Follow Us! Like Our Page!

Imposed sterilizations: Revealing the hidden truth

Press Release

Many people are uninformed about imposed sterilization and are perplexed by this practice and the degree of violence it entails. However, to this day, Indigenous women continue to see their rights severely violated in the context of gynecology and obstetrics care. To learn more about imposed sterilizations among First Nations women, Suzy Basile and Patricia Bouchard, respectively professor and doctoral student at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue and authors of the first report on imposed sterilizations in Quebec, kindly answered some of our questions.

In a few sentences, can you explain what imposed sterilization is?

Imposed sterilization refers to a medical procedure that permanently compromises a woman’s fertility, in this case the ligation of the fallopian tubes or a hysterectomy (referred to as la grande opération [the big operation] in French). The situations we’re interested in involve Indigenous women who did not provide their free and informed consent, either because they were not given sufficient information about the procedure and its outcome, or because the surgery was done without their knowledge.

The Phase I report on the imposed sterilization research project was published in November 2022. Can you summarize the results and name a few findings from this first phase?

Thirty-five people took part in Phase I, which made it possible to document this phenomenon for one of the first times in Quebec. Several cases were reported in interviews, including incidents of obstetric violence, imposed abortions, and multiple violations of First Nations and Inuit women’s right to free and informed consent in the context of childbirth. Looking at the testimonies as a whole, there are many commonalities between these events, even though they took place in different administrative regions and several years apart. The violence that Indigenous women experience while receiving gynecological and obstetrical care in Quebec is therefore ongoing and recurrent.

What is Phase II of the imposed sterilization research project? What is its purpose?

After the report was published, many women recognized themselves in the situations described by the participants and wanted to add their voices. It’s therefore important for the team to meet with them to give them an opportunity to share their stories. Also, Phase I took place during the pandemic, so we couldn’t conduct in-person interviews and visit communities. Since this is a sensitive topic, some people weren’t comfortable sharing this sad part of their lives on Zoom or over the phone. Now that the pandemic restrictions have been lifted, we were able to visit several communities this summer and are continuing to do so this fall. Phase II also documents additional topics, such as imposed abortions, birth alerts, and possible blood tests on newborns.

Can you explain how the working group set up by the College of Physicians is contributing to this research?

The creation of a think tank on the termination of pregnancies and imposed sterilizations among First Nations and Inuit women in Quebec was one of the 31 recommendations made in the report. The College of Physicians quickly took note of this and brought together some of its members, First Nations representatives and researchers to continue the reflection and deploy a concrete action plan. The working group’s mandate is expected to end in December 2023 with the presentation of measures that will be put in place by the College of Physicians to ensure that there are no longer any imposed abortions and sterilizations in Quebec.

What are the long-term effects of imposed sterilizations on First Nations communities?

The repercussions are profound and multifaceted, starting with the victim of such an act, her family and her community. These acts of violence create a significant shock wave that causes dismay and incomprehension. Harming a woman’s fertility has serious consequences on her self-esteem, femininity, conjugal relationship, and trust in health and social service professionals, among other things. In addition, there are sometimes significant health issues, such as pain and early menopause with unpleasant symptoms.

What lessons can be drawn from these terrible events to prevent such practices from happening again in the future?

On the one hand, imposed sterilization is a phenomenon that can be studied from a historical perspective in many countries around the world. Yet in Canada, this severe violation of fundamental rights must be studied from two perspectives: in the past and in the present. The most recent case of imposed sterilization reported to us in Quebec occurred in 2019, which means that action must be taken here and now to prevent other Indigenous women from undergoing sterilization without their consent. The 31 recommendations made in the report are supported by other studies, as well as by the findings of various commissions of inquiry. They relate to education, prevention, sanctions and the documentation of the phenomenon. Each of these is a building block ensuring that imposed sterilization truly becomes a thing of the past in Quebec.

What is the impact of this research to date?

At this point, it has been 11 months since the report was made public, and there have been several noteworthy consequences:

  • A College of Physicians think tank was put in place;
  • Several university courses and programs refer to it;
  • An article on medical colonialism was published in the international journal The Lancet;
  • We were invited to participate in a national inquiry on the subject in Greenland;
  • Bill S-250, which seeks to criminalize imposed sterilization, is currently in second reading at the Canadian Senate;
  • A class action brought by women from the Atikamekw Nation who were sterilized at Joliette Hospital is underway;
  • Most importantly, First Nations women are better informed and more aware of their rights to good reproductive health.

Phase II of the research is expected to lead to a second report that will contribute to a better understanding of the issues faced by First Nations women in terms of consent and reproductive health. We are still collecting testimonies, so there is still time to share your story and your truth, which will be treated with respect and remain confidential.

For more information, click here. To participate in the research, please contact the following people:

Suzy Basile, Ph. D. Professor, School of Indigenous Studies Holder of the Canada Research Chair in Issues Relating to Indigenous Women Director of the Mikwatisiw Research Laboratory Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue

Patricia Bouchard, M. Sc. Project manager, trainer for Indigenous files and doctoral student Continuing Education Department, School of Indigenous Studies Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue


NationTalk Partners & Sponsors Learn More