Decades Later, Forced Sterilization of Indigenous Women Continues in Canada, Despite Halt in Other Wealthy Nations

by Chloe Baker
Forced Sterilizations

Even after numerous affluent countries have ceased the forced sterilization of Indigenous women, activists, medical professionals, politicians, and at least five class-action lawsuits insist that this practice persists in Canada.

According to a Senate report from last year, this horrific act isn’t merely a thing of the past, but continues even today. In a recent case from May, disciplinary action was taken against a doctor for forcibly sterilizing an Indigenous woman in 2019.

Leaders from Indigenous communities argue that the country has not yet fully confronted its unsettling colonial history or brought an end to a practice spanning decades, which is categorized as a form of genocide.

The exact number of women still being involuntarily sterilized or unknowingly subjected to the procedure remains unclear. However, Indigenous specialists regularly report complaints about such cases. Senator Yvonne Boyer, who is collecting the scarce data on this issue, estimates that at least 12,000 women have been affected since the 1970s.

“Whenever I engage with an Indigenous community, I am overwhelmed with women sharing their experiences of forced sterilization,” shared Boyer, who herself has Indigenous Metis heritage.

In May, for what might be the first instance, a doctor was disciplined for forcibly sterilizing an Indigenous woman. This occurred in Canada’s Northwest Territories, as indicated by documents obtained by the AP.

Dr. Andrew Kotaska performed a surgery on an Indigenous woman in November 2019 to alleviate her abdominal pain. He obtained her written consent to remove her right fallopian tube, but the patient, an Inuit woman, hadn’t agreed to the removal of her left tube; losing both would render her sterile.

Despite protests from other medical staff, Kotaska removed both fallopian tubes during the procedure.

The investigation concluded there was no medical reason for the sterilization, and Kotaska was found guilty of unprofessional conduct. His “gross surgical judgment error” was deemed unethical and cost the patient the chance to have more children, a fact which could erode faith in the healthcare system, according to investigators.

Canada has condemned forced sterilization elsewhere, such as amongst Uyghur women in China, as a genocide and crime against humanity according to the Geneva Conventions.

Yet, thousands of Indigenous women in Canada were forcefully sterilized over the past seventy years due to eugenics laws that classified them as inferior. In the US, the forced sterilizations of Native American women mostly ended in the 1970s with the adoption of new regulations requiring informed consent.

Activists assert that while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged in 2019 that the killings and disappearances of Indigenous women across Canada amounted to “genocide”, little has been done to address deep-rooted biases against the Indigenous, thereby allowing forced sterilizations to persist.

In a statement, the Canadian government told the AP it was aware of allegations of Indigenous women being forcibly sterilized and that the matter is being handled by the courts.

Recognizing the urgency to end this practice, the Canadian government is collaborating with provincial and territorial authorities, health agencies, and Indigenous groups to eradicate systemic racism in the country’s healthcare systems.

Despite this, Boyer highlights, “Nothing has fundamentally or culturally changed in Canada to stop this.”

Indigenous people make up about 5% of Canada’s nearly 40 million population, with the highest numbers living in the north: Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories.

The over 600 Indigenous communities, known as First Nations, face considerable health challenges compared to other Canadians. Racially segregated hospitals treated Indigenous people up until the 1990s, and these institutions had a history of widespread abuse.

Data on the frequency of sterilization, either with or without consent, isn’t regularly collected by Canada’s national health agency.

Forced sterilizations of Indigenous women continue to be a part of multiple class-action lawsuits against health, provincial, and federal authorities in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and elsewhere.

While the forced sterilization of Indigenous women tarnishes Canada’s progressive image, Indigenous leaders believe that an official apology is a critical step in repairing Canada’s strained relationship with First Nations people. Only Alberta has apologized and offered some compensation to those affected before 1972.

“Those who subject women to this must be held accountable,” insists Morningstar Mercredi, an Indigenous author who was sterilized as a 14-year-old. “No amount of therapy or healing can reconcile the fact that my human right to have children was taken from me.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Forced Sterilizations

Q: How long has forced sterilization of Indigenous women been happening in Canada?

A: Forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada has been occurring for several decades, with cases reported since the 1970s. The practice has persisted despite being discontinued in many other wealthy nations.

Q: Are there any estimates on the number of women affected by forced sterilization?

A: There are no precise figures available on the exact number of women who have been forcibly sterilized. Indigenous experts, however, indicate that they regularly receive complaints regarding the practice. Senator Yvonne Boyer, who is collecting data on the issue, estimates that at least 12,000 women have been affected since the 1970s.

Q: Has the Canadian government taken any action to address forced sterilization?

A: The Canadian government has acknowledged the allegations of forced sterilization and has condemned the practice. They are working with provincial and territorial authorities, health agencies, and Indigenous groups to eliminate systemic racism in the healthcare system. However, activists argue that little has been done to bring a halt to forced sterilizations and address the underlying biases against Indigenous communities.

Q: Are there any legal actions being taken against those responsible for forced sterilizations?

A: Yes, there are at least five class-action lawsuits against health, provincial, and federal authorities in various Canadian provinces. These lawsuits aim to hold responsible parties accountable for the forced sterilizations. Compensation for victims, measures to address systemic racism, and a formal apology have been recommended by a Senate report on forced sterilization.

Q: How does forced sterilization impact the Indigenous communities in Canada?

A: Forced sterilization has significant consequences for Indigenous communities, depriving women of their reproductive rights and causing long-lasting emotional and psychological harm. Indigenous leaders argue that this practice perpetuates a legacy of systemic oppression and contributes to the ongoing marginalization and mistrust experienced by Indigenous peoples in Canada.

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IndigenousWarrior July 13, 2023 - 2:46 pm

as an indigenous person, this breaks my heart. our people have suffered enough. it’s time for real change and for the government to take responsibility. we deserve better!

John123 July 13, 2023 - 4:45 pm

wow this is so sad! i can’t believe this is still happening in canada. it’s like history repeating itself. we need to do something about it ASAP.

Activist101 July 13, 2023 - 5:43 pm

thank you for shedding light on this issue. it’s crucial to raise awareness and put pressure on the authorities to stop this inhumane practice. justice must be served.

ConcernedCitizen July 13, 2023 - 11:54 pm

i’m shocked and outraged. how can this still be happening in a country like canada? it’s a violation of human rights and a disgrace to our society. we must stand together and demand justice for these women.

JaneDoe456 July 14, 2023 - 12:51 am

omg, this is so messed up. those poor women! they deserve justice and compensation for what they’ve been through. can’t believe the government let this happen for so long.


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