A proposed class-action lawsuit accuses the British Columbia government of “sexism and genocide” over a decades-long practice of coercing Indigenous women into sterilization and abortions.
The lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court this week says the province had a law on the books sanctioning sterilizations for 40 years before it was repealed in 1973, though the procedures allegedly continued afterward.
The notice of civil claim says the practice had a “traumatic and destructive effect” that inflicted harm on Indigenous women and their communities and was aimed at “eradicating” their culture.
One lead plaintiff in the case says she was handed paperwork authorizing doctors to tie her tubes for no “valid medical reason” just moments before a caesarean section procedure in 1983 at a hospital in Campbell River.
The woman, now in her 60s, says she was left traumatized and untrusting of doctors after being sterilized without proper consent, racked with guilt about the child “she might have had” if not for the procedure.
The allegations in the lawsuit have not been proven in court and the province has yet to file a response to the claim.
The case was prepared by a pair of law firms, Cooper Regal in Alberta, and Murphy Battista in B.C.
In a statement announcing the lawsuit released shortly after filing, lead plaintiff Lorraine Davis said the case is about being heard after years of silence and holding the province accountable.
“It’s always difficult to speak truth to power but the province must acknowledge what happened to me and others,” Davis said. “Never again can this be allowed to happen.”
Stephanie Roy, another lead plaintiff in the case, said the lawsuit is about “basic human rights” and the need for people to know their province’s blighted history.
For years and years, silence has hurt me and so many others. My unborn child was taken away from me, against my will,” Roy said. “Now I am coming forward, to speak up.”
Lawyer Stephen Cooper said in the statement that the lawsuit highlights Canada’s “oppressive colonial approach to the Indigenous population.”
“Forced and coerced sterilization and abortion is yet another shameful chapter in Canada’s past attempts to subjugate and assimilate the First Peoples of this country,” Cooper said.
The class seeks certification by the court and damages for Charter violations.