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  • Writer's pictureJane Wheeler

Ohhhhh Canada, noooo!

When Mercredi was 14 years old and in her seventh month of pregnancy, she went to a hospital in Saskatoon after experiencing cramping and spotting. She ended up having a C-section.

What she didn't know, however, was that the surgeon also performed a tubal ligation, removing her left ovary and fallopian tube, without her knowledge or consent.

She didn't find out about it until a visit to a gynecologist decades later, when she was in a relationship and wanted to have children.

"This trauma was such that … I went into a catatonic state and had a nervous breakdown," said Mercredi, now 58, who tells her story in the 2021 book Sacred Bundles Unborn.

Author and activist Morningstar Mercredi is calling for the criminalization of forced and coerced sterilization, in the hopes that women — especially Indigenous, Métis and Inuit women — will never suffer the physical and mental trauma it inflicted upon her.

"I knew that lending my voice to my experience as a survivor was critical and important. Not only for my own process [but also] to let other survivors know that they can come forward. They are not alone.”[1]

Senate Committee Hearings

On 20 February 2019, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights (the committee) began a study on the extent and scope of forced and coerced sterilization of persons in Canada.[2]

In recent years, significant attention has been given to the plight of Indigenous women in Canada who have been forced and coerced into undergoing sterilization procedures.

The committee found cases of forced or coerced sterilization reported as recently as 2019, and that the prevalence of the practice is both under-reported and underestimated.

The same committee heard directly from survivors of coerced sterilization.

This awareness has largely stemmed from a report that was released by the Saskatchewan Regional Health Authority in July 2017. This was a report of an external review commissioned after at least four Indigenous women reported in the media that they had been coercively sterilized in a Saskatoon hospital, primarily between 2008 and 2012. The report documented the experiences of 16 women, most of whom reported being coercively sterilized between 2005 and 2010 and noted that ‘pervasive structural discrimination and racism in the health care system in general (despite attempts to remedy these) remains unmistakable.

A class action law suit filed in Saskatchewan in October 2017 began with two Indigenous women who report being sterilized without their consent. Waves of media coverage of the issue in the fall of 2018 led to over 100 more Indigenous women from five provinces (Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario) coming forward with allegations that they too were sterilized without their free, prior, and informed consent.

Lawyer Alisa Lombard, lead counsel in the Saskatchewan class action lawsuit, noted that these women have been “robbed of their sacred ability to carry life, to give birth, to care for their child, to pass on their knowledge and culture, and to watch children in the number of their choice grow and become parents themselves.” The committee heard that although it is unclear how many Indigenous women have been forced or coerced into this procedure, this brutal act has caused irreparable harm to Indigenous peoples for future generations and has perpetuated a historical cycle of discrimination. Incidents of forced and coerced sterilization continue to be reported despite Canadian media attention and condemnation. Ms. Lombard told the committee that as recently as December 2018 an incident of forced sterilization was reported by an Indigenous woman in Saskatchewan.

It is also important to note that mistrust in a system that continues to fail Indigenous women also prevents them from coming forward. There is also the issue of trauma and the harmful effects of reliving it. As Ms. Lombard explained: There’s a lot of underreporting because there’s no trust. Various processes, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the testimony before the missing and murdered women’s inquiry, has repeated this over and over again. The reason for that is because when women do come forward, they’re not believed. They are dismissed. They are told that people who are more important than them know more about what’s good for them than they do. That’s why they don’t come forward.

The committee also questioned whether other vulnerable and marginalized groups have been forced or coerced into sterilization and concluded that an examination was required to discover the extent to which this practice occurs to Canadians. Preliminary evidence identifies poor women, women living with disabilities, African Canadian women, racialized and ethnic women, and women living with HIV as particularly vulnerable to being subjected to forced or coerced sterilization in Canadian health care settings where their personal agency is removed or limited.

Karen Stote (Author and Assistant Professor, Women and Gender Studies Program, Wilfrid Laurier University), Francyne Joe (President, Native Women’s Association of Canada) and Melanie Omeniho (President, Women of the Métis Nation) also stated that the forced and coerced sterilization of Indigenous women constitutes genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention). According to the Genocide Convention, genocide is an act “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” and includes “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

The practice of forced and coerced sterilization of marginalized or vulnerable groups to prevent their reproduction has a long history in Canada. Until 1972 and 1973, respectively, Alberta and British Columbia had laws requiring the forced and coerced sterilization of individuals who were considered “mentally defective.” Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario had introduced similar sexual sterilization bills but they were defeated in the 1930s and did not become law. As explained by the Canadian Association of Community Living and People First Canada: During the eugenics movement, over three thousand Canadians were legally sterilized in Canada – most notably within the provinces of Alberta, and British Columbia where those who were deemed to be “mentally defective,” to possess “undesirable elements” or to be part of “unfit groups” were sterilized by the mandate of the state. The Sexual Sterilization Acts of Alberta (est. 1928) and British Columbia (est. 1933) legislated the sterilization of persons with intellectual disabilities without their consent. Sterilization under these laws was often a precondition for being released from a mental health institution.

A witness before the committee, Dr. Josephine Etowa, Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa, told the committee that a study conducted by a graduate student under her supervision found that African Canadian women in southwest Nova Scotia were coerced into having hysterectomies in circumstances where they did not have a life-threatening health condition.

The committee believes this issue is much more prevalent than reported and that it merits further study by a committee such as the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights.

The prime purpose of a future study would aim to provide recommendations on how to stop forced and coerced sterilizations in Canada. Given the sensitive nature of this issue, the committee reiterates the following suggestions from witnesses on how such a study should be conducted:

• Survivors should be consulted in determining how the study should move forward.

• Witnesses from other groups whose voices have not been heard, including people with disabilities, people living with mental illness, intersex and transgender people, should be invited.

• Survivors should be consulted on how their testimony is included and presented to the committee undertaking the study.

• The process should be culturally appropriate, and trauma informed as to not revictimize survivors.

• Survivors can identify where the practice of coerced and forced sterilization is most prevalent, such as regions where there are high Indigenous populations, Black populations and others. These are regions where interviews (in private meetings due to retriggering trauma) may be conducted in a culturally appropriate and trauma informed manner.

• Sensitivity must be used to recognize the unique circumstances of each survivor.

• In documenting and presenting the stories of survivors, the option of anonymity and de-identification must be offered and carried through.

• In addition to survivors, a future study should include hearings with experts and civil society groups involved with survivors of forced and coerced sterilization, as well as relevant government representatives to update on what has transpired since Study 1 was conducted.

• A future study should examine how other jurisdictions such as Peru have stopped this practice, documented the process, registered victims and established a process to provide reparations for survivors of forced and coerced sterilization.[3]

The committee’s preliminary hearings on forced and coerced sterilization confirmed its concerns that this horrific practice is not confined to the past but clearly is continuing today.

Its prevalence is underreported and underestimated. The committee is deeply concerned that along with Indigenous women, other vulnerable and marginalized groups in Canada are affected, including women with disabilities, racialized women, intersex children and institutionalized persons. The committee believes this issue is much more prevalent than reported and that it merits further study by a committee such as the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights. The prime purpose of a future study would aim to provide recommendations on how to stop forced and coerced sterilizations in Canada.


RECOMMENDATION 1 That the Government of Canada respond to this report without delay.

RECOMMENDATION 2 That a parliamentary committee conduct further study on the issue of forced and coerced sterilization of persons in Canada with the goal of identifying solutions to stop the practice, and that the testimony gathered during the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights’ scoping study on this topic during the first session the forty-second Parliament be incorporated in the future study. Survivors affected groups and other stakeholders should be consulted on how to proceed in a sensitive manner with such a study.

I read the interview with Mercredi with horror and sat back thinking, nooooo, this cannot be happening in my country. Unfortunately this is a statement I have found myself repeating a lot in the past couple years.

Then I went to the actual report from the Senate Committee which is what most of this blog is – their findings. I was appalled, horrified and shocked.

On the Foreword part of the Senates report is this statement:

Due to circumstances beyond the committee’s control, however, it was unable to table the initial report, nor was it able to conduct further study as intended. Nonetheless, the committee has remained deeply troubled by what it heard two years ago.

Right on the front of the Senate report is the comment: committee was to submit its final report no later than June 23, 2021. I guess that never happened. I shudder to think that the Senate Committee stated under RECEOMMENDATIONS that the Government of Canada should respond to this report without delay, AND yet nothing has happened even though the Standing Senate Committee was “deeply troubled”.

Human Rights issues are not high on the Canadian Government’s list of things to look into, I guess looking back at our history, it actually never has been. We only have to look at Canada’s response to Chinese people – who chose to live underground away from persecution at some points; internment of the Canadian Japanese people; Native Canadians – Indian hospitals, Residential schools – abuse and death cloak the children who went there, we keep finding children’s bodies and yesterday I heard on the news that we may only have found the tip of the iceberg on this; click on Joy Smith’s National Human Trafficking Center website; the Canadian response to the British Home Children (1860-1940’s) and now I read about forced sterilization and I went “Ohhhh noooooo Canada!”

I had always thought of us as a free country, perhaps that was because I was taught it in school? Was it strategic that we never learned the horrors our own country has committed and is still committing? What if it were you, your children, your sister, your mother who has been affected? "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" Matthew 25:40

These things really are happening PRESENT day my friends, in a land dubbed “strong and free” in our national anthem that we sing with pride, proclaiming it and declaring it, but is it me, or does it appear only to be wishful thinking?

How many of you will take action on this information? How many will take the time to click on the Senate Committee link and see what the Committee found out? How many will write to your MP’s, MLA’s, Premier’s, Prime Minister, ALL Senate Members and ask them to take immediate action in the Canadian Legislature regarding their own Senate Report on forced sterilization that they themselves deemed “deeply troubling?” and yet they have not done anything.

Link to Evidence Transcript of Senate Committee:

[2] Canadian Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights Report [3]Link to Experience in Peru Brief, Report to the Senate of Canada Standing Committee on Human Rights so that Victims of Forced Sterilization Can Seek the Truth, Justice and Comprehensive Reparation, Taking into Account the Experience in Peru, submitted by Maria Ysabel Cedano, Demus-Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer, 7 June 2019.

Link to Joy Smith Foundation - Human Trafficking

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