Push for study of coerced sterilization in Canada
Following the complaints about coerced sterilization of Canada’s indigenous women, some human rights organizations and lawyers pursued the case as well as the victims themselves. The investigation is still under consideration. A close examination of the issue is required.
NDP health critic Don Davies and advocacy organizations are intensifying a push for a parliamentary study of coerced sterilization of women in Canada. Don Davies said he wants to see a close examination of the “profoundly disturbing issue,” adding the country has yet to learn the extent of the problem.
"There are very few things that are as profoundly a part of a person's individual liberty as control over their reproduction and the choice of whether or not to have children," he said in an interview. "When that is taken away from someone in a very vulnerable position, without their consent, permanently, I think that's a violation of a particularly fundamental and heinous nature."
Davies and organizations like Amnesty International Canada and Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights have called on the committee to immediately launch a longer and deeper study of sterilization without consent in Canada. The organizations say involuntary sterilizations are practised nationwide, and not isolated to any one province, where Indigenous women coerced or forced to have their Fallopian tubes clamped or severed after giving birth in hospital.
The groups sent a letter to the committee in November noting that broad media coverage of the issue led to dozens more Indigenous women publicly disclosing they too were coerced into tubal ligation procedures.
Davies said he brought motions proposing a study of the issue and to hear testimony from Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor but neither passed the committee.
In December, then Indigenous-services minister Jane Philpott and Petitpas Taylor wrote a letter to the provinces, territories and members of the medical community proposing a working group to examine the issue of cultural competency in health and citing reports on coerced sterilization in Canada. The letter came after the United Nations Committee Against Torture told Canada to stop the "extensive forced or coerced sterilization" of Indigenous women and girls — a finding that prompted calls for federal action by human-rights groups and Davies' party.
Sarah Kennell, the director of government relations for Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said the issue needs to move away from whether doctors and other health workers understand Indigenous people to the issue of consent.
"We know this is a violation of the right to health and a woman's right to receive consent-based services," she said. Kennell's organization and Amnesty International Canada have been pushing for an immediate and longer-term study of sterilization without consent.
The Saskatoon Health Authority publicly apologized in 2017 after Indigenous women came forward to say they were coerced into tubal ligations.
Last fall, the firm leading the case said 100 women have now come forward to report they have been forcibly sterilized, noting there was a jump of around 40 women since The Canadian Press published a story in November detailing a push from Ontario Sen. Yvonne Boyer to study the issue nationally.
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. The UN Committee Against Torture told Canada it had a year to report on progress on coerced sterilization of Indigenous women.
"Whoever within Parliament is able to do that study, I think it will be welcomed," said Jackie Hansen, Amnesty's gender-rights campaigner.