MONTREAL — Two recent reports document the longstanding practice of the capitalist rulers in Canada to promote forcibly sterilizing Indigenous women. And the numbers reported are just the tip of the iceberg. This is part of the long history of oppression against Native people by the Canadian state.
An inquiry last November by the First Nations of Quebec and the Labrador Health and Social Services Commission, documents 22 cases since 1980 where Indigenous women were sterilized without their consent, most recently in 2019. Many of the women had gone to the hospital to give birth. There were three cases of forced abortions.
One woman informed the inquiry that her doctor told her, “It would be better if you had a tubal ligation. You wouldn’t have any more children. You’ve had two, and that’s enough.” Another reported what had happened to her sister in the hospital. “We were told she was going down for a tonsillectomy, and when she came back, we found out she had a tubal ligation.” The report demands the College of Physicians of Quebec immediately end the practice of forced sterilizations.
There are 1.8 million Indigenous people in Canada, 5% of the population. They face discrimination across the board. Joblessness is higher than in the rest of the population. They are 29% of the homeless and one-third of federal prisoners. Life expectancy is 15 years lower than the population as a whole.
In another report, issued in 2021 by the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, 16 Indigenous women spoke of being coerced into sterilization. Most of these women were sterilized between 2005 and 2010, but at least one was in 2019. The government report says 1,150 Indigenous women were sterilized over a 10-year period up to early 1970 in federally run “Indian hospitals.”
“Away from their family and communities to give birth, many Indigenous women experience language and cultural barriers,” the report said. “Many women are not given adequate information or support to understand and to be informed of their rights, including their sexual and reproductive rights.”
One woman referred to by the initials S.A.T. told the Senate committee that she had just given birth to her sixth child in Saskatoon when she was presented with a consent form for her sterilization. “She tried to wheel herself away from the operating room, but the doctor wheeled her right back in the direction of the same operating room. When she was in the operating room, she kept asking the doctor if she was done yet. Finally he said, ‘Yes. Cut, tied and burnt. There is nothing getting through that.’”
“Championing the fights by Indigenous people for their rights is a key issue for working people and our unions,” Beverly Bernardo, Communist League candidate in the provincial by-election in Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne district of Montreal, told the Militant Jan. 18. “Forced sterilization must end immediately. Anyone involved in practicing such procedures without consent must be prosecuted with the full force of the law. Reproductive and maternal health care must be made available to Indigenous women in their language and in their communities.”