Indigenous children as young as 9 were forced to get IUDs. Image by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
A Vancouver lawyer has alleged that social workers in British Columbia have been forcing Indigenous children as young as 9 to have IUDs inserted by doctors.
Breen Ouellette, who is Métis and once served as counsel for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, said on Twitter last week he learned of incidents within the past decade in which Indigenous children in foster care were forced to get IUDs instead of access to safer care.
“In what reality does a social worker believe the appropriate response to a nine year old in foster care who is at risk of statutory rape is not to protect them, but to force that child to be subjected to an IUD insertion?” Ouellette wrote.
When contacted by VICE World News, Ouellette said he could not offer any further information about the victim or victims of the practice he outlined because they are not yet ready to speak out about their experiences.
“The tweet was not intended to go viral. It was not intended to attract media attention. It was just a moment of frustration,” he said.
“The people that I’m speaking with are not at a stage where they’re willing to go public themselves, and so the amount of information that I can provide to you is extremely limited.”
In a joint statement, the B.C. Ministry of Health and Ministry of Children and Family Development said neither were aware of this practice happening in B.C., but they encouraged anyone with information about these allegations to make a report through the province’s new anti-racism reporting portal.
The province’s Representative for Children and Youth, Jennifer Charlesworth, said in a statement sent to VICE World News reports of such incidents have not reached her office. “I am shocked by this allegation and deeply concerned about the traumatic impact such an experience would have on a child or youth,” she said, adding her office will be following up and seeking further information.
For Ouellette, promises of investigations ring hollow after what he witnessed as counsel for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls roughly three years ago.
"Women were coming forward with allegations in 2018 that they’d been sterilized coercively,” Ouellette said. “They've been told that after giving birth in hospitals, if they didn't agree to sterilization right there on the spot, that they’d have their children taken away and put in foster care.”
Yet, he says there have been no criminal charges, licence suspensions, or professional consequences for the doctors involved.
“There have been accusations of genocide by a federal independent commission appointed by the federal government itself,” he said, referring to the final report resulting from the inquiry, a part of which states forced sterilization of Indigenous women was happening as recently as 2019.
“We don’t see any action on that. So it’s frustrating to see all these promises, but there’s a long and recent history of nothing actually being done.”
In his recent allegations, Ouellette points to social workers as perpetrators of forced sterilization when it comes to Indigenous children in foster care—a number that far exceeds non-Indigenous children in care.
According to Michael Crawford, president of the BC Association of Social Workers, not every social worker in the province is required to register with the industry’s regulatory college.
This means there’s no universal code of ethics, uniform education requirement, or set standards for disciplinary action, like there are for physicians, occupational therapists, and others.
Unlike in some other provinces, social workers who work for the B.C. government, a municipality, treaty First Nation, and some other sectors are not required to register with the BC College of Social Workers. The only oversight comes from their employer.
“When this Vancouver-based lawyer says social workers did a certain thing, we have no guarantee that the people that are being referred to are actually social workers, because social worker is not a protected title in British Columbia,” said Crawford.
“You can’t run around and call yourself a psychologist or physician or surgeon, etc. because those titles are all protected in British Columbia. Social work is not.”
The unwillingness from the Ministry of Children and Family Development to require all social workers to be registered with an oversight body is something Crawford calls “bizarre” and what his association has been fighting to change for years.
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