This fundraiser is to help my family seek accountability, justice, and healing for our daughter, who was the victim of a forced genital examination by a doctor when she was 7 years old, after we took her to a hospital in the Muskoka area when she complained of UTI symptoms.
Here are some news stories about this case:
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Our family has had an important legal victory. The Health Professions Appeal and Review Board has agreed with us that the College and Physicians and Surgeons did not adequately investigate our complaint against this doctor, because it failed to properly address our concerns that racial bias played a role in the doctor's actions, and to get any necessary expert assistance with understanding how racial bias and discrimination can impact health care for Indigenous people. This means that the College has to re-investigate our complaint, and make a new decision.
This victory is important for us, and for all Indigenous and other people who experience racism when seeking health care and who can now use this decision as a precedent if they decide to bring a complaint to the College. We hope that this decision will also make the College reflect on how it can better protect Indigenous people and others who experience racism.
We could not have achieved this without our legal counsel, and we will need her help with the important steps ahead. Please donate so we can keep going!
What happened to our daughter
We are an Indigenous family. In 2018, my husband and I brought our daughter in to see the doctor because she had UTI symptoms including burning urination. This was not unusual for her because she has an underlying medical condition that makes her more susceptible to UTIs. However, the doctor seemed to suspect abuse almost immediately.
Just minutes into the visit with her, the doctor asked me if our daughter was sexually abused or if there was fighting in our home. She asked me this in a busy hallway where other people could hear it, violating our privacy. I told her that there were no abuse concerns or problems in the home.
I felt intimidated and anxious at these questions and the suggestion that we were causing harm to our daughter. At this point the doctor had not even done a full medical history, an abdominal examination, or checked my daughter's urine test results despite me asking about this. She seemed to have done little to rule out or determine other causes for my daughter's symptoms.
The doctor then said she wanted to do a genital exam. My daughter was uncomfortable and did not want to have this examination done. We have always taught her that it is her right to say no to anyone touching her body, especially in her private areas. When our daughter said she did not want to be examined, it seemed to make the doctor even more suspicious.
The doctor told us she wanted to do the exam to look for a yeast infection, but I suspected and she later confirmed that she did the examination in part to look for signs of sexual abuse. She withheld this from us at the time.
The doctor pressured us for several minutes to cooperate with the examination, and my daughter resisted. She repeatedly said no, and clenched her legs closed. The doctor tried to push open her legs multiple times, and urged me to get her to cooperate. My daughter was laying on the hospital bed exposed from the waist down while this was happening, and the doctor did not give her any gown or blanket to cover herself.
The doctor finally did the examination at a moment when I was distracted and anxious, having just finished speaking with my husband at the door after she had yelled at him when he tried to come into the room. With the doctor's back to me as she leaned over my daughter, it looked like she was using her body weight to force my daughter's legs open to expose her genitals. I could hear my daughter saying no while this happened, and could see from her face that she was upset. The whole exam took less than ten seconds. The doctor has said that she only did a visual examination, but our daughter has told us that she felt the doctor touch her genitals.
The doctor found no signs of sexual abuse. She then became friendly for the first time in the visit, turning to speak to me. She ignored my daughter, who was laying on the hospital bed with her body clenched and her face red.
The doctor wrote a prescription for yeast infection cream and ended the visit. I still believed our daughter had a UTI, so I stopped the doctor and insisted once again that she check the urine test. The doctor finally checked it, and confirmed that our daughter did have a bad UTI which was the cause of her symptoms and needed to be treated with antibiotics. If I had not done this, my daughter's infection could have gotten worse and led to more serious complications. At our pharmacist's recommendation we did not even use the yeast infection cream, and we believe that our daughter never had a yeast infection at all because the antibiotics cleared up her symptoms.
After this doctor's visit, my daughter and I were in shock at what had happened. On the drive home she was very quiet, and I cried. This experience has impacted us to this day.
The doctor has said that she believed I gave "implied consent" to the exam because I did not directly oppose it and at times I tried to normalize it for my daughter by, for example, helping her take off her pants. I did not consent to this examination, because I believed it was my daughter's right to say yes or no. However, I felt huge pressure to encourage my daughter to say yes, because the doctor was suspicious and I had become terrified that the doctor would call children's aid or the police if she did not get to do this exam. I have a background in social work and work with Indigenous families, and I know that children's aid discriminates against Indigenous people and endangers our children. We knew there was a good chance that if it was our word against a white woman doctor's, they would believe the doctor.
What happened was wrong
We know that what this doctor did was not in accordance with proper practices for conducting genital examinations on children. The doctor had no right to do a genital examination against my daughter's will, or to disregard her wishes just because she is a child. Neither we or our daughter ever consented to this examination. You do not violate a child to determine whether someone else has violated her.
We are very concerned that the way the doctor treated us was driven by racial profiling based on stereotypes about Indigenous people, including that we abuse our children. I had never before experienced this kind of questioning or forced examination with our other children during visits for UTIs. The doctor has claimed that doing this kind of abuse screening is her standard practice for every child with painful urination. We do not believe this, but if it is true then we are very concerned at the harm she may be doing to other people if she treats them like she treated us. A child and family should not have to go through this just to get care for a very common medical condition.
Our daughter was traumatized and very upset by this experience, and she has not been the same since. She used to be bubbly, affectionate, and open, and now she is more withdrawn, quiet, and reluctant to be touched and even to hug people. After it happened, her anxiety increased, she stopped eating properly and lost a lot of weight, and she would get nightmares. It also harmed her relationships with us and with doctors. The next time she got a UTI, she was afraid to go back to the doctor and she said she "didn't want to go through that again."
We are devastated about this violation of her body, spirit, and sexual integrity, and that we did not feel able to protect her in the moment because of the threat of children's aid. We are also angry at how the doctor's actions have hurt our relationship with our daughter, who now doesn't have the same trust that we can keep her safe.
My daughter and I are intergenerational residential school survivors, and this violation of our family feels like part of that same history of Indigenous children and families being harmed by racist assumptions and interference by people who think they know best.
Why we need help now
We want justice and accountability now, both to protect others and to get resources to help our daughter heal.
We brought two legal complaints - a regulatory complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario regarding what we believe was serious professional misconduct by the doctor, and a human rights complaint asserting racial discrimination. We are currently seeking review of how our regulatory complaint was investigated and decided, as we believe that the College made many errors including failing to interview our daughter about what happened, failing to gather available evidence related to racial bias, and failing to properly address our concerns about consent and discrimination. In its decision, the College even suggested that our child might just be "hard to examine", as if she was the problem and it was the doctor's right to do this intimate examination regardless of what she wanted. The College decided not to send our complaint to be considered by its Discipline Committee. (**See our update at the top regarding our legal victory with this review!**)
We have done as much as we can on our own since 2018, but it has been very stressful for us, and we are afraid that we will not be able to get justice for our daughter. The processes and law are confusing, inaccessible, and culturally inappropriate for us, and the doctor has high-priced lawyers who are subsidized by taxpayers through insurance. Our family is low income and we are raising four children. We cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, and we can't get Legal Aid. Even if we win our two complaints, we cannot be awarded any legal costs.
After appealing for help in January, we found a lawyer, Sarah Beamish, who specializes in working with Indigenous people. Our daughter feels comfortable with Sarah and feels safe to talk with her about what happened. This is very important to us because she finds it hard to trust adults now, and it is hard for her to talk about her experience.
Sarah saw the importance of the issues in our case, and wanted to help our family have a fairer chance to be heard. She has done an extraordinary amount of work without any payment while we try to find legal funding, but she cannot keep working for free. She deserves to be paid for what she is doing for us, and to be able to give this the time it needs. In addition to helping us with our two complaints, she also prepared an application and appeal for Jordan's Principle funding to help cover our legal expenses, but these were rejected by Indigenous Services Canada.
We really need help, and we are seeking at least $25,000 in funds to support expenses (legal fees, travel costs, HST and so on) for both processes, and other related costs. This won't be enough to cover all of the costs, but it will be a huge help and will allow us to keep going.
We are doing this for our daughter, to show her that she is sacred and valued, and to restore her trust that we will protect her and stand up for her. We are doing it to seek accountability and change, to achieve something meaningful out of this terrible experience. And we are doing it because we know our family's experience is part of a larger pattern of racism against Indigenous people in the health care system and racial profiling across our daily lives, and of our children and families being harmed by people in authority.
We are so grateful for your support. We ask for your donations, your prayers, and that you will share this story. All donations will be held in trust by our lawyer.
Nia'wenhko'wa, Chi Miigwetch, Oela'lin, Marsé and thank you!
**We would like to acknowledge the donors who have already contributed $700 through an earlier GoFundMe campaign. We have moved our fundraising to this page organized by our lawyer, to better protect our daughter's privacy.
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