British Columbia

B.C. faces lawsuit over sterilizations

A group of former mental health patients is suing the B.C. government after being sexually sterilized decades ago.

A group of former mental health patients is suing the B.C. government after being sexually sterilized decades ago.

The 19 patients were sterilized while at Riverview Hospital in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

The 18 women and one man are represented by the public guardian for the mentally ill, Jay Chalk, who says the sterilizations amounted to sexual assault.

"The trauma of having been sterilized is a significant issue for them and is something that stayed with them for their entire lives."

The Sexual Sterilization Act of 1933 gave the province the right to sterilize patients, but only if there was medical evidence the mental illness would be passed on to their children.

But Chalk says that wasn't the case with these patients, arguing the province had no right to sterilize them.

"In other circumstances it was simply seen as a method perhaps of birth control, or institutional management in order to reduce the incidents of hospital patients getting pregnant."

The provincial government claims in each of these cases that a 30-year statute of limitations to bring a claim has expired.

But Chalk argues that statute is not applicable in cases of sexual assault.

The case goes to court in March. It's believed to be the first lawsuit of its kind in British Columbia.