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This article was published 13/11/2018 (501 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — A growing number of Indigenous women are coming forward with allegations they were unwillingly made infertile, including a Winnipeg woman who claims she was forcibly sterilized within the past decade.
"I think it’s quite a bit bigger than what we know it to be," Saskatoon-based lawyer Alisa Lombard told the Free Press.
This past weekend, The Canadian Press reported Ontario Sen. Yvonne Boyer believes hospitals across Canada are still forcibly sterilizing Indigenous women.
During the senator’s term as the Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal health at Brandon University, she undertook a study of the issue in Saskatoon, alongside Judith Bartlett, a Métis woman who hails from northern Manitoba.
Since finishing their report in July 2017, similar allegations emerged from across Saskatchewan, followed by cases in Manitoba, Alberta, Ontario, and the territories.
"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 told The Canadian Press.
"I've had many women contact me from across the country and ask me for help," said Boyer, who was not available Tuesday for interview.
Lombard said more than 60 women have contacted her firm, Maurice Law — two of whom alleged incidents at Winnipeg hospitals, the most recent claim dating to 2009.
More women have come forward after Boyer raised the issue this past week. On Tuesday morning, Lombard said she got a call from a non-Indigenous woman who claimed overhearing Winnipeg hospital staff coercing an Aboriginal woman into the procedure in the 1980s.
None of these allegations have been proven.
Lombard’s firm is assembling medical documentation as it seeks certification for a class-action suit. The application has only named Saskatchewan authorities and Ottawa, but it will likely expand to other defendants should a court certify it.
The allegations Lombard raised Tuesday were new to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
"The WRHA is declining comment, as no one has shared any of these allegations with us," wrote spokesman Paul Turenne.
However, Lombard said there’s been a cascade of allegations, with many similarities.
Almost all the claims involve tubal ligation — the tying or cutting of the fallopian tubes required to generate a fertile egg — though Lombard said a minority allege having their ovaries removed.
Some women interviewed in the 2017 report claimed they’d been pushed into signing consent forms while in active labour, on powerful painkiller or in emotional distress.
"I don't think (the 60) are a complete representation of what is happening, because of the trickle-down effect that we're seeing," said Lombard.
She said while scores of women seek justice, it’s important everyday people keep an eye out for their fellow patients.
"Everyone does have a role to play here," Lombard said.
"It's important for Winnipeggers, and many others, to speak out when they see… that people aren't being treated the way they should be treated: in a non-discriminatory, humanistic manner."
The federal Indigenous services minister, Jane Philpott, noted the practice had been documented historically and was "a serious violation of human rights." She supported Boyer’s push to have Parliament examine how widespread the issue remains.
In an email, Philpott noted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada noted the need for cultural-safety training among medical staff, and to weed out racism.
"We all have a role to play to ensure that Indigenous patients receive quality health care, free of prejudice," she wrote.
Lombard said Ottawa should start by banning coerced sterilization in the Criminal Code.
The Free Press has asked both Manitoba complainants for an interview.