The B.C. government has asserted in court that it is not directly responsible for any systemic discrimination against Indigenous people in the health-care field; rather, such matters are the responsibility of local health authorities and hospitals.
Government lawyers put forth the argument in a B.C. Supreme Court hearing on Nov. 16 wherein they sought to have a proposed class-action lawsuit tossed out by a judge.
The government application was ultimately dismissed by Justice Matthew Kirchner and the proposed lawsuit is expected to proceed to the certification stage next year.
Candice Patrick, an Indigenous woman residing nearby the northern town of Houston, had filed a notice of claim seeking damages against the province for alleged systemic discrimination in the provision of health-care services to Indigenous people in B.C. hospitals. Patrick claims the province has failed to take steps to address this systemic discrimination for the past 20 years.
Patrick, noted the court ruling, alleges “she was subjected to demeaning and racist treatment when she attended Bulkley Valley Regional Hospital for abdominal surgery in 2021.”
Patrick’s intention is to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of other Indigenous people who have alleged improper care due to their First Nation status.
The government’s application to strike the notice of claim was summarized by Kirchner in his decision: “Briefly, the draft application asserts that the province is not the proper defendant in the action because hospitals are operated by regional health authorities and staffed by health-care professionals who are governed by regulatory colleges that are outside of the province's control.
“The province says it merely provides funding and oversight for the delivery of health-care services in B.C. but plays no role in the day?to?day operation of hospitals or in supervising the hospital staff and professionals who work there. It says that if the plaintiff has a cause of action, it is against those bodies that actually operate the hospitals and regulate their professional staff.”
Kirchner found the government’s application would impede on the certification application that is to be brought by Patrick’s counsel early next year (the government tried to argue Patrick’s delay was also a factor to consider in dismissing the claim).
Kirchner also dismissed the government’s claim that responding to the class-action lawsuit would be daunting for the government.
Kirchner noted Minister of Health Adrian Dix has acknowledged systemic racism in the hospital environment.
“The province acknowledges in its draft notice of application to strike that Indigenous people have experienced discrimination and racism in the health-care system and the minister of health himself has acknowledged the need to address and eliminate that discrimination.
“In fact, the province is committed to doing so as part of its implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is not an admission of liability but it is an acknowledgement that the discrimination the plaintiff complains of is real and is something that must be addressed through the project of reconciliation,” wrote Kirchner.
“In my view, particular care must be taken when considering an application to strike a claim that could be an avenue of reconciliation for those Indigenous people who have experienced the effects of this acknowledged systemic discrimination,” added Kirchner.