How many years?

Article 7  of Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act of 2000 defines crimes against humanity and includes “enforced sterilization.” The Act implements the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of 1998. SO… it might appear that involuntary sterilization only was recognized as a crime against humanity in relatively recent history. But actually, Canada agreed to uphold  Charter of the London Agreement along with in August of 1945, and under that Charter the Medical Trials convicted Nazi doctors of crimes against humanity as early as 1947 for the the involuntary sterilization of German citizens with intellectual disabilities. Nevertheless at least two Canadian Provinces continued to sterilize people with intellectual disabilities (an some without intellectual disabilities for another 25 years. Alberta repealed its sterilization law in 1972 and British Columbia in 1973.

How could we continue to act as if we were simply unaware of our international obligations to protect human rights? How could we continue to practice something that we had agreed was a serious crime under international law for so long?

Perhaps more importantly, was this product of that particular era and could we make the same kind of mistake today?

Well, it seems very possible that we are doing exactly that.  For the last 18 years Canada has been one of the many countries that has agreed to uphold the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention spells out the universal rights and requires Canada (and all other countries) to educate every citizen about  children’s rights under the convention. The very first right guaranteed to every child from the moment of birth is the right to survival. There is no exception for children with disabilities. In fact, the convention requires special protections for children with disabilities to ensure that they have full protection.  Parents have no greater right to “allow” their children with disabilities to die than they do to let their children without disabilities die.

According to the convention:


Article 2

1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.


Article 6

1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Nevertheless, in practice Canadian hospitals generally ignore their obligations under international law. For children with severe disabilities, the right of survival is not considered in most cases. If the physician and parents agree, life support is routinely withdrawn. 

The Montreal “wrongful life suit” (see CBC’s The Current for more info and audio segment) against a hospital ethics committee for advising that a child with a severe disability could not be killed by withdrawing hydration and nutrition because the child was not dying suggests that attempts to recognize the right of survival may be punished. 

If we are not amazed that we are ignoring international law by killing babies with disabilities more than 18 years after we agreed to the terms of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in human history, we should not be too surprised that we ignored the Charter of London Agreement and the trials it produced  for 25 years by continuing sterilizations. 

Well, I guess we still have six more years to go before we break our old record for ignoring international law. Anyone want to bet on whether anything will change in that time?

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