Senate report calls for law criminalizing forced or coerced sterilization

The Senate human rights committee is calling on the federal government to outlaw forced or coerced sterilization and to issue a formal apology to women who have been subjected to the practice.

Report calls for public apology, national education campaign

Sen. Yvonne Boyer, a member of the Senate committee on human rights, introduced Bill S-250 in the Senate this June. If passed, the bill would make coercing or forcing a person to be sterilized a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years in jail. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

The Senate human rights committee is calling on the federal government to outlaw forced or coerced sterilization and to issue a formal apology to women who have been subjected to the practice.

Those recommendations are among 13 in the second part of a new Senate report — The Scars that We Carry: Forced and Coerced Sterilization of Persons in Canada — released Thursday.

"Forced and coerced sterilization has a long history in Canada, including as a strategy to subjugate and eliminate First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples," the report says.

The Senate human rights committee began studying the issue back in 2019 and found that — far from being a problem of the distant past — forced and coerced sterilization was still taking place in Canada and Indigenous women were not the only people affected.

"The committee heard that other vulnerable groups have also been disproportionately subjected to these procedures, including Black and racialized women, persons with disabilities, intersex children and institutionalized persons," the report says. 

While forced or coerced sterilization could fall under the category of assault in the Criminal Code, the committee said it wants it codified as a crime in law through the passage of Bill S-250, which would make it an offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

"What we've seen so far hasn't worked, because I believe there's sterilization happening today, as we speak," Sen. Yvonne Boyer, the committee member who introduced S-250, said Wednesday. 

"We need to have some extra teeth and I think that passing this bill might make them stop and think a little bit more before they actually do something like that again."

The recommendations

The report says that women and girls, some as young as 14, have been "coerced through confinement, manipulation or threats" into sterilization, while "others were simply not consulted before the procedure."

The report also recommends:

  • Requiring that medical associations, professional governing and licensing bodies denounce forced and coerced sterilization.
  • Having the federal government, led by survivors, develop a compensation framework for survivors.
  • Ensuring data on the practice is collected nationally and mechanisms are in place to investigate and respond to complaints.
  • Requiring that all medical and nursing school students study Indigenous health issues.
  • Launching a federal education campaign about patients' rights tailored to the groups most affected by sterilization.
  • Increasing investments in community-based midwifery in northern and remote communities. 
  • Increasing the number of Indigenous health care providers while providing cultural competency training for health care professionals of all backgrounds.

The report also says a parliamentary committee should continue to study the issue and monitor efforts by the federal government to address the recommendations in the report.

"Forced and coerced sterilization is unfortunately an inhumane practice rooted in racism and conscious or unconscious biases. It demonstrates, once again, the perception of a superior colonial view according to a preconceived way of life, which continues to devalue the life of Indigenous peoples," said Sen. Michèle Audette, a former member of the committee.

The office of Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller issued a statement after the report was published that did not mention the legislation proposed by Sen. Boyer. It pledged to review the report's recommendations and work to address discrimination in the health system.

"This is a serious matter that requires the collaboration of all orders of government, and health and social system professionals, to ensure health services are safe for all Indigenous women," the statement says.


Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.

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