A Bill before the Senate aims to amend the Criminal Code to include forced or coerced sterilization.

Recent alleged cases involving Saskatchewan Indigenous women are prompting the legislative changes.

Sylvia Tuckanow had just given birth to a healthy baby boy in July 2001 at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon. Shortly after active labour, Tuckanow accused hospital staff of wheeling her into an operating room.

“I didn’t know exactly what I was objecting to at the time. But I had a terrible feeling because no one had talked to me about what was going on. I felt terror and fear as I was taken into that room,” she recalls. “During this I kept saying no, I don’t want to do this and crying uncontrollably. But nobody listened to me. I was completely ignored by everyone in that room.”

A proposed class-action lawsuit has been proposed over forced sterilization or tubal ligations. Melika Popp is the lead plaintiff. She alleges she too was sterilized against her will at Royal University Hospital in 2008.

“I was interrogated, shamed, subjected to systemic racial profiling, harassment, and was further marginalized and violated when I was forcibly sterilized. I was told that the procedure was reversible, and that I didn’t want to be in this kind of situation again,” she told Senators. “There are no words to describe the violation and powerlessness of having your cultural identity as a woman essentially sterilized. Such an inhumane brutal act can only be compared to being gutted wholly alive.”

Both the Canadian Medical Association and the Naive Women’s Association are in favour of the Senate Bill.

“The introduction of Bill S-250, aimed at amending the Criminal Code to criminalize sterilization procedures performed without  free and informed consent, represents a commendable and crucial step towards remedying this long-standing justice,” explained Dr. Kathleen Ross, President of the Canadian Medical Association.

In a 2017 external report prepared for the then Saskatoon Health Region there was concern that some women were coerced into sterilization. The report made ten recommendations including a revised policy over tubal ligation or sterilization procedures.

Despite the heightened awareness in Saskatchewan to this controversy, an allegation surfaced in 2019 of an alleged coerced sterilization in December 2018 of an Indigenous woman at the Moose Jaw hospital.

“Its a travesty that this Bill is necessary, and its imperative its is enacted,” said Sarah Niman, legal counsel for the Native Women’s Association of Canada. “This Bill honours the survivors and the next generation of Indigenous children, by acknowledging those who sterilized Indigenous women through force or coercion are criminals and cogs in colonial machinery.”

Once the legislation clears the Senate, it must still go through Parliament before becoming law.

(Photo of Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.)