Health region responds to proposed lawsuit, says it ‘respects’ Indigenous women’s right to legal action

The Saskatoon Health Region has issued a statement in the wake of a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging Indigenous women were coerced into undergoing tubal ligations.

The region reiterated Wednesday its commitment to following the recommendations listed in an external review into Indigenous women’s claims they were coerced into getting their tubes tied, and said it respects the women’s right to pursue legal action.

“We will continue on our journey to provide safe, respectful and compassionate care for women and their families, in collaboration with First Nations and Métis communities. We believe this work is critical to fostering respect and support for First Nations and Métis people,” a portion of the statement read.

“The class action lawsuit is a separate legal process which we recognize women are entitled to pursue, and Saskatoon Health Region respects their right to that process.”

The statement of claim was filed Oct. 5 in Saskatoon’s Queen’s Bench Court, about three months after the health region released the findings of the six-month external review.

Ten calls to action for the Saskatoon Health Region were included in the report. One included a call for mandatory culturally appropriate training and human rights workshops to address negative stereotypes of Indigenous women. Another called for Indigenous people to “become full partners in designing health services” in Saskatoon.

The region apologized, at the time the report was released, to the women who said they were coerced into undergoing sterilization. Its response Wednesday said the region would not be commenting on specifics of the proposed lawsuit.

A judge needs to sign off on the statement of claim before it moves forward as a class-action suit.

The lawsuit, if certified, would seek $7 million in damages per woman. Two women are listed as plaintiffs in the statement of claim, but more women in Saskatchewan could be included if the lawsuit is approved.

Tubal ligation is a procedure in which a woman’s fallopian tubes are clamped or severed. It is considered a permanent method of birth control, according to the Saskatoon Health Region.

“Most of the women interviewed did not understand that tubal ligation was permanent, thinking it was a form of birth control that could be reversed in the future,” the external review read. “Essentially all of the women interviewed felt that the health system had not served their needs, and they had felt powerless to do anything about it.”

One woman was quoted in the report: “At the time it was just… just his decision for me…. Just because he was a doctor, I listened.”

Another stated she was told: “We don’t want you to leave until the tubal is done.”

Most said the experience impacted their womanhood, their mental health, their self-worth and their relationships.

The statement of claim states the women’s charter rights, including their right to life, liberty and security and their right to receive health care free of discrimination, were breached. Other damages listed include future cost of care, punitive or exemplary damages, and general damages for “lost opportunity,” among others.

with files from Angelina Irinici

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