A progress report on a plan to address anti-Indigenous racism in B.C.’s health-care system says Indigenous patients continue to disproportionately die as a result of the impacts of racism and the two ongoing public health emergencies.
Retired judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond wrote the original report, In Plain Sight, released last year, and on Tuesday she reported that progress has been made in 10 of the 24 recommendations.
Apologies have been issued from governing bodies, Indigenous leaders have been recruited across the health authorities to aid in systemic change, and the government introduced Bill 18, an amendment to the B.C. Human Rights Code to include Indigenous identity as a protected ground from discrimination.
Despite these strides, the review says “the fundamental issues remain in plain sight,” with many recommendations seeing “little, if any” movement since the report was released last November.
“There’s been some significant planning efforts in the past year, but there are persistent problems,” Turpel-Lafond said.
“Efforts have not meaningfully disrupted the status quo.”
She said she continually receives “disturbing complaints about racism occurring at the point of care, and about the ongoing inadequacy of complaints processes.”
Little has been done to realign relationships between provincial and Indigenous governments, Turpel-Lafond said.
“First Nations, Métis, and provincial government leaders have endorsed the report, yet ineffective collaboration has slowed improvement where it is needed the most.”
She said streamlining is needed to add resources for those carrying out the work and to ensure there is accountability with oversight from Indigenous governments.
On Tuesday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the one-year anniversary of the report marks a time to “recommit ourselves to eradicating racism in health care.”
“While B.C. has made important progress, there is more work to do,” he said.
“Now is a time to build on what we have achieved working together to make the additional necessary changes needed to root out Indigenous-specific racism, stereotyping and discrimination in B.C.’s health-care system and ensure a culturally safe health-care system for Indigenous Peoples.”
Earlier this year, the province released a draft of its five-year plan to implement all 24 recommendations under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.
The province said it now has seven new Indigenous vice-president positions in health authorities, two Indigenous board-of-director member seats for each of them, and funding in place for 32 health liaison positions, with plans for more. It has also appointed Dawn Thomas as acting associate deputy minister of Indigenous Health.
The government remains committed, added Dix, to implementing all 24 of Turpel-Lafond’s recommendations.
“We understand it’s going to take some time, but there are some things that could have been done in the first year that weren’t, and I’m not sure why but I think they’re important elements of change,” Turpel-Lafond said in an interview.
She pointed to the lack of whistleblower legislation to the health-care sector to promote a “speak-up culture” for employees to address racism, discrimination or wrongdoing without fear of repercussions.
In the review, Turpel-Lafond calls on the provincial government to release a more comprehensive update on the recommendations by next November.
“I do feel like British Columbia is in a different position than other provinces because at least we’re addressing it. We may not be able to say that there is no longer systemic or individual discrimination in health care, but we aren’t denying it,” she said.
“I don’t tell (the government) how to do their work, but this year they weren’t reporting out, so I thought it would be important to do a statement and to push and urge them to continue on this path.”
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
— with files from Global News’ Elizabeth McSheffrey