B.C. faces forced sterilization lawsuit
A group of former mental health patients is suing the B.C government for sexual assault, claiming the province illegally sterilized them.
Jay Chalke, the public guardian and trustee for the mentally disabled in B.C., launched the legal action on behalf of 19 former mental health patients who were sterilized between 1940 and 1968.
The former patients are basing their case, which is scheduled to go to trial next month, on notes pulled from the records of the Riverview mental hospital.
The case is similar to hundreds of similar actions in Alberta in the mid-1990s. The province paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to people who'd been sterilized without giving their consent.
Chalke discovered the sterilization had happened in his province, too.
"The trauma of having been sterilized was a significant issue for them and is something that's stayed with them their entire lives," said Chalke.
He acknowledges that a law on the books at the time allowed sterilizations in cases where the children of mental health patients would inherit the mental illness or disability.
Chalke said the documents show that wasn't the reason for the sterilizations in these cases.
"The history that's provided in support of the sterilizations is not a eugenics or genetic concern, but rather one that's really more institutional management," he said.
In one case, a woman with five children was deemed a poor mother and homemaker. The notes indicate hospital administrators decided it would be best if she were sterilized and said she could be "talked into it."
Other notes refer to social or moral reasons for the forced sterilizations, such as promiscuity.
Chalke alleges the hospital administrators knew they were breaking the law.
The provincial government says the case is invalid because the sterilizations happened too long ago.
But that's why the lawyers in the case are suing for sexual assault: there is no statute of limitations on the crime.