Métis Senator Yvonne Boyer is calling for systemic change after an allegation of a forced, traumatic genital examination of a seven-year-old Indigenous girl.
The senator reacted to a recent article by APTN News and has been in touch with the family.
“It didn’t surprise me. For every one that comes forward, there are many more behind,” she said. “It makes me sick.”
APTN reached out to the physician’s legal counsel who said in a recent public hearing there was no racial bias and it was medically appropriate to conduct the examination given the circumstances of the child’s condition.
Boyer, a former nurse and lawyer, co-authored an external review on forced sterilizations of Indigenous women at the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon in 2016.
One key finding was the presence of “covert and overt racism” among the hospital’s staff after four women came forward to say they were forcibly sterilized at the Saskatoon hospital.
A class-action lawsuit was launched in 2017 by attorney Alisa Lombard against the province of Saskatchewan and another by the Koskie Minsky law firm in 2019 against the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
Boyer said she believes there are parallels between the review findings in Saskatchewan and this case in Ontario.
“The similarities between these scenarios — what happened to this little girl and what’s happened to women who come forward and say they were sterilized – have the same underpinnings,” she said. “Our whole health care system says that an Indigenous person is not capable of making decisions on their own. So doctors say, ‘I know what’s best’.”
She added she believes that medical violence against Indigenous people in Canada is a part of the larger history of colonization.
“It is the whole history of colonization of when this country was settled, and the imposition of colonial laws that have put Indigenous people at a distinct disadvantage,” she said. “The results are in the health care system.”
She said until institutions like the colleges of physicians and surgeons, hospitals and even the law recognizes the systemic racism, very little will change.
“Until we start looking at the structure of why this is happening, you can’t keep putting band aids on it,” she said. “Those band aids haven’t actually been able to get to the root of the problem.”
Boyer said in her opinion, the system of accountability is stacked against Indigenous families who often can’t afford the legal fees required.
She said she understands why they are calling on the community for support.
“You have the big power imbalance,” she said. “You’ve got a little girl who’s seven-years-old and Indigenous parents who have nothing, they are struggling and they’re up against a huge, huge system.”
The girl’s parents have started a Gofundme.com account to pay legal fees.