Warning: Some of the details in this story may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.
She was screaming that she “didn’t want this,” but it happened anyway.
A Cree woman had just given birth to her sixth child in Saskatoon, when she was presented with a consent form for her sterilization.
“She tried to wheel herself away from the operating room, but the doctor wheeled her right back in the direction of the same operating room,” says a new government report, which details the woman’s sterilization in 2001.
“When she was in the operating room, she kept asking the doctor if she was done yet. Finally, he said, ‘Yes. Cut, tied and burnt. There, nothing is getting through that.”’
The woman, referred to as S.A.T., is one of 16 women who shared their experiences about their sterilizations in the report by a Senate committee on human rights.
The report, released Thursday, says coerced sterilization of Indigenous women is not a matter of the past and still happens in Canada today.
The committee is urging the federal government to further investigate the “heinous” practice by compiling data and come up with solutions to bring it to an end.
It says the precise number of Indigenous women subjected to forced or coerced sterilization in Canada is unclear.
It also argues that the practice hurts other marginalized and vulnerable groups in the country, including Black women and other people of colour.
Most of the women interviewed for the report were coercively sterilized between 2005 and 2010. The committee says it is aware of a case of forced sterilization as recent as in 2019.
“Some of the Indigenous women who were forced or coerced into sterilization live on reserves in remote areas. Hospitals are often a long distance away and require significant travel, sometimes by air,” the report says.
“Away from their family and communities to give birth, many Indigenous women experience language and cultural barriers. Many women are not given adequate information or support to understand and to be informed of their rights, including their sexual and reproductive rights.”
Until 1972, Alberta had a law requiring the forced or coerced sterilization of people considered “mentally defective.” In British Columbia, the same law existed until 1973.
“Persons deemed ‘mentally defective’ were not alone as targets — Eastern Europeans, as well as Inuit, First Nations and Metis people, were also disproportionately targeted and sterilized,” the report says.
Karen Stote, an assistant professor of women and gender studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, says in the report that despite the repealing of provincial eugenics laws, forced or coerced sterilization of Indigenous women continued in federally operated “Indian hospitals.”
About 1,150 Indigenous women were sterilized in these hospitals over a 10-year period up until the early 1970s, says the report.
“There was ‘a climate of racism and paternalism leading to the view that sterilization was for some women’s own good,'” Stote says in the report.
“These attitudes and beliefs continue to underpin health policy today and contribute to the practice of coerced and forced sterilization.”
The chair of the Senate committee on human rights, Salma Ataullahjan, said the federal government needs to study the issue further.
“The prevalence of this horrific practice is both underreported and underestimated,” she said in a news release.
“The committee is deeply concerned that, along with Indigenous women, other vulnerable and marginalized groups in Canada are affected by forced and coerced sterilization, including women with disabilities, racialized women, intersex children and institutionalized persons,” added deputy committee chair, Wanda Thomas Bernard.
“Parliamentarians must understand the full scope of this problem if we are to initiate effective and meaningful solutions.”
The office of the federal health minister did not respond to a request for comment on the report.