Indigenous Racism in BC Health Care

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Indigenous Racism in BC Health Care

BC Health Minister Adrian Dix is investigating reports of anti-indigenous racism in the health care system. Indigenous leaders said there have been thousands of examples of this over the decades, many of which resutled in no medical services were offered because the person was assumed to be drunk. One example of this racism involved medical personnel  making the assumption that indigenous people are drunk and the playing of a game in which the medical personnel bet on what level of alchohol will be found in the blood of indigenous people.

Premier Horgan has called this an "outrage". The former BC Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond a member of the Cree First Nation who is well known for her "eviscerating reports into the child welfare system" reports in "advocating for children and youth" in her former role, will lead the investigation. 

The province is investigating reports of health-care staff playing a racist game betting on the blood alcohol level of mainly Indigenous patients they were treating, according to Health Minister Adrian Dix. “The allegation is that a game was being played to investigate the blood alcohol level of patients in the emergency rooms, in particular with Indigenous people and perhaps others. And if true, it is intolerable and racist and of course (has) affected profoundly patient care,” Dix told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver on Friday morning. ...

Dix said he learned of the “abhorrent” allegations the night before, and that no nurses or doctors have been disciplined as of yet. There are no details yet on how widespread the game has been, how many nurses and doctors have been involved, and where it’s been happening.

According to a statement from Métis Nation BC and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, a participant in a recent training session on Indigenous cultural safety, offered by the Provincial Health Services Authority, referred to a “common game played within B.C. hospital emergency rooms.” It was one of “thousands” of cases of racism that participants talked about during the online course, the organizations said. No other details were provided. First Nations, Métis and Inuit patients seeking emergency care are often assumed to be intoxicated and denied medical assessments, the statement went on. 

“There remains a lack of will to address systemic and specific racism towards Métis, First Nation and Inuit people,” said Leslie Varley, executive director of the Aboriginal Friendship Centres group. “We know that our people avoid hospitals because we are afraid of having a discriminatory encounter. This happens to the point where Indigenous people end up in emergency with extreme diagnosis, like cancer.” ...

Turpel-Lafond, known for her eviscerating reports into the child welfare system when she was the watchdog, said the province has assured her she’ll get full access and tools required for her investigation. “I will sort those details out next week and make a more complete statement of the scope, focus and timeframe for the work,” she said in a statement.

Premier John Horgan said he is outraged by “reports of ugly, anti-Indigenous, racist behaviour at multiple health-care facilities in B.C.” “There is no excuse. There is no explaining this away,” he said. “If confirmed, this is a heartbreaking example of systemic racism in our province.”

Cheryl Casimer with the B.C. First Nations Summit said was pleased by the choice of Turpel-Lafond to lead the probe. But she said the work to dismantle racist stereotypes about Indigenous peoples can’t wait for the investigation’s outcome. “I don’t think we necessarily have a lot of time to have a systemic overhaul to the healthcare sector in order for indigenous people to be able to go into an emergency room and be treated with respect,” she said. “A lot of people still think that Indigenous peoples are alcoholics and drunks.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he’d not heard of the game before Friday’s announcement, but that he was not surprised. ...

Leslie Varley, executive director with the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres says anti-Indigenous racism in the health-care system is nothing new. Varley worked with the Provincial Health Services Authority to develop the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training program for B.C. health-care workers in 2008. “We received thousands and thousands of examples of this and far worse cases of Indigenous-specific racism in the health care system,” she told CKNW’s Jill Bennett Show. ...

Varley alleged that despite data being provided to senior officials in the health-care system there was little stomach to address the issue. Incidents of racism, she said, are lumped in with medical errors and other patient quality care issues in health authority statistics. Varley said Indigenous patients who are the targets of racism and Indigenous bystanders are also often afraid to speak up.




The investigation into anti-indigenous racism in the health care system has come up with "countless examples" after less than a month in operation and an invitation by  lead investigator Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond for indigenous people to continue reporting such incidents. 

An investigation into allegations of anti-Indigenous racism in B.C.'s health-care system has already received countless responses, and Indigenous people are being encouraged to come forward to share their experiences.

"This investigation is not trying to determine whether racism exists in B.C.'s health-care system. It does exist, just as it does in every aspect of Canadian society," said lead investigator Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, adding the system "clearly needs work."

Turpel-Lafond, who previously served as B.C.'s representative for children and youth, was called in to investigate the allegations, and delivered an update Thursday. She announced a small team has been assembled to help with the investigation into a racist game allegedly being played in B.C. emergency rooms, behaviour she described as "egregious."

Indigenous people are being encouraged to fill out a surveyabout their experiences with the health-care system, and Turpel-Lafond said a preliminary report is expected in a few months. Health-care workers who have witnessed racism are also encouraged speak out and will not face incrimination in their workplace, she said. 

"This is an issue of urgent concern, this issue of racism and Indigenous-specific racism in the British Columbia health-care system," she said.

Those who have experienced or have knowledge of racism in the health-care system can share their information over the phone at 1-888-600-3078 or [email protected]

While not everyone will feel comfortable coming forward to share their stories, Turpel-Lafond said everyone who comes forward will be treated with "utmost confidence and respect."

"I want to assure all Indigenous people that you are safe to share the story with myself, my team," she said, adding that it is independent from government and there will be no retaliation for people who speak out. 

The investigative team will include people with clinical experience and knowledge of the health-care system, including former provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall. Members will also include those with experience in conducting complex investigations and data analysis.

"But it's also very important to note that in all of those areas, there are Indigenous people on my team, and they're Indigenous professionals," she said. "And that's important because safety and trust—to be able to work in this space—is a precondition."

The investigation will look at the specific allegations around the racist game, but will also examine issues around systemic racism in B.C.'s health-care system.

"I think it is very important to send a clear message that this is not a healthy and appropriate way to behave," she said.