Indigenous organizations say alleged racist 'game' played by B.C. ER staff is unacceptable

The Métis Nation BC and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres have issued four recommendations for the B.C. Ministry of Health

There’s a “lack of will” when it comes to addressing racism towards the province’s Indigenous, Métis and Inuit people, according to B.C. First Nations organizations.

That statement follows allegations of B.C. ER doctors playing a game to guess the blood alcohol levels of Indigenous patients. In a release, the Métis Nation BC and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (BCAAFC) call that game, which they say is regularly played, "Price is Right."

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The Métis Nation BC and BCAAFC say they have obtained information that First Nations, Métis and Inuit patients seeking emergency medical services in B.C. are often “assumed to be intoxicated and denied medical assessments, contributing to worsening health conditions resulting in unnecessary harm or death.”

In the release, the two organizations say that, participants within the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training program – an anti-Indigenous racism program – have detailed thousands of cases of racism in B.C.’s healthcare system.

“In a recent training session, a program participant disclosed a common game played within B.C. hospital emergency rooms, where physicians, nurses and other staff try to guess the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of Indigenous patients,” reads the release.

“The winner of the game guesses closest to the BAC – without going over.”

The parties have notified the First Nations Health Authority of this concern, according to the release.

News of the allegations broke Friday morning when Health Minister Adrian Dix held a last-minute press conference to address the findings.

Dix said he was made aware of the allegations by Stephen Brown, the deputy health minister, Thursday evening, and that the evidence is strong enough to necessitate an immediate investigation.

Leslie Varley, executive director of the BCAAFC – which has 25 centres around the province, and operates a range of social and health services for urban Indigenous communities – said that Indigenous people avoid hospitals because “(they) are afraid of having a discriminatory encounter.”

She added that this avoidance happens to the point where people may end up in emergency with an extreme diagnosis, like cancer.

“There’s a lack of will to address systemic and specific racism towards Métis, First Nation and Inuit people,” said Varley.

Daniel Fontaine, CEO of the Métis Nation BC – which represents over 90,000 self-identified Métis people in B.C. – called the allegations “deeply disturbing,” and said they “must immediately come to an end.”

While San’yas training has been mandatory in Ontario since 2016, B.C. hasn’t yet enforced standardized anti-racism training for health service workers.

The Métis Nation BC and BCAAFC say that B.C. health authorities are “inconsistent” in their requirements for such training, “despite evidence that racism is prevalent within health systems.”

The two organizations, along with Indigenous leadership, are now calling upon the Ministry of Health to accept the following four recommendations:

  • A public inquiry into Indigenous-specific racism in health-care in B.C., with a focus on hospitals and emergency departments;
  • Ensure that all front-line staff are required to take mandatory First Nations, Métis and Inuit training;
  • Commit to structural and systemic changes to dismantle Indigenous-specific racism to ensure culturally safe health care experiences for Indigenous people; and
  • Ensure that Indigenous governments play a stronger role in the development and implementation of anti-racism programs and training throughout B.C.

The BCAAFC and Métis Nation BC say that implementing these recommendations would help address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, and would “signify the beginning of concrete changes” within B.C.’s health system.

The province has appointed former attorney and child-rights advocate Mary-Ellen Turpel Lafond to conduct the investigation into the allegations.

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