TORONTO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The coercive sterilization of indigenous women in Canadian health centers during the 1970s was more widespread than previously believed, with impoverished communities in the north disproportionately targeted, a researcher has found.
The Canadian government was often aware of the problem, but did not act to stop it, said Karen Stote, a women's studies professor at Waterloo, Ontario-based Wilfrid Laurier University who conducted archival research for a recently released study.
Historical documents do not say how many of the nearly 1,200 sterilization cases - including more than 550 at federally operated "Indian" hospitals between 1971 and 1974 - were undertaken by force or fraud, but evidence suggests coercion was widespread, Stote said.
"Consent forms (for sterilizations) were not translated into indigenous languages, people weren't necessarily understanding what was happening in the doctor's office," Stote told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"In some areas, they (doctors working for the government) were promoting birth control to reduce the size of indigenous communities," she said, calling the sterilizations a symptom of broader colonialism.
Stote's study "An Act of Genocide: Colonialism and Sterilization of Aboriginal Women" is not the first to document the practice, but her research suggests the problem was more widespread than previously thought.
Canada's Department of Aboriginal Affairs did not respond to interview requests.
Officials in the province of Alberta have apologized and paid compensation for past sterilization campaigns on people considered mentally challenged and other disadvantaged groups, including indigenous people.
The practice in most provinces was supposed to have ended in 1972, according to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Stote's research indicates that coerced sterilizations of indigenous people in parts of Canada continued until at least 1974.
Other sterilization campaigns in Canada were linked to eugenics, the idea of racial superiority and the need to reduce certain traits from the population.
Indigenous people were targeted under that framework, Stote said, but the government also wanted to reduce their population to lessen the state's responsibilities under treaties it had signed with indigenous groups.
Forced or coercive sterilization has been deemed a form of discrimination, violence against women, and a violation of basic human rights by the United Nations.
Reporting By Chris Arsenault, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org