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Little progress made to combat anti-Indigenous racism in B.C. health care: report

Author says progress has been made in 10 of initial report’s 24 recommendations
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C. Representative for Children and Youth, speaks to a reporter in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. A progress report on a plan to address Indigenous racism in British Columbia’s health-care system says Indigenous patients continue to disproportionately die as a result of the impacts of racism and the two public-health emergencies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A progress report on a plan to address anti-Indigenous racism in British Columbia’s health-care system says Aboriginal 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 have 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.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a statement that the government has “more work to do.”

“The province remains absolutely committed to implementing all 24 recommendations of In Plain Sight, and we will continue to work together with Indigenous Peoples, all orders of government, health-system partners, individuals, service providers, regulatory bodies and health-system leadership to make this commitment a reality,” he said.

He added that appointing Indigenous leaders to health-care positions remains a priority.

Earlier this year, the province released a draft of its five-year plan to implement all 24 recommendations under theDeclaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

“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.”

—Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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