VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — An allegation that Indigenous girls in B.C. — some younger than 10 years old — have been forced to have IUDs inserted by doctors is shocking to the province’s child welfare watchdog.
Breen Ouellette, a Vancouver-based Métis lawyer, made the claim on Twitter Friday.
“I was informed today that social workers in BC have forced Indigenous children under the age of 10 to have IUDs inserted by doctors. Within the last decade. Then they failed to ensure these children have follow-up care,” he wrote.
In a subsequent tweet, Ouellette says at least one girl had an IUD inserted as a way to prevent possible pregnancy because she was at risk of being raped in foster care. Oullette also says he will not provide the names of the alleged victims without consent but rather “will try to find safe ways to help them speak.”
NEWS 1130 has contacted Ouellette who says he is not in a position to comment further.
B.C.'s Rep. for Children & Youth tells me "I am shocked by this allegation & deeply concerned about the traumatic impact such an experience would have on a child."
Health ministry: allegations are "disturbing"
Grand Chief Phillip says allegations new to him.
— Martin MacMahon (@martinmacmahon) May 22, 2021
B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, Jennifer Charlesworth, says her office has not received reports of social workers coercing or forcing Indigenous children or youth to have IUDs inserted, but that she will be following up.
“I am shocked by this allegation and deeply concerned about the traumatic impact such an experience would have on a child or youth,” she writes in a statement.
Charlesworth notes this practice would violate not only provincial law, but several international treaties such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In B.C., children have the right to not only get medical care when they need it, but to be informed of their rights and provide informed consent — given they have the capacity to do so.
If a child cannot consent — which Charlesworth says could well be the case for kids under 10 — the caregiver and healthcare provider make the decision on the child’s behalf, but must “ensure their best interests are upheld.”
NEWS 1130 has reached out to the Ministry of Children and Family Development — which oversees foster care and is responsible for responding to reports of child abuse or neglect — for comment. It forwarded the request to the Ministry of Health.
A spokesperson for the health ministry calls the allegations Oullette has made “disturbing.”
“The Ministry of Health is not aware of this practice happening in B.C.,” says a spokesperson in a statement, adding anyone with information about the allegations can report it. Reports can be made to a phone line or email address set up when B.C. was reviewing anti-Indigenous racism in B.C.’s healthcare system.
Reached by phone, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip told NEWS 1130 allegations of this nature have not been brought to the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada
In 2018, Oullette served as council for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. He resigned that role, saying he had lost confidence in the commission.
“I cannot remain part of a process which is speeding toward failure,” he said at the time.
The Inquiry’s final report includes a section on the forced sterilization of Indigenous women and girls, noting preventing women from having children “was viewed as a way to eventually eliminate the Indigenous population entirely.”
British Columbia and Alberta were the only two provinces that passed legislation explicitly allowing people to be sterilized by the state. Those laws were repealed in the 1970s.
“However, Indigenous women across the country tell stories of ‘coerced sterilization’ that continues even today,” the 2019 report says.
In Saskatchewan, there was never a law allowing sterilization without consent. However, the Inquiry’s report notes that province is facing a class action lawsuit from women claiming they were coerced into getting tubal ligation as recently as 2014. That lawsuit was launched in 2017 after an external review commissioned by the Saskatoon Regional Health Authority described the experiences of 16 women who were coerced in the city’s hospitals while they were there delivering babies. A similar lawsuit has since been launched in Alberta.
According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, coercive tactics include being led to believe the procedure is reversible, and threats of child apprehension if they do not agree.
In 2018, a rapporteur with the United Nations said forced sterilization must be seen as equivalent to torture, and urged Canada to “adopt legislative and policy measures to prevent and criminalize the forced or coerced involuntary sterilization of women.”
With files from The Canadian Press