Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale should use all “legitimate tools” at his disposal to ensure the RCMP investigates women’s allegations of forced or coerced sterilizations, says NDP MP Don Davies.
In a March letter to Davies, after he called for a criminal probe of coerced sterilizations, especially of Indigenous women, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said the force will work with commanding officers in each province and territory to see if any complaints have been reported and will reach out to other Canadian police agencies as well.
But, Lucki wrote, a preliminary review of the RCMP’s national database found no records of specific complaints to pursue.
So Davies has written to the minister who oversees the police force.
“As both the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness and a senior member of cabinet from Saskatchewan, the apparent epicentre of this practice, I urge you to prevent these crimes from being overlooked,” Davies wrote.
Davies was referring to a proposed class action launched in 2017, naming the Saskatoon Health Authority, the Saskatchewan government, the federal government and a handful of medical professionals as defendants. More than 100 women have come forward with allegations to a Saskatchewan-based law firm.
In his new letter, Davies wrote that he is disappointed by the RCMP’s response and “frankly, somewhat shocked,” given that multiple credible allegations of forced and coerced sterilizations have been made throughout Canada.
“These are clear crimes under Canadian law, and police should act when evidence of crime emerges regardless of whether a specific complaint has been lodged or not,” he wrote. “I therefore request that you use all legitimate tools at your disposal to ensure that the RCMP opens an investigation into all allegations of forced or coerced sterilizations within its jurisdiction in Canada and lay appropriate charges against those responsible for committing them.”
In response, Goodale’s office issued a statement on Thursday saying Canada is only beginning to grasp the extent of coerced and forced sterilizations that amount to a “serious violation of human rights.”
“The fact that the RCMP’s initial search did not turn up a single complaint to police speaks to how these acts have been overlooked,” said spokesperson Scott Bardsley. “We encourage anyone with specific criminal allegations to report them to the police of jurisdiction.”
Survivors may feel barriers to reporting to police, he added.
“We would welcome Mr. Davies’ collaboration to help explore any barriers so that they can be broken down,” Bardsley said.
Last week, lawyer Alisa Lombard told the Senate human-rights committee about a 30-year-old woman who alleges she was unwillingly sterilized in Moose Jaw, Sask., just last December.
“She wished to have more children, but was nonetheless sterilized immediately upon her newborn baby entering the world,” Lombard said.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority has announced it is investigating that specific complaint. In 2017, the authority publicly apologized after Indigenous women came forward to say they were coerced into tubal ligations.
Ontario Sen. Yvonne Boyer has said it is “absolutely shocking” that sterilizations are still being performed without free, prior and informed consent in Canada.
Prior to her appointment to the Senate, Boyer and Metis physician Dr. Judith Bartlett conducted an external review of complaints about coerced tubal ligations in the Saskatoon Health Region.
Last December, Canada was ordered by the United Nations Committee Against Torture to stop the “extensive forced or coerced sterilization” of Indigenous women and girls – a finding that prompted calls for additional federal action by human-rights groups and the federal NDP.