ER Staff “Game” of Guessing Indigenous Patients’ Blood-Alcohol Levels is Potential Human Rights Code Violation

Fontaine

CEO Daniel Fontaine of the Métis Nation of British Columbia (MNBC) and the British Columbia Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (BCAAFC) advised  the BC government this week that they have heard emergency room health care staff are playing a “game” of guessing the blood-alcohol concentration levels of Indigenous patients. The allegation became public today, when Provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix held a news conference to advise that he had been made aware of the allegations yesterday and the MNBC issued a media release stating that the “game” is unacceptable.

According to Fontaine, it has been reported that hospital staff called the game “the Price is Right.” They try to guess the blood-alcohol levels as close as they can, without going over. Fontaine stated that the practice is “deeply disturbing and must immediately come to an end.” Dix stated that “if true, it is intolerable, unacceptable, and racist and its effect on patient care is intolerable, unacceptable, and racist.” The MNBC and BCAAFC have called upon the Ministry of Health to accept the following four recommendations:

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

If the allegations are true, there is potential for this abhorrent conduct to give rise to a representative complaint under the BC Human Rights Code. The BC Human Rights Tribunal Form 1.3 – Complaint for Group or Class allows complainants to file complaints about discrimination on behalf of a group or class of people. A “group” is a “number of individuals who are or easily could be identified by name. For example, people who work for the same employer, or people who are members of the same society or association.” A “class” is a “number of individuals who can be identified by characteristics that they share. For example, residents of Vancouver who are visually impaired.” I would argue that the Indigenous targets of these acts are members of both a group and a class. If the staff members who played this “game” and times during which they did so are made available, the patients who they saw at those times could potentially be identified. Those patients would be members of a “group.” Additionally, Indigenous residents of the identified Health Authority, or of the province, may constitute a “class.”

The BC Human Rights Code is meant to prohibit discrimination in certain areas of daily life based on someone’s race, colour, ancestry, or place of origin, among other characteristics. Indigeneity, of course, falls within the protected characteristics. One of the areas of daily life that are meant to be protected is the provision of accommodation, services, and facilities customarily available to the public. As such, the provision of health care services falls within the code-protected areas of daily life.

Dix has appointed Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond to investigate the matter and make recommendations about an immediate long-term response. She is a former judge and the former Representative for Children and Youth of BC, among many other accomplishments. She is now a professor at UBC and senior counsel in the area of Aboriginal Law.

In addition to Turpel-Lafond’s investigation or in response to her recommendations, it’s possible that a representative human rights complaint could be made.

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