Investigator says she's been inundated with accounts of racism in B.C. health care
VANCOUVER -- 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 survey about 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@example.com.
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.
On June 19, B.C.'s health minister told the public he was made aware of allegations that health-care workers were guessing the blood-alcohol levels of patients, particularly Indigenous ones.
Health Minister Adrian Dix did not identify the hospital or health authority allegedly involved, but indicated the game may have been played at multiple emergency rooms.
He said he first heard the allegation from Deputy Health Minister Steve Brown who received information about the guessing game from both the community and "inside the system."
After the allegations were revealed, multiple Indigenous organizations – including Métis Nation B.C. and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres – called on the province to hold a public inquiry into Indigenous-specific racism in B.C.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Alyse Kotyk