No exemptions for aboriginals under new midwife law: Quebec

Health Minister Pauline Marois sees no reason why Bill 28, which seeks to regulate all non-medical birthing procedures in the province, should exclude Inuit and First Nations midwives


IQALUIT — A new provincial law governing midwifery in Quebec must not make exceptions for aboriginal women, provincial Health Minister Pauline Marois says.

Last week, during a debate over Bill 28 in Quebec’s National Assembly, Marois rejected the idea of a double standard for the province’s midwives. The bill is expected to be adopted as is before the National Assembly adjourns in mid-June.

Marois said that midwives shouldn’t be excluded from the new law when aboriginal women want to give birth “in conditions similar to those generally accepted by science throughout the world.”

Bill 28 will set up a new professional body for Quebec’s midwives whose members alone have the right to practise in the province. The Université de Trois-Rivières will offer a university-level program in midwifery that all future midwives must complete.

The Liberal native affairs critic, MNA Geoffrey Kelley, said that Bill 28 creates a monopoly for southern-trained midwives.

Overlooks the North

“The government isn’t even looking at the North,” Kelley said.

Inuit midwives at Puvirnituq’s Inuulitsivik Health Centre and the Inukjuak maternity unit study midwifery in their home communities and are locally certified to practice.

Bill 28 would recognize midwives already working in Nunavik, but not recognize any in training now or in the future.

According to Ontario’s law on midwifery, any aboriginal who offers her services as a midwife can use the title of “native midwife.” A centre near the Mohawk community in Brantford, Ontario, offers training for aboriginal midwives.

“For us to recognize any request for an exemption, someone needs to better explain why they want us to do it,” Marois said.

During the recent debate, Liberal members of the national assembly said that the law reveals a lack of sensitivity on the part of the Parti-Québécois government.

“Bill 28 contains a very serious and inexcusable oversight by the PQ government,” MNA Lawrence Bergman said. “There are no provisions for respecting and accommodating the traditions, customs and procedures of native women insofar as concerns the practice of midwifery.”

Kelley blasted the bill as an example of PQ insincerity.

“Again the government, despite its own policy and promises that it wants to form partnerships with native people, is refusing to act and respect its own word,” Kelley said. “If the government was serious about working with native people on the question of midwives they would have brought them to the table.”

Native status in question

Kelley pointed out that the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Womens’ Association and several communities have approached the government with concerns about the status of aboriginal midwives.

The next step for Bill 28 is a hearing before a parliamentary commission. Kelley said he plans to ask this commission to hear native groups concerned by the bill.

Michel Létourneau, MNA for Ungava, intends to discuss the issue of Inuit midwives with Marois. He said he was confident some way would be found to respect their practice.

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