Around 60 Indigenous women have joined a class-action lawsuit claiming that they were coerced into sterilizations in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.
According to the CBC, the women are pursuing a lawsuit launched last year by two women who say they underwent tubal ligation—a procedure in which the fallopian tubes are burned, tied or severed—after giving birth at the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon. One woman claimed she was asked to consent to the procedure immediately after delivering her son via C-section, while she was under the influence of opioids. She also claimed that she was told the procedure was reversible, though it is not. The other woman said she explicitly denied consent, but was sterilized against her will after giving birth.
Now Alisa Lombard, the lawyer representing the women, tells the CBC that she has heard from dozens more who underwent similar experiences, at least two of whom say they were forcibly sterilized in the province of Manitoba. One of these women, Lombard says, committed suicide 10 months after the procedure.
The forced sterilization of Indigenous women has a long and sordid history in Canada. Cases have been documented since the 1800s, and according to the Guardian, indigenous women were disproportionately affected by laws in the 1920s and 30s that sought to sterilize people deemed “mentally challenged.” And recent reports have suggested that the practice has not disappeared in modern times. In 2015, the issue was thrust into the spotlight when two Saskatchewan women told Canadian media that they felt pressured into undergoing tubal ligations after giving birth.
Health authorities subsequently ordered an independent review and implemented new criteria for the procedures. A report released by the Saskatoon Regional Health Authority this past July chronicled the experiences of 16 women, most of whom say they were forcibly sterilized between 2005 and 2010. But Lombard tells the CBC that the most recent case brought to her attention occurred in 2017.
Amnesty International has called on the Canadian government to “[a]pply existing criminal legislation on aggravated assault for cases of forced or coerced sterilization” and “[c]hange government policies and practices to explicitly prohibit sterilization without free, full, and informed consent.” Ontario Senator Yvonne Boyer has called on the Senate of Canada’s Parliament to investigate the issue on a national scope, as has Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde.
“It is wrong, it is immoral, it is a gross violation of human rights and this dehumanizing practice must stop,” she said.
Read more at the CBC