Racism in BC healthcare system inquiry launches survey for Indigenous Peoples

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Aki-kwe, Director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC), is leading an investigation into racism in BC’s healthcare system. Appointed by Health Minister Adrian Dix more than two weeks ago, Aki-kwe was brought in as an independent third-party to conduct a thorough review of allegations of Indigenous-specific discrimination in healthcare.

“The investigation is not to determine whether racism exists. We know it exists in every aspect of Canadian society. What we want to gauge through this investigation and this process, is the range and extent of that racism, both individual and systemic, and how it affects the quality of healthcare of Indigenous people in this province,” said Aki-kwe at a press conference July 9. 

The investigation, led by a small investigative team including Aki-kwe, will be conducted in stages, with an initial report draft planned for December. At a press conference July 9, Aki-kwe also released the Terms of Reference for the investigation. The inquiry is hoping to engage with Indigenous Peoples throughout the province, but is hopeful that people working in the healthcare system who may have been bystanders to racism will come forward as well.

In addition to the initial “guessing game” that launched the inquiry, stories have come forward about individuals who have been repeatedly questioned about whether they were drinking or battling addiction, before they could receive care. There are reports of “egregious behaviour in every health region of BC.” The team, which includes former provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall and UBC’s Indigenous health and nursing expert Dr. Margaret Moss, will first focus on specific reports of racism in B.C. emergency departments. 

The inquiry has launched a website, phone support line and confidential email to engage with Indigenous Peoples province-wide. Anyone with specific experience or knowledge of racism in the health care system is asked to share information by telephone at 1-888-600-3078 or by email: Addressing_Racism@gov.bc.ca.

The inquiry team is asking Indigenous individuals throughout the province to complete a confidential survey asking for their experiences when seeking and receiving health care in British Columbia. The survey is open until the end of July, but individuals are also welcome to call or email specific stories of experiencing racism in the BC health care system. 

For more information visit the inquiry website.

This story was also featured in Global News, News 1130, CTV News, The Tyee, and the Globe and Mail.

This story was updated to include the names of the investigative team.