AN independent investigation into Indigenous-specific racism in British Columbia’s health care system was launched on July 9 by former judge and provincial child advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.
Turpel-Lafond was appointed on June 19 by Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, after allegations of racism in B.C. emergency rooms were reported. She has now assembled her team for the investigation, established her terms of reference and launched a survey to collect and assess the experiences of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people when they access health care.
“Our task is to address the specific incidents that have been reported, as well as to gauge the levels of systemic and individual racism that Indigenous peoples face when using the health care system in general,” Turpel-Lafond said. “I’m glad that the minister called for this independent investigation. Based on the emails, calls and stories we have received so far, it is very much needed.”
The investigation team includes members with direct clinical experience, knowledge of the health care system and expertise in conducting complex investigations. The review will be conducted in stages, starting with the investigation of troubling allegations that a “game” has been played in hospital emergency rooms, which includes guessing the blood alcohol levels of Indigenous patients. The review will also include a wider look at systemic racism in B.C. health care.
It will also feature a survey of Indigenous peoples in B.C., asking for their experiences in the health care system. That survey is now available on the Addressing Racism investigation website: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/addressingracism/
“I urge Indigenous peoples to participate in our survey so that we can get an accurate picture of how broad these problems are,” Turpel-Lafond said. “This is your chance to speak.”
Anybody with specific experience or knowledge of racism in the health care system can also share information by telephone at 1 888 600-3078 or by email: Addressing_Racism@gov.bc.ca (mailto:Addressing_Racism@gov.bc.ca)
In addition to the public submissions, the investigation team plans to survey a wide range of workers in the health care system.
Turpel-Lafond said that racism can often be a barrier to Indigenous peoples accessing health care and that building confidence in the system is extremely important, especially during a pandemic, but also for the longer term. After examining the systemic racism that occurs in the health system, the investigation will make a number of recommendations designed to prompt necessary improvements.
“We want this report to lead to positive change,” Turpel-Lafond said. “The objective is to examine what is happening and to work to build confidence in a health care system that supports all people in this province.”
Cheryl Casimer, Political Executive, First Nations Summit, said: “We fully support the investigation that will be undertaken by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and her team to look into the appalling incidents of racism in the B.C. health care system. Those who participated in these despicable acts damaged the trust and integrity of the system and must be held accountable for their actions. Every citizen in B.C. deserves to have a health care system built on integrity and universal equality. The incidents in question are unfortunately a reflection of the larger problem of systemic racism and bias that exists not only in the health care system but also the justice system, child welfare system and other sectors. We must collectively continue to stand up to address and resolve any and all incidents of systemic racism.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said: “Time and time again the lives of Indigenous peoples have been treated as dispensable by our governments and institutions; they continue to be gambled away in a game of callousness, apathy and mockery. This must end now. We fully support an independent investigation led by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond into the prejudice hampering the administration of equitable and reliable health care as an essential step towards justice. It is a step towards rectifying the wider landscape of systemic racism in the province that has plagued the systems and services meant to support and protect Indigenous peoples and their rights.”
Regional Chief Terry Teegee, BC Assembly of First Nations, said: “The mistreatment of First Nations and minority peoples in B.C. health care is an ongoing scandal that must be rooted out and resolved quickly. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond will work to expose the extent and consequences of systemic racism in this sector and find ways to eliminate barriers to adequate and appropriate treatment that so many are finding elusive across the province right now. B.C. can do better and together we can bring an end to the unnecessary deaths and suffering by rebuilding trust and ethically humane behaviours in the delivery of health care.”
Clara Morin Dal Col, President, Métis Nation BC, said: “It is critical for the Métis Nation that we do everything possible to root out any kind of systemic racism that exists within B.C.’s health care system. Every Indigenous person must be assured they are going to be treated equally and respectfully when it comes to getting the health services they are entitled to in British Columbia.”
M. Colleen Erickson, Chair, First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) Board of Directors, said: “Mary Ellen is doing very important work that will have great impact on the future health and well-being of First Nations in B.C. and across Canada. FNHA is happy to support this work.”
Richard Jock, Interim Chief Executive Officer, FNHA, said: “The FNHA looks forward to the outcomes of the review as a way to focus on improving cultural safety for First Nations in B.C. FNHA will look to provide appropriate ways to support participants who may be triggered by the final report’s disclosures.”
Charlene Belleau, Chair, First Nations Health Council, said: “The First Nations Health Council supports Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s investigation to take action to move beyond cultural safety and humility. We encourage B.C. Indigenous patients and health workers within the system to trust this process and come forward to tell their truth about racism. A consequence of the failure to acknowledge pervasive cultural racism against B.C. Indigenous peoples in the B.C. health care system would only allow society (or the B.C. health care system) to perpetuate racism and for our Indigenous peoples to not have the equal right to health care recognized under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We trust that this process will ensure that culturally appropriate processes will be established to provide the safety and security of B.C. Indigenous peoples to file, resolve complaints and access health care without fear of reprisal.”
Heidi M. Oetter, Registrar and CEO, College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC, said: “The allegations of racism towards Indigenous peoples involving a ‘game’ to guess blood alcohol levels is inexcusable conduct for any health-care provider, especially in emergency rooms where people are most vulnerable and rely on medical professionals to care for them in their time of need. The college extends its full support to Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s investigation. If the investigation results in findings of racism involving a physician or surgeon (registrants of this college), the college would take swift action to open its own investigative file into the matter.”
Cynthia Johansen, Registrar and CEO, British Columbia College of Nursing Professionals, and Chair, BC Health Regulators, said: “B.C.’s health regulators are united in their concern over these troubling allegations and have committed to co-operating fully with Ms. Turpel-Lafond’s investigation. We are also reminding our registrants of their duty to report this type of behaviour and to hold themselves and their colleagues to the highest professional standards. Normalizing this type of behaviour or looking the other way when it occurs is not acceptable.”
Louise Aerts, Executive Director/Registrar, College of Midwives of British Columbia, said: “Regulated health professionals have a duty to protect those they care for, particularly the most vulnerable. For an individual seeking care to be mocked and diminished by the very professionals trained to help them is a disgrace and should concern all health providers. We cannot tolerate this sort of behaviour and must call it out when we see it.”