Union of BC Indian Chiefs applies to intervene in systemic racism complaint in healthcare system

THE Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) has filed an application to intervene in a 2019 human rights complaint from David Dennis that challenges the lawfulness of the abstinence policy in B.C.

Dennis died from health complications on May 29, 2020, after battling end-stage liver disease, having continued his work challenging systemic racism in the medical system until his passing, the UBCIC said on Tuesday. His 2019 complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal condemns the abstinence policy, which deprives persons with alcohol use disorder of eligibility for liver transplants until they have abstained from alcohol use for a period of six months. This policy discriminates against Indigenous peoples, who have disproportionately higher rates of alcohol use disorder, linked to the centuries of violent colonial practices of all levels of government in Canada and the inter-generational trauma of Indian residential schools, said the UBCIC.

In filing his formal complaint to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, Dennis said: “I want to continue to live and be here for my children and family. But if I don’t make it, I want the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and Frank Paul Society to carry on and get rid of this lethal form of racism.” UBCIC said it is taking up that call to action in hopes that the Human Rights Tribunal will grant the application and avoid further delays in accountability from the Fraser Health Authority and the Province of British Columbia.

UBCIC is filing to intervene with full rights as a party in the complaint to ensure accountability in its evaluation following his death. The application is additionally requesting that UBCIC’s representative complaint filed June 14, 2020, on behalf of Indigenous patients denied a liver transplant be joined with the Dennis complaint in order to expedite the timelines. If the application is granted, approximately a year of further procedural delays could be avoided in both complaints.

“Two days after David Dennis passed, the Provincial Health Services Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority tried to get his human rights complaint thrown out, rather than actually address it. Intervening in this complaint is essential to ensuring more lives are not lost, after having lost David Dennis too soon,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. “The public was made aware of racism persisting in Emergency Room ‘games’ across the province less than one month ago, and while an independent investigation is underway, we cannot lose sight of the policies that enable this racism which persists at the system’s core. If our application is denied, the Fraser Health Authority and BC Government will celebrate Dave’s death as a postponement of their day of reckoning. We cannot allow for his loss to enable further discrimination against Indigenous people by delaying justice, and our hearts weigh heavy with the knowledge that if accountability had come sooner, we might not have lost him at all.”