Cree woman alleges discrimination in lawsuit after newborn dies in Edmonton hospital

EDMONTON — An Indigenous woman has filed a lawsuit against the operator of an Edmonton hospital alleging she faced discrimination and neglect by staff when she delivered her daughter, who died soon after birth.

Pearl Gambler gave birth prematurely in June 2020 to Sakihitowin Azaya Gambler at the Misericordia Hospital in west Edmonton, said a statement of claim filedin Court of King's Bench in June. The suit said she went to the hospital after suffering cramps and that she consented under duress to a vaginal exam, causing an "immense amount of pain."

Soon after, Pearl Gambler experienced intense contractions and repeatedly called to nursing staff for assistance, but no staff attended to her except for a male nurse who stood in the corner and watched her, the lawsuit said.

Gambler gave birth in the emergency department without any nursing care or a physician being called and the infant later died in a basket at the nursing station without a record of the time of death, said the document.

The suit said that while Gambler was hemorrhaging after the birth, a hospital staff member referred to the dead infant as a "specimen" and asked Gambler what she wanted to do with it.

"Not only was I not treated as an equal human being, but my daughter, who was born alive, was denied her very existence as the hospital continues to refuse to provide a time of birth, a time of death or acknowledge her live birth," said Gambler in a media statement Thursday.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. Covenant Health, a Catholic health-care provider that operates the hospital, has not filed a statement of defence.

Covenant Health said in an emailed statement that it is reviewing the allegations and takes claims of racism and discrimination very seriously.

Gambler, a member of Bigstone Cree Nation north of Edmonton, in Treaty 8, has two other children and works for the nation's health department.

Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey said the organization has been trying to support Gambler since the death of her baby, and she was ready to tell her story.

He said cases like Gambler's happen far too often.

"What happened to Pearl and her daughter proves that Indigenous lives continue to be less important than others in Alberta's health-care system," said Noskey in a media statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Angela Amato, The Canadian Press