COVID-19 in B.C.: Anti-Indigenous racism in health care, updates on rentals and border screenings

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      The good news is that, once again, B.C. hasn’t had any new COVID-19 deaths or outbreaks to announce, and the number of new cases remains low.

      However, troubling allegations of racism in the province’s health-care system against Indigenous patients have prompted an investigation.

      Meanwhile, the B.C. government also announced updates for renters and landlords as well as border screenings.

      Daily update

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix issued a news release instead of holding a news briefing for the daily B.C. COVID-19 update today (June 19).

      They stated that there are seven new cases, bringing the cumulative total in B.C. to 2,790 since the start of the pandemic.

      Thus far, there have been 952 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,446 in Fraser Health, 130 in Island Health, 197 in Interior Health, and 65 in Northern Health.

      Currently, there are 178 active cases in B.C., with 11 people in hospital. (Six of those patients are in intensive-care units.)

      Thankfully, again, there were no new deaths announced, and the total fatalities remain at 168.

      As there are no new health-care outbreaks, there remain six active outbreaks at long-term care facilities and one at an acute-care facility.

      Also, there are no new community outbreaks, leaving a total of three active outbreaks.

      A total of 2,444 people who tested positive for the coronavirus have now recovered.

      Racism in health care

      Métis Nation B.C. (MNBC) and the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (BCAAFC) issued a news release today stating that participants in the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training program have detailed thousands of cases of racism in health care, which have resulted in the harm of Indigenous patients.

      Among the many examples, a participant disclosed that health-care workers often played a game to guess the blood-alcohol concentration levels of emergency-room patients, including Indigenous people and possibly others.

      Dr. Henry and Dix denounced the alleged racism in the health-care system.

      “We have said we must be 100 percent committed to flattening the COVID-19 curve, and we must do the same when it comes to addressing racism,” they stated in their joint news release.

      In a separate statement, Dix said that this conduct is “beyond unacceptable” and “completely abhorrent”.

      He stated that he contacted former lawyer and B.C.’s children advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond to independently lead an investigation.

      “We need to get to the root of these problems, and that begins with an understanding that racist attitudes and actions have a real and devastating impact on health outcomes, creating trauma that can affect generations,” Dix stated. “She [Turpel-Lafond] will help determine the prevalence of these attitudes and actions at a systemic level in our health-care system.”

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix
      Province of British Columbia

      Premier John Horgan also issued a statement.

      “I am outraged by reports of ugly, anti-Indigenous, racist behaviour at multiple health-care facilities in B.C.,” he said. “This behaviour degrades the standards and provisions of health care in our province. It cannot stand. There is no excuse. There is no explaining this away.”

      BCAAFC executive director Leslie Varley explained that the problem remains an enduring one because “there remains a lack of will to address systemic and specific racism towards Métis, First Nation and Inuit people”, which consequently negatively impacts the health of Indigenous people.

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

      BCAAFC, MNBC, and Indigenous leaders are calling for:

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

      Border screening change

      In April, B.C. introduced border screening measures to ensure that British Columbians returning from international destinations had support for self-isolation plans. These measures, the first in Canada, were followed by other provinces and the federal government. 

      However, B.C. will end province-led border checkpoints on Saturday (June 20), now that federal screening measures are in place.

      Service B.C. will continue to conduct compliance and wellness checks for travellers during 14-day quarantine periods.

      Under the federal Quarantine Act, anyone arriving in Canada from an international destination, including the United States, must document their self-isolation plans for 14 days.

      B.C. processed over 72,400 arriving passengers at Vancouver International Airport and at 17 land border crossings from April 10 to June 15.

      Over 26,100 follow-up calls have been completed to check on self-isolating individuals.

      B.C. housed a total of 142 people for their quarantine period or until their self-isolation plan was deemed adequate.

      Provincial screening measures will continue for temporary foreign workers arriving for seasonal farm work, who are required to self-isolate in government-funded accommodations near the Vancouver airport for 14 days.

      Renters and landlords

      The B.C. government announced today that the temporary rental supplement (TRS) program, which began on April 9, will be extended until the end of August.

      Anyone already approved for TRS will receive an email to confirm if their residence will remain the same for July and August. New applicants can apply until August 31 and will receive a supplement for the month the application is received and subsequent months.

      Between April 9 and June 15, B.C. Housing received more than 90,000 applications and almost 82,500 eligible applications were confirmed. The program offers $300 per month for eligible households without dependents and $500 per month for eligible households with dependents.

      While the ban on rent increases and evictions, which began on March 30, for failure to pay rent will continue, other notices for ending tenancy will be permitted to resume later this month.

      At that time, landlords will be allowed to access units for repairs, maintenance, and showings of the unit, under the standard notification period.

      Landlords will be able to serve notices for reasons such as landlord or purchaser use or for cause (if a tenant is putting the landlord or tenants at risk, subletting without permissions, and more).

      The provincial government promises to give advance notice of when the moratorium on evictions for not paying rent will be lifted. Tenants will be responsible for outstanding rent after the ban ends and landlords will be required to work with tenants on repayment of rent.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook