British Columbia

Leaders overseeing thousands of B.C. health-care professionals apologize for systemic anti-Indigenous racism

The leaders of regulatory colleges overseeing more than 90,000 health-care workers in B.C. have issued a joint apology to Indigenous people who have experienced racism, discrimination and abuse in the health-care system.

Apology comes months after report found racism in provincial health system is rampant, potentially deadly

An apology from the leaders of B.C.'s four largest regulatory colleges comes months after an independent report found racism, stereotyping and discrimination against Indigenous people in the B.C. health-care system is widespread and potentially deadly. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The leaders of regulatory colleges overseeing more than 90,000 health-care workers in B.C. have issued a joint apology to Indigenous people who have experienced racism, discrimination and abuse in the province's health-care system.

Four executives from B.C.'s largest colleges, which have oversight of medical professionals ranging from dental assistants and pharmacists to nurses and surgeons, issued the apology in a statement late Tuesday.

"Indigenous people (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) have waited far too long for their legal rights to be recognized. And they have waited too long for health-system leaders to dismantle the racism that was built into our colonial health-care system — racism that continues to cause harm to this day," the statement said.

"We offer our apology to the Indigenous people and communities who have experienced racism while engaging with us and with the health professionals we regulate."

The apology was signed by the chief executive officers of the British Columbia College of Nurses and Midwives, the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia, the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia.

Combined, the colleges oversee doctors, surgeons, nurses, midwives, pharmacists and dental workers in the province.

The apology comes months after an independent report found racism, stereotyping and discrimination against Indigenous people in the B.C. health-care system is widespread and potentially deadly.

Eighty-four per cent of Indigenous people who participated in the report, released in November 2020 and called In Plain Sight, recalled experiencing some form of discrimination in health care. More than half of the Indigenous health-care workers who participated said they had personally experienced racism at work. 

Colleges to implement recommendations

In their statement, the colleges committed to implementing the report's recommendations. 

The promised changes included training to ensure culturally safe health care, better Indigenous representation on boards and committees, and an easier complaints process so Indigenous people can feel safer speaking up.

"It is only through consistent concrete action to uphold Indigenous rights and eliminate racism within the health-care system that we can begin to slowly earn the trust of Indigenous people," the statement said.

Regulatory colleges are in place to protect the public, ensuring health-care staff are qualified and acting ethically. They investigate allegations of misconduct and, when necessary, have the power to ban heath-care workers from their profession.

Former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond released her final report on anti-Indigenous racism in B.C.'s health-care system in November 2020. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

In Plain Sight was commissioned after it was revealed emergency room staff at a hospital on Vancouver Island had allegedly been playing a "game" where they would guess the blood-alcohol content of Indigenous patients.

Former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond was asked to look into those allegations but also to report more broadly on the range and extent of Indigenous-specific racism in the provincial health-care system. 

Though the investigative team was not able to substantiate allegations about the "game" in the Vancouver Island hospital, it did find "extensive profiling of Indigenous patients based on stereotypes about addictions." 

Turpel-Lanfond said she's "pleased" with the apology from the regulatory bodies — the first recommendation in her report was for apologies for racism against Indigenous people to be made.

"It's great to see health system leaders step up and take accountability," she said.

"These four main health colleges and regulators, they do oversee over more than 90,000 health care workers in B.C. so it's really significant."

When her report was released, Turpel-Lafond told media at the time that it was clear the province needed to rebuild its health-care system to one "that does not have racism entrenched in it."

Turpel-Lafond said she is meeting with the provincial task force that is overseeing the implementation of the In Plain Sight recommendations for an update on where their work stands.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhianna Schmunk is a staff writer for CBC News. She is based in Vancouver with a focus on justice and the courts. You can reach her on Twitter @rhiannaschmunk or by email at rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca.

With files from Chantelle Bellrichard and On the Coast

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