Researchers from a Quebec university collected the stories of more than 35 First Nations and Inuit women, who recounted their experiences of forced sterilization and coerced abortions in Quebec – a practice that had until now not been studied in the province.
Of the 35 testimonies in the report released today, there have been 22 cases of forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Quebec since 1980. The report attributes this practice to systemic racism — something the Coalition Avenir Québec has refused to acknowledge — and calls for an end to this.
“In Canada, coerced sterilization is part of a continuum of colonial violence that continues to this day,” the report said.
The researchers say another 20 women in Quebec who contacted the researchers were unable to participate in the study, which means there could be at least 55 cases of forced sterilization in the province, not counting the other cases. potentials who may not have been aware of the research. .
The women come from five nations and communities, including the Atikamekw, Innu, Anishnaabe, Eeyou and Inuit. The youngest was 17 at the time of her medical intervention and the eldest was 46. The interventions took place between 1980 and 2019, according to the report.
Their stories involved being pressured — and misinformed — about a range of procedures from tubal ligations and abortions to hysterectomies.
“A lady had bladder surgery, but she underwent a hysterectomy,” says Patricia Bouchard, co-author of the study and doctoral student at the University of Quebec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT). Suzy Basile, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Women’s Issues and professor at UQAT, is the other co-author of the study.
“Tubal ligation involves tying off, cauterizing, or cutting the tissue of the fallopian tubes to prevent fertilization. It is a permanent procedure that is virtually impossible to reverse,” the report states.
The majority of participants did not sign a sterilization consent form, and those who did said the information they received from medical staff was unclear about the impact of the procedure on their ability to have children in the future.
The report says the most recent example of coerced sterilization dates back to 2019.
“In addition to having their bodies and rights violated, some participants reported side effects or trauma following the procedure, such as untreated biological disorders following a hysterectomy,” the report states. , adding that the trauma has deepened women’s fear and distrust of the public health system.
The study calls on the College of Physicians of Quebec to immediately end the practice and also demands action from the provincial and federal governments.
Quebec is the only province to have refused to participate in a federal government initiative to examine the practice of forced sterilization, after several women shared their experiences in Western Canada.
Uninformed or not informed at all
The study by UQAT researchers is the first in Quebec to document the forced sterilization of First Nations and Inuit women.
He cited several of the women interviewed, but did not name them in order to protect their identities.
“He said to me, ‘I’m going to solve your problem once and for all. You already have three children, I’m going to operate on you again, I’m going to clean your belly.’ I didn’t understand what he meant, he never said the word ‘hysterectomy’,” one said.
“I developed an infection, and the surgeon came to see me about three days after the operation and he said, ‘Well, while I was in there I decided to remove your uterus. ‘” reported another.
One woman said a doctor told her she would have a tubal ligation, which she objected to.
“He said to me, … ‘Don’t you think you have enough already? That’s enough, you have to stop there. All the children you give birth to will live in poverty.’ My God…” she told the researchers.
Others said they were repeatedly offered sterilization and almost never offered other options, whether for contraceptives or for treatment of reproductive issues or pain.
“Attempts by colonial states around the world to sever the connection of Indigenous peoples with their land and thus interrupt the transmission of knowledge about pregnancy and childbirth, as well as deliberate attempts to reduce the number of Indigenous peoples by various means, are part of an explicit plan for genocide,” the report states.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé and Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière reacted in a joint statement, saying they would review the results.
“This type of situation reminds us of the urgency of providing Indigenous peoples with access to culturally appropriate health care and services in a safe environment,” their statement said.
Ghislain Picard, the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL), called the imposed sterilization a theft of the fundamental rights of Indigenous women.
“This research has revealed the high degree of colonial violence of an odious and unrecognized reality, stemming from the genocide, in a context as intimate as that of gynecological and obstetrical care for our First Nations and Inuit mothers and sisters,” he said.