Committee ‘deeply disturbed’ by reports of coerced, forced sterilization

OTTAWA — The House of Commons health committee is calling on the federal government to investigate the problem of coerced or forced sterilization of women in Canada.

The committee has sent a letter to Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan, detailing what it heard from witnesses this spring.

In the letter, committee chair and Liberal MP Bill Casey writes the committee heard the forced or coerced sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada continues to this day, but that the full extent of it remains unknown.

In June, lawyer Alisa Lombard, a partner with the firm Semaganis Worme Lombard, told the committee she represents a client, referred to as D.D.S., who was sterilized without proper and informed consent in December 2018 at a hospital in Moose Jaw, Sask. In April, the Saskatchewan Health Authority confirmed it is investigating a complaint.

The incident took place after the United Nations Committee Against Torture urged Canada to take action on the issue and report back after one year, Lombard noted.

The committee agrees with witnesses that urgent action must be taken immediately in order to address harms and to prevent it from happening in the future, Casey wrote.

“The committee is deeply disturbed by ongoing reports of coerced or forced sterilization of women in Canada and recognizes the need for an in-depth study to understand the full scope of the issue.”

The committee is also recommending the government invite national Indigenous women’s organizations to participate in all federal, provincial and territorial meetings aimed at addressing coerced or forced sterilization of Indigenous women.

It also suggests Ottawa work with the provinces, territories, health care providers and Indigenous organizations to establish a pan-Canadian data collection system through the Canadian Institute for Health Information to monitor sterilization procedures across the country.

O’Regan’s office issued a statement calling forced and coerced sterilization a violation of human rights and a practice that is “deeply troubling.”

It said it encourages anyone with specific criminal allegations to report them to police and promised to keep working with partners to improve access to culturally safe health services.

In June, the health committee heard from a Metis physician, Dr. Judith Bartlett, who co-authored an external review of the issue in Saskatchewan following complaints from Indigenous women. She said she does not believe women will come forward to the RCMP because there is “no safety there for them.”

In 2017, the Saskatchewan Health Region issued a public apology following the release of the review from Bartlett and Metis researcher Yvonne Boyer, now an Independent senator for Ontario.

Boyer has been outspoken about her concerns about the issue since being named to the upper chamber; the Senate human rights committee has conducted its own study of coerced sterilization. The findings are expected to be released when the Senate reconvenes in the fall.

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