Indigenous women in Saskatoon are proposing a class-action lawsuit against the province, its health regions, individual physicians and the country for what they call coerced sterilization.
They are seeking $7 million each in damages.
According to the summary of claim, the term “coerced sterilization” refers to the practice of sterilizing Aboriginal women in Canada without their proper or informed consent. It says the practice has been going on since at least the 1930s.
The women allege that the province, and the country, were complicit in the matter, and “set the tone of institutional systemic racism.”
The two women who have been named as plaintiffs claim they have suffered physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and psychologically. A publication ban has been ordered by the judge protecting their identities.
Neither woman says she gave informed consent prior to her tubal ligation. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)
The women are being represented by Alisa Lombard, who said she found their stories troubling.
“One of the most significant aspects on it is how dehumanizing the treatment they say they were subjected to is and what kind of effects that can have on a human being’s life,” she said. “To be subjected to a treatment that fundamentally removes such a basic choice away from them, which is the choice to have children or not to.”
The class-action lawsuit has yet be certified by a judge. If it is, women who have similar stories will be included.
Lombard said they must be Indigenous, but can be from all health regions in Saskatchewan. Those who don’t want to be part of the suit will have to opt out if the definition of the class applies to their story.
The lawsuit claims there to be at least 20 Aboriginal women in the province who experienced coerced or forced sterilization without proper and informed consent.
Women asked to consent while in labour
One of the two women in the lawsuit is Anishinaabe and a victim of the Sixties Scoop. She was sterilized at the Royal University Hospital in 2008 at age 34, directly after giving birth to her youngest son by emergency C-section.
She was reportedly asked to sign off on tubal ligation while being rushed into surgery after being administered opioids. She also said she was told the procedure was reversible.
She said she has faced a number of physical ailments since the surgery including symptoms of early menopause, hormonal imbalances, hypothyroidism and depression.
Due to traditional Indigenous beliefs, she said, she considered a woman’s ability to reproduce sacred and has never been the same since that was taken away from her.
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The second plaintiff, who identifies as Cree, was sterilized at the same hospital at age 29, although she said she explicitly denied consent.
She maintains that she did not sign a consent form and was sterilized against her will after giving birth. She said her sterilization led to the end of her marriage and that she has faced similar physical symptoms to the first complainant.
The summary of claims says the sterilizations were an abuse of power and an example of racial profiling. It suggests a violation of multiple charter rights, cruel treatment, sexual battery, negligence and misrepresentation.
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The Saskatoon Health Region apologized publicly in July for past coerced sterilization after a 57-page report was released examining the Postpartum tubal ligation policy that was in place from 2005 to 2010. Dr. Yvonne Boyer and Dr. Judith Bartlett, who wrote the report, spoke to 16 women.
The region has revised its policy for sterilization.