Feds reject push to amend Criminal Code to outlaw forced sterilization

Dozens of Indigenous women say they’ve been pressured into sterilization procedures they didn’t want

The Liberal government does not plan to change the Criminal Code to explicitly outlaw coerced sterilization — rejecting a resolution passed by First Nations chiefs on Thursday.

Heather Bear, the vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations that includes 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said Thursday that Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould — a former Assembly of First Nations regional chief herself, in British Columbia — must “do the right thing.”

“The prime minister of Canada has made all these statements on the national stage about truth and reconciliation,” Bear said in an interview. ”We know the justice system doesn’t work for us but this is one way we can put an end to this. I’m really surprised.”

Dozens of Indigenous women say they’ve been pressured into sterilization procedures they didn’t want, or had them carried out without being asked when they were seeing doctors for other reasons.

Coerced sterilization must be criminalized to ensure legal accountability, Bear said, adding the issue is connected to the issue of violence against Indigenous women — the subject of a national inquiry underway in Canada.

“Now it is about killing the ones unborn,” Bear said. “It is really a devastating issue that I hope there is more and more awareness (about) each and every day.”

Bear’s comments come after Wilson-Raybould’s office said in a statement to The Canadian Press that it’s is taking a public-health approach to the issue.

“Our government believes that everyone must receive culturally safe health services no matter where they live,” said the minister’s spokesman David Taylor. “The coerced sterilization of some Indigenous women is a serious violation of human rights and is completely unacceptable.”

But he pointed to existing provisions within the Criminal Code meant to forbid “a range of criminal behaviour” including forced sterilizations.

Alisa Lombard, a lawyer leading a proposed class action of Indigenous women who allege they endured coerced sterilizations in Saskatchewan, said Thursday that changing the Criminal Code is the most concrete thing the government can do about them.

Lombard’s firm, Maurice Law, has listed the Saskatoon Health Authority, the provincial government, the federal government and a handful of medical professionals as defendants in its statement of claim.

About 100 women have now come forward to report they have been forcibly sterilized, Lombard said — a jump of 40 women since The Canadian Press published a story on the issue in November detailing a push from Ontario Sen. Yvonne Boyer to study the issue nationally.

An existing Criminal Code provision speaks to the involuntary termination of pregnancies. Another provision on aggravated assault applies to anyone ”who wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the complainant.”

A legal void remains, Lombard said.

“We can point to the fact this has been an ongoing occurrence since the 1930s and so the absence of a preventive measure has clearly paved the way for it to continue to happen up until as recently as 2017,” she said.

Saskatchewan appears to be the “epicentre” of the practice, Lombard said, adding her firm has also heard from women from Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.

“My hope is that the voices of these women will have made a difference and that the voices of these women will ensure future generations of Indigenous girls do not have to bear the same burden of having the same discussion,” Lombard said.

In late November, a rapporteur with the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva said forced sterilization must be seen as equivalent to torture and asked for Canada to consider specific criminal provisions covering it, regardless of whether it’s done by a public agent or private individual.

Human-rights groups — the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Amnesty International Canada, and Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights — are expected to respond to recommendations to be released by the committee on Friday.

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sierra Robinson, 17, is one of 15 youths suing the Canadian government for failing to take action on climate change. (Facebook)
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Duncan B&E suspect caught in the act by RCMP

37-year-old Parksville man facing several charges

The road into Crofton will be a lot nicer when the roller coaster bumps are taken out of Crofton Road. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Crofton Road improvements to start taking shape Nov. 2

It’ll be a long haul until next summer to get it done and motorists should expect delays

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor has expressed concerns about the excessive freighters parked in the Salish Sea for quite some time. (Photo submitted)
MacGregor introduces bill to address problem freighter anchorages

Concerns about the environment, noise, pollution and safety abundant

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

A picture of John taken at Children’s Hospital Vancouver last week. Photo courtesy, Alicia Sewid.
RCMP investigating after young boy run over by SUV in Campbell River parking lot

The seven-year-old has multiple injuries including a broken pelvis and was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Vancouver

A video message from Mrime Minister Justin Trudeau was streamed to attendees at the State of the Island Economic Summit on Tuesday morning. (Vancouver Island Economic Alliance image)
Prime minister greets Vancouver Island economic summit attendees

Vancouver Island Economic Alliance conference being held virtually this week

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

Most Read