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Canada Ontario senator calls on federal government to fund crisis line for victims of coerced sterilization

The federal government should immediately fund a crisis line for victims of coerced and forced sterilizations to ensure traumatized women can get assistance, says Ontario Sen. Yvonne Boyer, adding an outside organization must run it.

Boyer said her Senate office has received numerous calls and e-mails from victims who have suffered unwanted tubal ligations and are now seeking help. She’s also been approached directly during recent travels, such as after delivering a speech on the issue in northern Manitoba.

Boyer says she wants to direct victims to appropriate supports that she can’t provide. She listens to them but that’s about all she can do.

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“I am a senator; I’m not a counsellor,” she said. “I’m trying to put a stop to coerced and forced sterilization and I keep hearing about women who have been coerced as recently as December 2018.”

Last month, the Saskatchewan Health Authority said it was investigating that late-2018 complaint from an Indigenous woman who alleged she was coerced into a sterilization after giving birth.

While testifying before a Senate committee as part of its study of the issue, lawyer Alisa Lombard said her client – referred to as “D.D.S.” – was scheduled to have a Caesarean section to deliver her third child at the Moose Jaw, Sask. hospital.

D.D.S. believed she had “no choice” but to sign a consent form moments after receiving an epidural, Lombard said.

“She knew nothing of the risks, nothing of the consequences and nothing of the other birth-control options available to her because the doctor never disclosed them,” she said.

Lombard has said she’s heard from more than 100 women from Saskatchewan, as well as Manitoba, Ontario and Alberta, who allege they have been coerced or forced into sterilizations against their will. When it’s appropriate, Boyer will send callers to her.

A class-action lawsuit is under way naming the Saskatoon Health Authority, the Saskatchewan government, the federal government and a handful of medical professionals as defendants. It was launched in 2017 by two women, each claiming $7 million in damages.

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Last week, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan told the Senate it was “deeply troubling” such a human-rights violation could happen in Canada.

“We will continue to work to ensure access to safe and culturally appropriate health services for all Indigenous women,” he said. The federal government has formed a working group on culturally appropriate health services involving representatives from the provinces, though Quebec has opted out.

Putting an end to coerced sterilizations of women is a matter of enforcing rules about consent, not improving cultural practices, Boyer said, adding government actions so far have not prevented the “devastating” practice from continuing to hurt women.

“The government is failing them, the hospitals are failing them, the health care professionals are failing them because nobody is really taking action quickly here,” she said.

“I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for the women and how terrifying it is for the women to go into the hospital to have a baby and think that you might come out never able to have children again. For me, it is absolutely unacceptable and it is a total failure.”

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