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Investigation Into Indigenous-Specific Racism In Health Care Begins

VICTORIA – 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.

But whether it will punish those responsible for widespread racism in the field remains to be seen. Many of these investigations just end up recommending instead of disciplining those involved.

Turpel-Lafond was appointed on June 19 by Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, after highly disturbing 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.”

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