Stories of forced sterilization of Inuit women in Quebec being gathered

‘Glaring’ lack of data with Quebec declining to take part in federal working group, says research lead

Quebec women who believe they have been sterilized without their consent or have experienced obstetric abuse are invited to share their stories as part of new data-gathering research. (File photo by Elaine Anselmi)

By Mélanie Ritchot

The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador is launching a research project into the coerced sterilization of First Nations and Inuit women in Quebec.

The organization is inviting women who think they may have been sterilized without their consent to come forward with their experiences, or a loved one’s story, with their permission.

“There is a glaring lack of relevant data on this topic in Quebec,” Suzy Basile, who leads the Canada Research Chair on Indigenous Women’s Issues at Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, said in a news release.

The story-gathering is being done by the university and the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission, along with other partners.

Reports of being sterilized without their full and informed consent have gained new prominence in recent years, with occurrences as recent as 2017.

Some stories included women being told they couldn’t see their newborns after birth until they had the procedure. Stories of abortion without consent also came to light.

The practice mostly happened between the 1920s and 1970s, but over 100 women have come forward with experiences occurring between the late 1970s and 2019.

In 2018, the United Nations Committee Against Torture demanded Canada take action to stop the coerced sterilizations.

The federal government created a working group in 2019 to look into the forced sterilization of Indigenous women. Quebec declined to take part because health is within provincial jurisdiction, stating it was having its own conversations about the topic.

“There is a glaring lack of relevant data on this topic in Quebec … it seemed essential to us to compile a portrait of the situation in order to better understand it and measure its impacts,” Basile said.

The new research on obstetric violence — meaning when women in labour are mistreated or coerced into procedures, like tubal ligations, against their will — aims to fill the gap in data on these incidents happening in the province, according to the release.

Ghislain Picard, chief of the assembly, said in the release, “colonization has legitimized violence of all kinds against us, First Nations women … these medical procedures were aimed at a slowdown in the First Nations birth rate and these decisions, sadly irrevocable, were imposed against the values of these women.”

“Today, I hope the wall of silence will be broken, because women will finally be listened to,” she said about the research.

First Nations and Inuit women in Quebec who believe they have been sterilized without consent or who have suffered obstetric violence can share their testimonial in a confidential, respectful and safe space until August 31, the release states.

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(15) Comments:

  1. Posted by UNGAVA on

    So many kids stuck in foster care in nunavik these days.

    • Posted by Tamatta on

      The legacy of the residential schools impacting to this day. Add on a number of horrible things such as this forced sterilization and many other things that will come to light, it amazes me how the people continue to try and be ok, with very little and the continued intolerance that Inuit and other indigenous people face today.
      We always hear the ignorance of “just get over it!” And this really does show their ignorance, more needs to be done and expose the atrocities done not so long ago and support the people better with more healing. Positive mental health care, language and culture programs.
      It’s been a short time, a generation away, it will take time for the ignorance to get less through better education and bringing these out of the closet.

      • Posted by One Day It Will Be History on

        The ignorance is very deep, not just on the non-Inuit side, that’s the thing.

        I hope one day that the Inuit pain is as far in the past and as historic as the traumas of the Acadians, the Chinese-Canadians, the Nisei, the Italian-Canadians, and other traumatized groups of Canadians among a few.

        • Posted by Long way to go on

          Still a very long way to go, there is still so much racism, still so much intolerance, still today some cannot or will not accept or even acknowledge what Inuit and the rest of the indigenous people are going through, until that can happen we will continue to live with this.
          The positive I see is that we are starting to show and open what has been done and is still being done, even with some who try to make it marginal, they are failing and we are showing it for what it is under our terms. We are showing this and it will be remembered throughout history.

          • Posted by Remembering Changes Over Time on

            Yes, as long as it doesn’t become an industry of self-pity and victim complex, which I fear, particularly with Inuit, it is becoming. There are influential people in the community who have tied their identity and their live

            I look to the Acadians as a model. Easily the most historically abused and maltreated ethnic group in all of Canadian history. They have managed to recover and protect their language and culture after the ethnic cleansing, and are now vibrant and resilient – remembering the past without a victim complex. I hope that one day Inuit society can move that way.

            • Posted by If you want to remember, what about the Beothuk? Or the topic of the article? on

              “I look to the Acadians as a model. Easily the most historically abused and maltreated ethnic group in all of Canadian history. ”
              Thanks for the chuckle… reminds me of how frequently Acadians tell me they are the same as my family being raped in residential schools and denied any access to justice forever because they were indigenous people.
              Since you seem so keen on trying to remember the mistreatment of Canadian ethnicities, what about the entirely-annihilated Beothuk who had some of their last survivors live in human zoos for Euro-Canadians to gawk at?
              or simply remembering that this is an article about widespread forced sterilization done by the government, an atrocity which never befell Acadians? I have Acadian friends but the way you want to use them as “Easily the most historically abused and maltreated ethnic group in all of Canadian history ” amounts to soft genocide denial by using them to flatten out and ignore the many atrocities wilfully perpetrated on real indigenous groups.
              Absolutely disgusting to see.

              • Posted by Inuk on

                Posted by If you want to remember

                You hit the nail on the head! Still so much ignorance and intolerance today and we see right through it with some of these comments that try to diminish or even turn a blind eye. Thank you for your comment and standing up for injustice and calling it out.

          • Posted by Complex on

            Your terms are fine, just don’t ignore the views of others, that will make you no better than the way you’ve described them. Many would say that many Inuit problems today are self-inflicted, and there is something to that.

            Ignorance is widespread, and history is multi-faceted and complex. Too often it is reduced to a very simplistic story.

  2. Posted by So Many… on

    So many people irresponsibly having kids that they can’t feed or house…a relationship between your observation and mine you think?

  3. Posted by why so late to investigate? we are in 2020’s maybe some Mothers are already dead? on

    why so late to investigate, what took this so long?
    Maybe some Mothers are dead now?

  4. Posted by Monica Connolly on

    In modern times, involuntary sterilization is quite clearly assault causing bodily harm. Period.

  5. Posted by Inna Kina on

    Forced sterilization also happened in Frobisher Bay in the 1960’s. I would hear women tell each other after that time that they thought there were sent to Montreal for a minor operation only to find out that they could not conceive anymore; including my late mother.

  6. Posted by Lazarusie Epoo is not impressed on

    Forced sterilization has nothing to do with bad parenting where kids end up in foster care. I would like to point out that often more times than not, children are not put into the situation where any child protective service needs to intervene. Some of these forced sterilizations were on the innocent. How can people justify violating a humans body with “well, just look at our foster system.” My god, you guys have no dignity. Hiding behind your little aliases. Come state that it’s ok to force sterilization to my face. I bet it’s little DYP workers propaganda to further slam Inuit into taking their kids away.

  7. Posted by Rhonda on

    Forced sterilization is a form of genocide. Genocide is an act of WAR! Every person that was involved in this should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, including under the Geneva Convention!! Simply gathering info does not cut it!! These women need JUSTICE!!

    • Posted by Tulugaq on

      Convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide (1951):
      Article II

      In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

      (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

      In other words, this is another element of the genocide Canada committed against Indigenous people. Canada being a party to the Rome Convention on the International Criminal Court, this case could possibly be submitted to the ICC.

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