The province has launched an investigation into allegations that health-care providers in B.C. emergency rooms have played a racist game where they tried to guess the blood alcohol content of Indigenous patients.

“Should these practices be confirmed they are unacceptable and racist,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix this morning. “And its effects on health care are intolerable, unacceptable and racist.”

The allegations were communicated by staff and community members to health deputy minister Stephen Brown, who informed Dix Thursday night.

Former BC Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond will investigate “as she sees fit” and report back with facts and recommendations, Dix said.

Turpel-Lafond, a lawyer and former judge of Cree and Scottish ancestry, has no deadline for her report.

None of the health-care providers alleged to be involved have been put on leave or fired in the meantime, Dix said. 

He also would not confirm the number of hospitals facing allegations, where they were in the province or how many staff were involved.

“The circumstances of this case require an establishment of fact and action, and action will follow,” said Dix.

Dix said he believes this is not an isolated incident and has heard similarly troubling stories when speaking with First Nations communities in B.C.

He promised action would be taken once the investigation is completed. 

“This will be a moment we can continue, and advance and speed up the work we’re doing together on reconciliation,” said Dix, “but it’s also a moment that we have to recognize the situation that exists.”

The game is just an overt sign of widespread systemic racism that damages the health of Indigenous people, advocates say, as health-care providers regularly assume Indigenous people are intoxicated and deny them proper care.

Leslie Varley, executive director of the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, said racism leads to worse health outcomes.

“We know that our people avoid hospitals because we are afraid of having a discriminatory encounter,” Varley said in a news release. “This happens to the point where Indigenous people end up in emergency with extreme diagnosis, like cancer.”

Systemic racism against Indigenous peoples across Canada has been well-documented across the health-care system, where Indigenous women have been coerced into being sterilized as recently as 2017.

Indigenous peoples in Canada also experience higher rates of diabetes and heart disease than non-Indigenous Canadians, and have shorter life expectancies.

Varley and the Métis Nation of B.C. are calling for a public inquiry into Indigenous-specific racism in health in B.C. All health-care providers should be required to take Indigenous-focused training, they said.

B.C. currently does not have standardized anti-racism training for health-care workers.

“What is allegedly happening in B.C. hospitals to Métis, First Nations and Inuit peoples is deeply disturbing and must immediately come to an end,” said Daniel Fontaine, chief executive officer for the Métis Nation B.C. in the release.