“My clients’ lives were upended,” the attorney directing the case told Rewire.News . “They’ve lost relationships, and they’ve come down quite hard on themselves. I really don’t think you can overstate the trauma.”
Shutterstock In 2001, a 29-year-old Cree woman, nicknamed S.A.T. in legal documents, went to the Royal University Hospital in Saskatchewan, Canada, to give birth to her sixth child. After she gave birth, she says, she was wheeled into an operating room to be sterilized. She says she desperately protested, but no one listened. To this day, she remembers “the smell of burning flesh” as her fallopian tubes were cauterized against her will in an irreversible birth control procedure.
This claim is laid out in a new class action lawsuit alleging widespread abuse of power by Saskatchewan health professionals and the violation of many indigenous women when they were at their most vulnerable.
If successful, the women in the lawsuit will each be entitled to millions of dollars of reparations from the Saskatchewan and Canadian governments and their health systems. While these women may only represent a fraction of the people negatively affected by forced sterilization in Canada, their lawsuit is recognition of the ubiquity of the practice—and its consequences.
Attorney Alisa Lombard is directing the lawsuit. She’s an associate at Maurice Law, Canada’s only indigenous-owned national law firm. Since news broke of the legal action last month, over 60 more women have contacted Lombard’s office, saying they were sterilized without their consent. In the seven days after CBC ’s November 13 article about the lawsuit, 29 women called or emailed her.
The women were mostly from Saskatchewan, but also from Ontario and Manitoba. They reported similar experiences of being coerced into signing consent forms and being misled about the irreversible nature of the procedure. The stories go back decades; one is as recent as 2017. Most of the sterilizations happened in the hectic time directly after the women gave birth. In some cases, women were denied access to their newborn babies unless they agreed to the procedure.
The class action currently has two representative plaintiffs , and when certified, dozens more may be added. “My clients’ lives were upended,” Lombard told Rewire.News . “They’ve lost relationships, and they’ve come down quite hard on themselves. I really don’t think you can overstate the trauma.”
The lawsuit is aimed at three specific doctors, the Saskatchewan and Athabasca Health Authorities and their health professionals, the province of Saskatchewan, and the Canadian federal government. The charges include battery of a sexual nature, negligence, breach of contract and fiduciary obligations, violation of the right to life, cruel and unusual treatment, and the violation of the right to freedom of conscience, belief, and religion.
The lawsuit was launched about six months after a 2017 report exposed the pervasive forced sterilization of indigenous women in Saskatchewan hospitals. The report, an independent review commissioned by the Saskatoon Health Region, shares stories of seven indigenous women who were pressured into a tubal ligation , a permanent form of birth control in which the fallopian tubes are cut, burned, or tied in an irreversible procedure. The women say they were sterilized against their will, usually in the hectic and fraught period directly after giving birth.
The women in the report, anonymous to the public, shared similar stories to those of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs—full of feelings of confusion, distress, and shame. They said they felt harassed by health-care workers to agree to the procedure, which they didn’t know much about, and they were told it was for their health.
“When [I was] in for C-section, the nurse came to [get] me to sign the paper […]
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