Investigation into alleged anti-Indigenous racism in B.C.’s health care system underway

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Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond presented an update on the status of her investigation into allegations of racism in the B.C. health care system on Thursday.

In a live statement to the media, Turpel-Lafond said it is early, but she has gathered a team that she hopes will produce a preliminary report on the allegations of racism in health care in the next few months.

“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,” said Turpel-Lafond. “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.”

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Allegations of racism were raised in June when reports of a game involving health care professionals in emergency rooms guessing the blood alcohol level of patients of Indigenous ancestry were brought forward. The allegations were addressed by Health Minister Adrian Dix, who appointed Turpel-Lafond to complete an independent investigation.

Turpel-Lafond said she would not speak to specifics of the investigation, but confirmed that she has been tasked to investigate this particular event as well as further incidents and systemic issues in the system.

Turpel-Lafond said the investigation hinges on the participation of Indigenous people sharing about racism they have experienced when seeking health care, as well as the participation of physicians and health care providers.

“Anyone working in the health care system that needs to share their experience and story with what they may have been a bystander to or participated in, I encourage you to share that information. You will face no recrimination in your workplace for doing that,” said Turpel-Lafond, who noted that previous investigations of a similar nature have fallen short because of a lack of engagement from the health care community.

“Our investigation has already received countless phone calls, emails from people sharing their stories, and I’m very grateful for that,” said Turpel-Lafond.

Investigators launched a survey for Indigenous people to share such stories through the investigations website. The survey aims to paint an accurate picture of the extent of these problems.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said he fully supports the investigation.

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“Every citizen in B.C. deserves to have a health care system built on integrity and universal equality,” he said in a written statement. “We must collectively continue to stand up to address and resolve any and all incidents of systemic racism.”

Turpel-Lafond said although the investigation is not about “blaming and shaming,” she will be reporting any criminal violations or breaches of the standards of health professions to authorities.

“But ultimately, it’s about building up the confidence of Indigenous people in the health care system,” said Turpel-Lafond. “To ensure that they will feel safe and that they are treated appropriately, respectfully, with dignity, equality and fundamental respect for their human rights.”

Turpel-Lafond has Dix’s pledge to follow any recommendations she may have after completion of the investigation. There is no timeline for when the investigation will be completed. 

If you wish to complete the survey or report incidents you have witnessed, go to https://engage.gov.bc.ca/addressingracism/.

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