Investigation into racism in B.C.’s health care system launched

Jul 11, 2020 | Blog, Governance | 2 comments

Indigenous, Black and other people of colour in British Columbia and Canada face systemic racism everyday. Following calls to address the deeply entrenched problem in policing, the provincial government recently established a committee to oversee the reform of the Police Act.

A couple of weeks ago Hon. Adrian Dix announced that allegations of racist behaviour in emergency rooms had come to the attention of the Health Ministry. He highlighted a “game” where public health providers tried to guess the blood alcohol level of Indigenous patients.

Minister Dix immediately appointed former B.C. youth advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond to investigate the extent of the problem within healthcare.

Yesterday, Turpel-Lafond provided the details of her team and their investigation. I am thankful that Turpel-Lafond agreed to lead this important work. Based on her previous track record, I have confidence that she will lead a professional and confidential process that will provide people a safe and secure place to share their experiences. I’m convinced she will not be shy in delivering a thorough investigation with solid recommendations.

When I learned that one of the emergency rooms potentially involved in these allegations was the Saanich Peninsula Hospital, I immediately reached out to Indigenous and healthcare leaders in our community. In addition, I met with Minister Dix.

It is important that the investigation be provided the space it needs, but there are potentially life-threatening consequences with the public naming of the hospital. As a result Island Health must have an immediate response of both words and actions to reassure Indigenous people that they are safe attending to their emergent healthcare needs in the meantime.

I had a follow-up meeting with Minister Dix and also senior executives at Island Health. The health authority has a responsibility to ensure our communities know there is accountability from those working in the emergency room all the way to their highest offices. It is clear that they must make cultural safety training a higher priority and that they are ensuring their human resource policies are up to date.

I know there are many incredible, thoughtful, loving people working in our hospital and I will continue to work on this issue compassionately. However, I will also continue to keep up the pressure on the institution to ensure that when people present at a local emergency room they are confident their health needs will be addressed and they will not be victim of the behaviour highlighted in the recent reports.


Independent investigation into Indigenous-specific racism in British Columbia’s health care system launched

For immediate release
July 10, 2020

VICTORIA, B.C. – In response to independent investigator Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond announcing the launch of an investigation into Indigenous-specific racism in British Columbia’s health care system, Adam Olsen, B.C. Green Party interim leader and MLA for Saanich-North and the Islands has issued the following statement:

“Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has assembled a team to investigate racism in B.C’s health care system including specific allegations of racist behaviour in emergency rooms. A new survey will ask all Indigenous people in the province to confidentially provide information about experiences while accessing the health services.

“I am confident that Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and her team will develop a safe and secure process that will help us understand the extent and inform us on the acts government needs to take to get to the root of the problem.

“To share your experience of racism in B.C.’s health care system or speak to someone about concerns of racism please call 1.888.600.3078 or email To fill out the survey visit


Media contact
JoJo Beattie
Press Secretary
B.C. Green Caucus
+1 250-882-6187 |

Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

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  1. Caroline Lennox

    This kind of nonsense has been going on for years. I’m very sorry that the Indigenous patients were treated so badly. I might surprise you, but I guaranty you the problem is NOT just a race issue and the cries for help from patients from all walks of life have been ignored until now…until it becomes an Indigenous issue.

    No offence, but why hasn’t anything been done before now, when there has been ample evidence and ample communication that there’s a systemic problem?

    The problem is far bigger than ‘racisim’ and it is not just an Indigenous problem. The Indigenous problem is real and must be dealt with, but cracking down on a few staffers is not going to fix what’s really going wrong.

    As you may recall, BC has been trying to address the flaws of self-governance in the medical field ( wish they’d take a wake at legal) , but are mainly cracking down on naturopaths (due to one headline) when the real problem is the doctors and the College that backs them up.

    In past correspondence to you, other politicians and medical people, I’ve shared the results of the BC Women’s Health Foundation | Blue Cross report on the dire state of women – esp. Indigenous women – in BC *when it comes to medical care, but never heard back.

    I’ve personally experienced age-ism, able-ism and sexism at Saanich Peninsula Hospital’s Emergency room.
    Those complaints are on record with the ER Co-Ordinator and I will give my consent to have them shared with you, Mr. Olsen.

    I wont’ speak for the entire SP hospital, because I liked the staff I met in the Extended Care Unit and have good help in other departments such as radiology and patient records. However, I can say there’s a culture of arrogance and dismissiveness at SPH-ER and likely at most ERs in BC, from what I’m hearing from others. Staff are over-worked and under-resourced. They might be doing what they need to do in order to cope, but the problems probably start much higher up. My experience with Adrian Dix is one of smugness, arrogance and dismissiveness. It started at the Town Hall Meeting where he gave lip service of calling me/contacting me personally on the issues I raised about Lyme Disease, but then all that happened afterwards was had one of his lackies send a dismissive form letter and rejected my reply and that only happened because I chased him for months to come through on his promise to contact me.

    * The Aboriginal Maternity Experiences survey found that Aboriginal women are more than four times more likely than nonAboriginal women to travel more than 200 km to give birth.

    * 70% of patients with “medically unexplained symptoms” are women and these symptoms are frequently and incorrectly linked to a psychological origin.

    *Doctors are more likely to diagnose women’s pain as psychological, are less likely to admit women for testing, and are inclined to give women less pain medication than men.

    * Almost 1/3 of women did not feel their needs are being treated effectively by the healthcare system.

    * Women with chronic conditions are 1.4x more likely to report unmet healthcare needs.

    * 30% of women reported challenges accessing the healthcare services they needed; 1 in 2 women said they felt a physician had diminished or overlooked their symptoms

    *Indigenous women rated their overall health, emotional health, and their experience with the healthcare system, lower than non-Indigenous women.

    *More than one-quarter (26%) of Indigenous women said their health was “fair” or “poor”; 33% described their emotional health as “poor”; 54% reported chronic healthcare issues; and 43% did not
    feel their needs were being met.

    * 83% of young Indigenous women aged 16-24 reported challenges accessing the medical services they needed. Both the attitude of the healthcare provider and feeling their health concerns were ignored were key reasons reported by Indigenous women as to why the healthcare system was not meeting their needs. Many Indigenous women have experienced high levels of racism with practitioners making assumptions about their life experiences — an illustration of the ongoing impacts of colonization.

    ^^^ I have personally experienced doctors making damaging and condescending/arrogant assumptions about my life experiences, as has almost every single woman I know who has ever tried to get medical help when they were desperately ill and had no answers. We’ve learned to duck and cover, to avoid going for help, because we know we won’t get it most of the time. We know we’ll be labelled as crazy ladies and attention seekers. We know that little notes are written in our charts that flag us so we can never get the help we need.

    What will it take to make this a bigger issue than racisim, Mr. Olsen? Can we change what is so broken, without destroying the parts that aren’t broken and without making the lower level people the scapegoats for what is broken at the top?

  2. Caroline Lennox

    What bothers me most is that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, myself included, have been sounding the alarm for years – but to deaf ears. Why did it have to come to this?


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