An investigation into Indigenous-specific racism in the provincial health care system has now been formally launched.

Former judge and provincial child advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond was appointed to the task in June by Health Minister Adrian Dix after allegations of a “guessing game” into the blood-alcohol content of Indigenous patients was reported.

She has now assembled her team for the investigation, established 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.

“This investigation is not trying to determine racism exists in BC’s healthcare system. It does exist, just as it does in every aspect of Canadian Society,” Turpel-Lafond said.

“What we want to gauge in this process, is the range and extent of that racism, both individual and systemic, and how it affects the quality of healthcare for Indigenous people in this province,”

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 into the guessing game.

“The investigation is not about blaming and shaming,” she explained. “I can say though if I do find there have been violations of the criminal code or standards of health professional bodies, as I look into these investigations, I will report that to the appropriate authorities.”

“Our investigation will no doubt uncover some difficult truths, but ultimately it’s about building up the confidence of Indigenous people in BC’s healthcare system and to ensure that they will feel safe,” she said, adding that she doesn’t want the investigation to discourage people from seeking care.

The review will also include a wider look at systemic racism in B.C. health care, addressing reports of Indigenous patients having their complaints dismissed due to assumptions of intoxication.

Anyone working in the healthcare system wanting to share experiences of what they may have been a bystander to or participated in will be protected from repercussions as well, she added.

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.

“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.”

“The survey has opened the door to share that experience, no matter when it happened to them. It’s important to bring it forward. These investigations require truth-telling. If people are carrying this burden of having this experience, they need to talk about it” she explained.

“It doesn’t matter if it happened five years ago, we need to hear it.”

Turpel-Lafond adds that residential school survivors will be given extra supports in the process.

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.”

Turpel-Lafond hopes to have a preliminary report available within ‘a matter of months.’