Manitoba

2 Indigenous women allege they were sterilized against their will in Manitoba hospitals — one of them in 2018

Two Indigenous women say they were sterilized against their will in Manitoba hospitals, including one alleged incident that happened as recently as 2018, court documents say.

Lawyers seek publication ban as they move forward with multi-province proposed class-action lawsuit

Two women allege medical staff at Manitoba hospitals coerced them into being sterilized after giving birth. Their lawyers have filed a motion requesting a publication ban that is expected to go before a judge at a hearing on Friday. (Bert Savard/CBC)

Two Indigenous women who allege they were sterilized against their will in Manitoba hospitals as recently as last year are suffering from anxiety and psychological trauma as a result, according to court documents.  

The most recent case allegedly happened in 2018 at a Winnipeg hospital after a woman gave birth to her second child. The older case allegedly happened at a Brandon hospital in 1985 after a woman's fourth birth, according to documents filed last month in Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench.

The two women's cases are part of a proposed class-action lawsuit involving cases in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C., Yukon and the N.W.T.

"We stand in awe at their courage every day because what they're coming forward with is certainly not easy to come forward with," said Alisa Lombard, a lawyer who represents the women with Semaganis Worme Lombard.

"It's very apparent that it's being done in the best interest of the future generation of girls who deserve some protections that many other people perhaps take for granted."

If we wait for these systems to understand and respect Indigenous people and Indigenous ways we're going to wait a long time.- Alisa Lombard

Semaganis Worme Lombard is handling the proposed class-action lawsuit and seeking a publication ban to protect the identities of the women named in the two Manitoba cases. The application is expected to go before a judge at a hearing on Friday.

The Manitoba cases were filed against the federal and provincial government, St. Boniface Hospital, five health authorities including the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, as well as the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba and two unidentified people.

Few specifics have been released of the alleged coerced sterilizations, though the publication ban application spells out lasting impacts the women say they've experienced. 

'Mental anguish'

The woman in the older case says she continues to experience "psychological and mental anguish," a distrust of doctors and nurses, a loss of faith, painful changes to her menstrual cycle and a "breakdown" of her long-term relationship, according to court documents.

In the more recent case, the woman reported having "significant anxiety," hormonal imbalances, mood swings, problems trusting people and a loss of "her sense of identity as a woman."

Alisa Lombard, a lawyer and partner with Semaganis Worme Lombard, said her firm will seek a partial publication ban on the identities of two Manitoba women who allege they were sterilized against their will in 1985 and 2018. (CBC News)

Semaganis Worme Lombard has represented more than 100 cases of Indigenous women alleging they were coerced into being sterilized by hospital staff dating back about 30 years to as recently as December 2018, said Lombard.

"It's heartbreaking," said Lombard. "It's a true honour to represent these women and we will continue to do so with great determination and persistence."

In addition to the Manitoba cases, separate lawsuits were previously filed in Saskatchewan and Alberta seeking class-action status on behalf of women with similar claims.

'It's about safety, period'

The recent report on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls cited sterilization as one of several examples in justifying that a genocide was committed against Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture issued a report late last year recommending the federal government investigate allegations of coerced sterilization. It also suggested Canada outlaw the practice, but Ottawa has said the Criminal Code is robust enough to handle such allegations.

The committee recommended punishing those involved in coerced sterilizations and providing reparations to those affected.

Lombard said preventing coerced sterilization is the highest priority moving forward.

"We're talking about women in their prime reproductive years who are rendered involuntarily sterile in 2018," said Lombard.

"If we wait for these systems to understand and respect Indigenous people and Indigenous ways we're going to wait a long time. And it's not really about cultural safety, it's about safety, period."

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.