Witnesses tell senate human rights committee about forced sterilization at hearing

Senator says forcing a woman to be sterilized could fall under the criminal code.


The Senate’s human rights committee continued its hearings Tuesday on the “forced and Coerced Sterilization of Persons in Canada.”

“There are no words to describe the violation and powerlessness of having your cultural identity as a woman essentially sterilized.”

These are the words of an Indigenous woman known as Witness A who was sterilized against her will.

Other witnesses shared similar horrific stories of forced sterilization.

“This terrifying experience left a void inside of me,” witness Sylvia Tuckanow said. “I felt no longer a woman and I’m terrified of hospitals and doctors. I didn’t say anything to anybody because I thought no one would believe me.”

Elizabeth Esquega added, “I felt empty with my maternal instinct and God-given ability to bare life cut and ripped from me.”

The women told the committee they were coerced into sterilization by hospital staff and social services workers without consultation or choice.

Usually just after they had given birth and were most vulnerable.

With scars lasting a lifetime.

A First Nations woman from Alberta said countless Indigenous people have been subject to forced sterilizations for generations.

“It is my opinion that we will never adequately be able to determine the numbers of women and men, girls and boys, that were sterilized in residential schools and Indian hospitals,” Morningstar Mercredi said.

Ontario Senator Kim Pate told the committee the stories she heard met the test for criminal prosecution.

“In this case, my hearing of what you’ve described already violated criminal law,” she said. “You were assaulted, you were sexually assaulted. It was also contrary to the medical codes of the doctors and nurses and all medical professionals. It violated your human rights and yet there’s been no accountability.”

A 2021 Senate report recommended a House of Commons committee further study the issue with the goal of finding solutions to stop the practice.

The Senate has been studying forced sterilizations since 2019.

Fraser spent the last 20 years working in both print and radio in Saskatchewan – mostly in the northern part of the province. Before joining APTN’s Ottawa bureau, he was news director for the Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation working out of their Prince Albert office. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Carleton University and a diploma of journalism from Algonquin College.