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Opinion: Racism in the medical system goes far beyond a few bad apples

By Janet Smylie, Diane Smylie & Lisa Richardson


Over recent years we have seen an alarming increase in media reports of striking events of negligence and anti-Indigenous racism in Canadian hospitals. The emerging pattern is one of public outrage and a linked public policy debate in which Indigenous leaders advocate for tangible systemic change while non-Indigenous hospital and governmental leaders resist the premise or don’t see that anti-Indigenous racism in Canadian hospitals is common, pervasive and systemic.

For example, during the inquest into the death of Brian Sinclair, a 45-year-old First Nations man who died from treatable causes after waiting 34 hours in a Winnipeg emergency department, Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra, the province’s chief medical examiner, stated: “Even if Snow White had gone there, she would have got the same treatment under the same circumstances.”

While most incidents of anti-Indigenous racism in hospitals go unreported, at times evidence and public outrage are sufficient to result in public investigations or inquests with subsequent recommendations. Sadly, the latter are commonly diluted and only partially implemented. Efforts are typically superficial and performative, involving, for example, ineffective “cultural sensitivity” trainings.

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