Forced sterilizations on Indigenous women hits international spotlight

The forced sterilization of Indigenous women and girls in Canada was in the spotlight at an international human rights commission hearing this week.

Lawyers Alisa Lombard and Jamesy Patrick, associates with Maurice Law, presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Tuesday, Feb. 27 in Bogotá, Colombia. The principal mandate of the IACHR is to protect human rights in the Americas and conduct investigations in participating countries, which includes Canada.

LINK: What is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)?

Lombard told commissioners about the history of forced sterilizations, coerced abortions and other forms of reproductive violence against Indigenous women in Canada.

“There is evidence that the forced sterilization of Indigenous women has been a consistent practice in Canada since the 1930’s into modern times.” she told commissioners in a statement obtained by APTN Investigates.

LINK: Full statement to IACHR

More than 50 women have come forward to Maurice Law since July 2017, according to the statement.

“The cases of these courageous women who have come forward make clear that discrimination and biases have operated with impunity to undermine professional ethics and the standard of care owed to every woman,” Lombard said.

She urged the “commission to assist in holding governments and those responsible for decades of force sterilization perpetrated against Indigenous women and girls to account.”

Reported harms of Indigenous women and girls include sterility, mental anguish, suicide, hormonal imbalances and a decreased sense of being valued as a woman.

The statement also includes a number of requests to the federal, provincial governments, health authorities and regulatory bodies like the colleges of physicians and surgeons to root out racial discrimination and provide training.

Health Canada is asked specifically to “ produce an information brochure for health care providers,” to produce “guidance regarding sterilization procedures” and create documents that ensure “proper and informed consent.”

Reported cases include coerced abortion and suicide

A December 2017 letter requesting the hearing included cases like that of a 15-year old girl who suffered irreparable damage after termination of a pregnancy was performed without proper or informed consent.

LINK: Letter of request to IACHR 

Another example involved a young Indigenous woman who was promised that her children would be returned to her from foster care if she consented to sterilization. She died by suicide 10 months later, according to the request.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Maurice Law now represents 55 women in a class-action lawsuit filed in October 2017 against the Province of Saskatchewan, the federal government, health regions and even the individual physicians involved, alleging forced sterilization.

APTN has contacted the federal government for comment. More to come.

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