Forced sterilization a symptom of ‘colonial hangover’ says lawyer

More than 100 Indigenous women in Canada have come forward with stories of forced or coerced sterilization and lawyer Alisa Lombard says it’s nothing new in Canada, nor is it illegal.

“I think that the practice of forced sterilization is symptomatic of a colonial hangover. And I think it has a lot to do with eugenics of course, these old ideas that some people should have children and others are not fit to,” Lombard told Face to Face. “Eugenics was a widely accepted theory not so long ago. It was a theory that was attempted to be brought into legislation in Saskatchewan and only failed by one vote.

“It was, in fact, brought into legislation in Alberta and British Columbia.”

Lombard is a partner with Saskatchewan based, Semanganis Worme Lombard and is heading up a proposed class action lawsuit representing Indigenous women who have been forced or coerced into sterilization.

Forced sterilization is a procedure more commonly known as getting your tubes tied, but without the proper and informed consent of the woman involved.

Those women, and potentially many more are hoping to have their day in court in an effort to prevent the practice of forced sterilizations from continuing, to find accountability through investigation and receive some form of reparation.

Lombard feels forced sterilization is just one more indication of systemic racism within the healthcare sector.

According to Lombard, those in positions of authority feel they should make decisions make life changing, body altering decisions on behalf of those who they think won’t.

The practice, and the efforts to stop it have garnered international attention.

Lombard presented to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva, Switzerland.

The UN Committee issued a number of recommendations to the Canadian government, including investigating the practice, punishing those who perform it and providing reparations to those who have undergone the procedure.

“In our clients view, whatever Canada has done is wholly inadequate and really not measured to the seriousness of the violations that are at stake here,” said Lombard.

“The United Nations Committee Against Torture unequivocally called for sterilization or sterilization without consent a form of torture and cruel and degrading treatment and so it’s our clients position that such terrible treatment, such egregious treatment requires some responses that are measured to the harms.”

The practice of forced sterilization was also mentioned numerous time in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

In the report, the commissioners wrote, “the forced sterilization of women represents directed state violence against Indigenous women, and contributes to the dehumanization and objectification of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.”

The final report pointed to forced sterilization as one of Canada’s genocidal acts of conduct, something Lombard agrees with.

According to Lombard, the theft of an Indigenous woman’s ability to give birth and the ability to pass on rights and title, culture and language says to her “the life of Indigenous women, children and families simply aren’t worth protecting.”

Lombard said the goals of the proposed class action lawsuit are to ensure no woman is subjected to forced sterilization but there is, of course, a desire for reparations.

“This practice has destroyed families, has destroyed marriages, has caused siblings to wonder why they don’t have more siblings, has affected the self concept of our clients as women, as Indigenous women, as life givers in their nation. And so, although there is no amount of money that can truly compensate them for the pain that they endured, and that they continue to endure both mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, a form of reparation is necessary,” said Lombard.

 

Host/Producer - Winnipeg

Dennis is Metis from southern Manitoba. After spending a decade working in TV in Alberta and Ontario, Dennis returned to Manitoba to join APTN’s Winnipeg bureau as reporter/correspondent in September 2014. In 2016, he won a Canadian Association of Journalists award for his story A Soldier Scorned for APTN Investigates. In 2017, he became a host/producer for APTN National News and Face to Face. In 2020, Dennis and co host Melissa Ridgen were nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best News Anchor, National.