MONTREAL – There have been at least 22 cases of forced sterilization of First Nations and Inuit women in Quebec since 1980, concludes an academic study published Thursday.
The study, from the University of Quebec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, says it is the first of its kind to document the forced sterilization of First Nations and Inuit women in the province, adding that the results show that there is an “obvious presence” of systemic racism in Quebec.
“I know my sister has been through this,” said one participant quoted in the study. “She died of uterine cancer in 2014. We were told she was going to have a tonsillectomy, and when she came back we found she had a tubal ligation.
“She never talked about it. We talked right after she got back, and I was trying to cheer her up or make her laugh. I said, ‘Well, you must have had a bad doctor. Your tonsils are here and your fallopian tubes are over there.
The study authors noted that several of the 35 participants did not realize they had been sterilized until years later when they sought treatment for fertility issues. The majority of women in the study were forcibly sterilized while in hospital giving birth. Others, however, have been sterilized after being admitted to care for procedures unrelated to fertility or their reproductive system.
The majority of women in the study did not sign consent forms for sterilization, and those who did said the information they received from medical personnel was unclear about the sterilization. impact of the procedures on their future ability to have children.
“No, he didn’t tell me anything,” said another participant, referring to the doctor. “He just said, ‘It would be better if you had a tubal ligation. You wouldn’t have any more children. You’ve had two, and that’s enough. That’s what he told me.
Of the 35 study participants, nine underwent forced hysterectomy or tubal ligation – a procedure that permanently blocks, cuts or removes the fallopian tubes, preventing egg fertilization. Thirteen participants said they had undergone tubal ligation or hysterectomy and were also exposed to “obstetric violence,” which the study describes as discriminatory acts, attitudes or remarks by health care workers. Three participants reported forced abortions.
Many patients in the study said they were unaware that tubal litigation is permanent. They said they lacked information about the risks and consequences of the operation. The participants believed that it was a reversible contraceptive method and that it was possible to “untie” their tubes or “reverse” the tubal ligation when they wanted to have a child again.
The most recent case of forced sterilization on a First Nations or Inuit woman was in 2019, according to the study.
Quebec politicians were forced to tackle issues of racism in the health care system in 2020, when Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven, died in a hospital north of Montreal after being filmed as medical staff hurled racist remarks at her. The video circulated widely on social media and shocked the province.
And while the Quebec government has acknowledged that there is racism in the health care system and in the province, neither Premier Francois Legault nor members of his caucus will publicly use the term “systemic racism.”
The study, published Thursday but dated September, is titled “Free and Informed Consent and Coerced Sterilizations among First Nations and Inuit Women in Quebec.” Its main author, Professor Suzy Basile, holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Women’s Issues at the University of Quebec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. The report was produced jointly with the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission.
Among the report’s recommendations is a call on the College of Physicians of Quebec to immediately end the practice of forced sterilization. It also requires action by the provincial and federal governments.
In an email, the college of physicians declined a request for an interview, but spokesperson Leslie Labranche said no examination or medical procedure can be performed on a patient without their free and informed consent.
“As we did last year following a media report regarding non-consensual sterilizations, we will again remind physicians of free and informed consent. We must never again perform this procedure on women without their consent.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 24, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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