Rally at Sask. Legislature calls for 'immediate' end to coerced sterilizations

Lawyers who are leading a class action lawsuit against the Government of Canada and other governing bodies say it's 'shocking' how many women have come forward with allegations of coerced sterilization.

Firm that organized rally representing 100 women in Saskatchewan

People at the rally held signs that read "protect our women" and "stopped forced sterilization." (ICI Saskatchewan)

Carrying signs that read "protect our women" and "stopped forced sterilization," a group marched to the Saskatchewan Legislature on Tuesday to call for an end to coerced sterilization.

The march was organized by law firm Semaganis Worme Lombard, which is representing women in a class-action against the Government of Canada, the Saskatchewan Health Authority and other government bodies and agencies they allege forced Indigenous women to undergo sterilization.

The firm says they've heard reports of coerced sterilization taking place as recently as December 2018.

"We're here today to demand immediate action so that this does not continue to happen," said Helen Semaganis, a partner in the firm, which is representing roughly 100 women in Saskatchewan.

According to the lawsuit's summary of claim, the term "coerced sterilization" refers to the practice of sterilizing Aboriginal women in Canada without their proper or informed consent. Following an independent review in 2017, the then-Saskatoon Health Region apologized for the coercion of Indigenous women to undergo surgical sterilization.

Heather Bear, vice chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, speaks at the Saskatchewan Legislature on Nov. 26, 2019. (Germain Wilson/CBC)

"I want to apologize to the women who came forward in the review, who've come forward to us in the past, and who haven't yet been able to come forward to us," Jackie Mann, vice-president of integrated health services, said on behalf of the health authority at the time.

"I am truly sorry for the coercion for tubal ligation that you experienced while in our care."

The 57-page review, conducted by Dr. Yvonne Boyer, a Métis lawyer and former nurse, and Dr. Judy Bartlett, a physician and former professor with the College of Medicine at the University of Manitoba, found "scare tactics" had been used to get the women's consent.

Semaganis said the group wants to see "immediate policy action" or, at a minimum, policy directives to hospitals, medical professionals and institutions that will protect Indigenous women. She said they the firm also has a class-action filed in Manitoba where women continue to come forward.

"It's shocking," she said when asked if she was surprised at how many women had come forward. 

She said the procedure has a lasting effect on the women involved, but that with the suit, they're at least not feeling alone. 

"Psychologically, they're traumatized," she said. "Some of them still deal with the physical effects of the procedure. There are all kinds of effects that they've had to deal with." 

Tuesday's event started with a pipe ceremony and a prayer by an elder at the First Nations University of Canada atrium in Regina. Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice Chief Heather Bear was also in attendance.

"We need to make sure that this gets addressed and that whoever is responsible is accountable," Bear said, calling coerced sterilization a "disgusting act of violence toward our people." 

Helen Semaganis, a lawyer with Semaganis Worme Lombard, speaks with reporters outside of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Nov. 26, 2019. (Germain Wilson/CBC)

Semaganis said she hopes the woman who have suffered get reparations. She also wants the courts to ensure those who were responsible, be it doctors or institutions, face consequences including criminal sanctions or disciplinary action. 

"Everything to send the message that this is wrong and that people, professionals, not just people in the public, but professionals will stop and think and do the right thing."

A child waves a flag ahead of a rally calling for an immediate end to coerced sterilization in Canada at the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly on Nov. 26, 2019. (Germain Wilson/Radio Canada )