Forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada still prevalent

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Sixty Indigenous women are filing a class-action lawsuit claiming they were forcibly sterilized. Some of the sterilizations occurred as late as 2017. The lawsuit has called for a nationwide review of the forced sterilization of Indigenous women.

Accounts have been heard from Manitoba, Ontario, and Alberta. Records have shown that sterilization is also prevalent in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

Cases of forced sterilization have been documented since the 1800’s, emerging from the eugenics movement. Karen Stote in An Act of Genocide: Colonialism and Sterilization of Aboriginal Women argues that Indigenous women’s reproductive abilities have been central to systematic targeting of Indigenous peoples’ assimilation into Canadian society.

Coercive sterilization was justified as a way to protect society and women from the strain of additional births, to reduce the birth rate and the government’s obligations to Indigenous peoples.

Even though Canada’s longest running sterilization law was revoked in 1972, policies of sterilization have still continued under the pretense of ‘family planning.’

Yvonne Boyer and Dr. Judith Bartlett’s research released in 2017 detailed how Indigenous women were pressured into tubal ligation, which is a surgical procedure where the fallopian tubes are cut, tied, or blocked preventing the eggs from reaching the uterus for implantation.

Many women’s accounts include being sterilized without proper or informed consent.

Tubal ligations were suggested while the women were actively in labour or under anesthesia, where they were “approached, harassed, [and] coerced into signing these consent forms,” Alisa Lombard, a lawyer who represents the women in the class-action lawsuit said.

The United Nations recognizes forced sterilization as a human rights violation, a form of discrimination, and  violence against women; yet, it is not illegal in Canada under the Criminal Code, a procedure Lombard is trying to change.

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