Canadian senators of the human rights committee have released a report on incidents of forced or coerced sterilization in Canada while recommending the government apologize and compensate the victims.
“For most people, the idea of being forcibly stripped of your ability to conceive is unthinkable, in fact, horrifying. But this disturbing practice has a long history in this country, and it persists today,” said Conservative Senator Salma Ataullahjan during a press conference announcing the committee’s report on July 14.
The report, “The Scars That We Carry: Forced and Coerced Sterilization of Persons in Canada – Part II,” is based on the testimonies of women who have come forward to share their experiences.
The committee heard testimony from nine witnesses who say they are survivors of unwanted sterilization.
“The victims will surprise no one: indigenous, black, racialized, and disabled women have borne the brunt of this inhumane treat,” said Ataullahjan.
Senator Yvonne Boyer of the Independent Senators Group said all the survivors who testified relayed how they were sterilized without their free and informed consent.
Survivor Louise Delisle testified of being subjected to a partial hysterectomy without her knowledge or consent after giving birth at age 15.
She says she recalls hearing the doctor who delivered her baby say “I don’t want to see this girl back here again having kid after kid and going through this and maybe worse. We won’t be in this position again.”
Delisle said she found out about the hysterectomy after marrying at age 29 and consulting with a fertility clinic due to her inability to conceive.
The report acknowledges the lack of data to better circumscribe the scope of the issue, but Boyer says her office has been acting as a “clearinghouse” to collect data.
Boyer says her office conducted anecdotal research with other researchers in Canada and found 12,000 cases. She also noted over 100 individuals have joined a class action lawsuit in Saskatchewan. Class action lawsuits have also been launched in most other provinces.
“We know that this has occurred for a long time and my office does get calls on a regular basis about it still occurring,” Boyer said.
The report recommends the adoption of legislation to make forced or coerced sterilization an offence under the Criminal Code. Bill S-250, which addresses this issue, had its first reading in the Senate on June 14.
Other recommendations include for the federal government to compensate the victims and issue a formal apology.
It also recommends increased investments in community-based midwifery in northern and remote communities and launching public education campaigns about patients’ rights.