MPs urged to act on concerns on coerced sterilization of Indigenous women

OTTAWA — MPs on the House of Commons health committee heard grave concerns Thursday about ongoing sterilizations of Indigenous women without their consent — an issue also raised by the national inquiry tasked with examining violence against Indigenous women in its many forms.

Alisa Lombard, a lawyer representing Indigenous women who allege they were coerced into sterilization procedures after childbirth, told the committee her clients live with emotional and physical trauma.

“They cannot have children,” Lombard said. “It was not their choice. They suffer.”

Lombard talked about one of her clients, known as D.D.S., who believed she had no choice but to sign a consent form moments after receiving an epidural at a Moose Jaw, Sask., hospital in December 2018.

The federal government must now take very concrete measures on prevention, punishment and reparations for women who have gone through these experiences, she said, adding that Canada has faced calls, including from the United Nations Committee Against Torture, to act.

Lombard was questioned Thursday by Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette about how much Canadians care about the issue, given that it’s been discussed, including in media reports, for more than two years.

“I guess we will find out,” she replied.

The women deserve accountability, agreed Francyne Joe, the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada who also testified.

Earlier Thursday, Lombard said in an interview it is not surprising the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls included the issue among its findings.

The commission, which released 231 recommendations last week, was asked by the federal government to probe all forms of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Lombard said “obstetric violence” clearly falls into that category, adding that numerous parties with standing at the inquiry made submissions on the issue, including the vice-chair of Saskatchewan’s Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

The inquiry’s final report says that Alberta and B.C. both repealed provincial sterilization acts in the 1970s but Indigenous women across the country tell stories of coerced sterilizations that continue even today.

It also notes the proposed class-action lawsuit on behalf of Indigenous women in Saskatchewan who have provided evidence they were sterilized without their consent.

The proposed class was launched in 2017, naming the Saskatoon Health Authority, the Saskatchewan government, the federal government and a handful of medical professionals as defendants.

More than 100 women have since come forward with allegations.

“We believe that is only the tip of the iceberg,” Melanie Omeniho, the president of Women of the Metis Nation, told the committee.

Metis women are not just concerned about doctors performing procedures, she added. She said coercion comes from other players in medical institutions and social workers as well.

The health committee passed a motion on to call RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki to testify on the issue.

NDP health critic Don Davies has been calling for the Mounties to launch a criminal probe of coerced sterilizations. In response to a letter he sent earlier this year, Lucki said the force will work with commanding officers in each province and territory to see if any complaints have been reported.

She pledged the force would reach out to other Canadian police agencies as well but said a preliminary review of the RCMP’s national database found no records of specific complaints to pursue.

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