When she was 17 years old, Liz was coerced by a Children’s Aid worker into having an abortion and being sterilized at a northwestern Ontario hospital, she says — an experience she’s carried for 40 years.
“It was a matter of me almost (being) cornered, if you will, by my worker at the time saying, ‘You better have an abortion because if you don’t, either way, we are going to take that child from you,’” Liz says.
New research shows the forced sterilization of Indigenous women is not just a shameful part of Canadian history. Reports from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the territories suggest it is still happening.
Tubal ligations carried out on unwilling Indigenous women is one of the “most heinous” practices in health care happening across Canada, says Yvonne Boyer, a Métis lawyer and former nurse who is now a senator for Ontario.
She was first contacted by Liz (who asked not to have her last name published, so she could talk freely about something so personal) in 2017 after a news story detailed research Boyer produced with Métis physician and researcher Dr. Judith Bartlett. Their report detailed how Indigenous women were coerced into tubal ligations — the severing, burning or tying of the Fallopian tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus — after childbirth in the Saskatoon Health Region.
Boyer now wants the Senate to study the scope of the issue nationally, making it the focus of her first address to the upper chamber.
“If it’s happened in Saskatoon, it has happened in Regina, it’s happened in Winnipeg, it’s happened where there’s a high population of Indigenous women,” Boyer says in an interview. “I’ve had many women contact me from across the country and ask me for help.”
Some Indigenous women interviewed for the report also felt pushed into signing consent forms for the procedures while they were in active labour or on operating tables, Boyer says, noting a class-action lawsuit against the Saskatoon Health Region was launched in 2017 by two of the affected women.
Each claimed $7 million in damages. Now about 60 women are part of the lawsuit, she adds.
“If there are 60 women just in the Saskatoon area, there are many more that haven’t come forward in that area and there are many more that wanted to come forward but were too traumatized to,” Boyer says. “There’s many more that have buried those memories.”