Forced and Coerced Sterilization is a Violent Violation of Human Rights

This post was first published in The Medical Post, Friday, December 1, 2018

There is a class action lawsuit underway in Saskatchewan alleging that over a period of years, Canadian indigenous women were forced and coerced to undergo sterilization by denying them access to their newborn infant children until they agreed to consent. It would not be an exaggeration to say the allegations in this case have shocked many.

Our shock is short lived when we recall the history of sterilization in Canada and its ties to eugenic ideology; the in-breeding of excellence and the out-breeding of undesirable traits and races. Canada’s history with forced and coerced sterilization is no secret and the practice has been discontinued in those provinces in which it was practiced. The last law allowing forced and coerced sterilization was struck down in Alberta in 1972. We know this practice is wrong. How it has it been allowed to continue?

For indigenous women, the effects of colonization are everywhere in evidence. The residential school system, land dispossession and relocation, wardship to the federal state, the reserve system, systemic and individual racism and discrimination all contribute to economic marginalization and poor access to health care. Housing and living conditions are substandard and access to basic sanitary conditions and clean, potable water is an issue for a majority of northern communities. For indigenous women, the effects of colonialism are at the root of second or even third status health care.

The FMWC emphasizes the need for culturally competent education for all helping professions. People who work in health care and social services hold a trusted position for vulnerable people. To abuse this position of trust in such a horrific manner suggests that, at the least, there are gaps in our educational systems that need filling. We urge medical educators to address these gaps in undergraduate medical and residency education.

We support the call by Senator Yvonne Boyer for an investigation into these allegations and the practice of forced and coerced sterilization of indigenous women across Canada. We also support the call by Amnesty International Canada for an independent special representative to hear directly from the indigenous women involved.

We must resist the thinking that allows and continues the colonization of indigenous people in Canada. Truth demands that we confront the brutal effects of colonization, reconciliation means we step back and make amends.

Bev Johnson, MD, CCFP
Chair, Gender Equity and Diversity
Federation of Medical Women of Canada




Charissa Patricelli, MD, CCFP, dipABAM
Honorary Secretary and Communications Director
Federation of Medical Women of Canada




Indigenous women coerced into sterilization across Canada: senator, Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press, Posted CBC News, Nov 12, 2018.