Indigenous women kept from seeing their newborn babies until agreeing to sterilization, says lawyer

Alisa Lombard, a lawyer representing a proposed class action, detailed the women’s accounts of being sterilized without proper and informed consent.

“In the throes of labour … they [the women] would be approached, harassed, coerced into signing these consent forms,” said Alisa Lombard, an associate with Maurice Law, the first Indigenous-owned national law firm in Canada.

The women would be told that they could not leave until their tubes were tied, cut or cauterized, she added, or that “they could not see their baby until they agreed.”

At least 60 Indigenous women are pursuing a class-action lawsuit launched last year, alleging they underwent forced sterilizations over the past 20 to 25 years in Saskatchewan. Each woman is claiming about $7 million in damages.

In most of the cases — some happening as recently as 2017 — the “women report being told that the procedure was reversible,” Lombard said. 

She said the procedures, known as tubal ligation, have had a huge effect on the women.

“Many have had bouts and persistent depression, anxiety — many are no longer with us because of those ailments and those circumstances.”

In a statement to The Current following Tuesday’s broadcast, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott described forced sterilization as “a serious violation of human rights.”

“We all have a role to play to ensure that Indigenous patients receive quality healthcare free of prejudice, including ensuring medical professionals receive cultural safety training, as laid out in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action,” the statement continued. 

Lombard said the case is being taken against the physicians involved, the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the province of Saskatchewan and the Government of Canada.

The Current requested an interview with the Saskatoon Health Region and the Saskatchewan Health Authority, but did not receive a response.

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Photo: At least two women involved in the lawsuit were surgically sterilized after giving birth at the Royal University Hospital, which the Saskatoon Health Region oversees in Saskatoon (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)