RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Indigenous women in Canada are being coerced into getting sterilized. That's according to a class-action lawsuit of 60 women in Saskatchewan. Alisa Lombard is representing the women in the lawsuit, and I spoke with her about the case.
Thanks so much for being with us.
ALISA LOMBARD: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Can you just start off describing the class-action lawsuit? This is against the Saskatchewan province health system. What are you alleging here?
LOMBARD: The basis for the suit arised (ph) from various Indigenous women having reported to us that they had gone into publicly funded administered hospitals in Saskatchewan to have their babies. And while they were in the throes of labor, they would be approached, pressured, harassed to sign consent forms in some cases. In other cases, there was no such signing of a consent form. And in yet other cases, they would revoke consent either on the operating table or shortly after they had actually signed. And so they would leave essentially, after having given birth, incapable of giving birth ever again.
MARTIN: I mean, people will hear this and rightfully think this is just absolutely outrageous that this could be happening. What is the reason? I mean, how has this been able to happen?
LOMBARD: When Indigenous women go in for these health care services and reproductive health care services in the most vulnerable state, I think, a woman can be - having gone through childbirth myself, I can say that this is not the time to have a conversation about whether you ever want to do that again. There are other better times. And so why it happens in one simple word, I think we can just say discrimination - racism, quite plainly.
MARTIN: And this is specific to Indigenous women, right? It says when they go into a hospital, they've got an ID card that identifies them that way.
LOMBARD: Yes. We've been contacted only by Indigenous women thus far with the exception of a few non-Indigenous women who called us to report that they had witnessed the coersion of either their roommate in a shared hospital room into this procedure. We did uncover in all of this that Saskatchewan health cards - next to the designation that says family or beneficiary number, there is an embossed R. And that R, we've come to understand, is a historic practice that indicates that the cardholder is a registered Indian, to use the terms of the Indian Act.
MARTIN: Is it against Canadian law to forcibly sterilize someone?
LOMBARD: Well, I would say in the civil realm, without a question. From a human rights perspective, there is no question. From a medical malpractice perspective, absolutely, certainly.
MARTIN: But have these doctors been - I mean, if you know - you said you don't know all of them, but you know the identities of some of them. Why haven't criminal charges been brought against them?
LOMBARD: It's not a criminal offense.
MARTIN: These doctors are government-paid employees because of Canada's public health system. Has the government weighed in on this at all?
LOMBARD: They're defendants in the action.
MARTIN: And even when the press reports, though, came out about this, did any government official come out with a public statement decrying this?
LOMBARD: The health region issued, I would say, a very tearful public apology to the women who had experienced this. It was not, to my knowledge and to my clients' knowledge, followed up by any concrete action. And what I find the most troubling is that there is an acknowledgement of the wrongheadedness of the practice but a failure to take any concrete steps to prevent it.
MARTIN: Alisa Lombard - she is representing 60 women in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan who claim that they have been victims of forced sterilization. Thank you so much for talking with us.
LOMBARD: Thank you for having me.
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