Quebec court authorizes class action over alleged sterilization of Indigenous women

Quebec’s Superior Court has authorized a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Atikamekw women who say they were sterilized against their will.

Justice Lukasz Granosik green-lit the lawsuit on behalf of “all women of Atikamekw origin who have undergone surgery that has impaired their fertility without having given their free and informed consent since 1980.”

The lawsuit, dated Aug. 21, demands unspecified damages from two doctors – identified as R.M. and Y.B. – and from the estate of a third, M.T., all three of whom the plaintiffs say violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Quebec’s civil code.

livus, (edited )
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Additional context in this Windspeaker article from Dec 2022: Class action being pursued on coerced sterilization of First Nations, Inuit women in Quebec.

The lawsuit was originally against the hospital but the judge has only permitted it to be against the doctors.

Legal action is restricted to the single health authority because health services in Quebec must be sued individually.

The Joliette hospital is the same hospital that Joyce Echaquan, also an Atikamekw woman, died in in 2020. Echaquan streamed on Facebook the appalling racism she endured as she was mocked and insulted by female staff. A coroner’s inquest urged the Quebec government to recognize the existence of systemic racism and to make changes.

“The women who contacted us were all Atikamekw. Indigenous women who go to Joliette hospital are mainly Atikamekw,” said Lemay Langlois.

However, there are more than just Atikamekw women who have suffered forced sterilization, and more hospitals that have practised forced sterilization than just Joliette.

Last month, a report released by the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission (FNQLHSSC) and the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT) indicated that as many as 55 First Nations and Inuit women had suffered forced sterilization in hospitals in Quebec. The last case was in 2019.

Free and Informed consent: Imposed sterilizations among First Nations and Inuit Women in Quebec was released Nov. 24 after being presented at the chiefs table of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec and Labrador.

The report outlined 35 specific cases. Co-author Professor Suzy Basile, Canada’s Research Chair on Indigenous Women’s Issues at UQAT, said they were expecting to hear from 20 more women.

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From the article:

The lead plaintiffs, who are identified by the initials U.T. and M.X., are also putting some of the blame on an unnamed integrated health and social services centre, known in Quebec as a CISSS.

Identified only as CISSS A, the health authority is accused of having allowed, “by its actions or its negligence, that wrongful or criminal acts be perpetrated with complete impunity by doctors.”

The authorization states the two lead plaintiffs gave birth five times in hospital and that they were allegedly given tubal ligations after their fifth births.

U.T. denies having consented to the surgery, or even having been informed of it, while M.X. denies having consented in a “free and informed” manner, alleging undue pressure from the doctor.

The plaintiffs are claiming unspecified damages for women who allegedly underwent the procedures, as well as their partners, children and grandchildren, and heirs.

Judge Granosik wrote that the alleged actions of the doctors, if proven, “constitute a serious attack on fundamental rights and freedoms.”

“It is quite possible to argue that sterilizing a woman without her free and informed consent constitutes both a civil fault, an ethical fault, a criminal act and a violation of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.”

A university study released late last year found there have been at least 22 cases of forced sterilization of First Nations and Inuit women in Quebec since 1980. The researchers at Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue reported that several of the 35 study participants did not realize they had been sterilized until years after, when they sought treatment for fertility issues.

Others who had signed a form consenting to the procedures said the information they received from medical staff had not been clear about the procedures’ impact on their future ability to have children, the authors reported.

The allegations included in the class action have not been proven in court.

Quebec’s Health Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

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