tubal ligations. However, according to the pending lawsuit, some cases occurred as recently as 2017.
Senator Yvonne Boyer, an indigenous lawyer believes the problem could also be more widespread.
“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 told the Canadian Press. “I’ve had many women contact me from across the country and ask me for help.”
"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. There's many more that have buried those memories,” Boyer explained.
“You have to ask yourself, how did this happen?” said Alisa Lombard, the lawyer representing the women. “These are people whose choices were taken away, and they are choices based in fundamental human rights. The very intimate and personal decision to have children – or to not have children – belongs to the individual. It’s not something that can be fettered or influenced or coerced or forced.”
“These women and their communities have suffered. They have suffered. And they are entitled to restitution as they essentially relive their trauma,” Lombard further explained.
Jacqueline Hansen explained Amnesty International had investigated similar practices in Mexico, Chile and Peru.
“It’s always done for a very specific reason. It is clear that it’s been linked to policies around wanting to ensure a group of people doesn’t reproduce. I think the genesis of this, and of treatment of people across the board, is really rooted in racism. I think we have to call it what it is,” Hansen stated.
It is wrong, and always will be wrong to attempt to get rid of members of the population based on race, sex, disability, or any other defining factor. This is eugenics and the same racist mindset which was behind the creation of Planned Parenthood.
These women were coerced into not having more children due to immense pressure from doctors who made the decision for them. Many were tricked, lied to and all were unnecessarily pressured. We wish these women all the best in their case against the hospitals and health officials in the province of Saskatchewan. We hope Canadians realize this racism and and in turn cease to push for the systematic elimination of the indigenous and any others they are trying to erase from existence.