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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

The ongoing genocide

BY Lyle Stewart Sep 3, 2023

It’s been 14 years since the federal government’s apology to Indigenous people for residential schools. A decade ago, the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was published. This year, Ottawa finally stopped fighting to deny its blatant discrimination against Indigenous children in the social welfare system and agreed to a final settlement to compensate them and their families.

Why, given this apparent progress, are Indigenous women still being forcibly sterilized in Canada?

There is a very strong argument that the elements in the first paragraph amount to cultural genocide. The facts in the second are tantamount to genocide, period. 

“This horrific practice is not confined to the past, but clearly is continuing today,” concluded last year’s Senate report titled “The Scars We Carry”. 

Saskatchewan Senator Yvonne Boyer, who is Métis, collects the scant data available on this issue. Despite the obstacles, Boyer says at least 12,000 women have been sterilized without their consent since the 1970s. There is no way to know how many were maimed in this way before then, but given the attitudes of the times, the numbers could surely be multiplied by a high factor.

“Whenever I speak to an Indigenous community, I am swamped with women telling me that forced sterilization happened to them,” Boyer told The Associated Press, the American news service.

Boyer told AP about being approached by a tearful Indigenous woman describing her forced sterilization. “It made my knees buckle to hear her story and to realize how common it was,” she said. “Nothing has changed legally or culturally in Canada to stop this.”

There are currently five class-action lawsuits in Canada over forced sterilizations that occurred in six provinces, including Quebec.

In November, according to the AP, a report documented nearly two dozen forced sterilizations in Quebec from 1980 to 2019, including one woman who said her doctor told her after bladder surgery that he had removed her uterus at the same time – without her consent.

The report concluded that Quebec doctors and nurses are “insistently questioning whether a First Nations or Inuit mother wants to [be sterilized] after the birth of her first child.” 

The kicker? These efforts appear “to be an existing practice in Quebec.”

Given this reality, that Premier François Legault continues to deny that systemic racism against First Nations and Inuit people exists in Quebec is evidence enough of its reality.

The Geneva Conventions describe forced sterilization as a type of genocide and crime against humanity. In 2018, the UN Committee Against Torture told Canada’s government that it was concerned about reports of forced sterilization. Five years ago. But it is still happening. 

Last spring, the Northwest Territories broke new ground by punishing a doctor for forcibly sterilizing an Indigenous woman, according to AP. The first time ever that this has happened in Canada. After decades and decades during which tens of thousands of Indigenous women were viciously assaulted to remove their ability to have children.

There are few horror movies that could invoke the crimes that continue to this day in Canada. There are fewer words that could adequately describe the level of this ongoing, genocidal crime against Indigenous people. 

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Lyle Stewart has been working as a journalist for over 30 years. He believes that information is the ultimate check on the abuse of power and that independent media outlets such as the Nation are crucial to democratic governance.