CMA president-elect Dr. Alika Lafontaine, the Alberta-based inventor of the Safespace app that allows people to report experiences of racism within B.C.’s health-care sector. (Canadian Medical Association)

CMA president-elect Dr. Alika Lafontaine, the Alberta-based inventor of the Safespace app that allows people to report experiences of racism within B.C.’s health-care sector. (Canadian Medical Association)

New app a ‘safe space’ for Indigenous people to report racism in B.C. health care

Data collected from anonymous reports will help identify hotspots in the province, drive solutions for change

A new online database is offering Indigenous patients a “safe space” to anonymously report their experiences of racism in B.C.’s health-care system.

Whether their own story or their loved ones’, Safespace allows people to divulge instances of discrimination and rate facilities and practitioners on a five-point scale.

The app is hosted on the website of B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. Executive director Leslie Varley plans to collect data signalling hotspots in the health-care system in order to drum up solutions with policymakers.

“We have seen hundreds of complaints – common examples include doctors assuming an Indigenous person is drunk or drug-seeking and turning them away,” Varley said.

She pointed to an instance in Kitimat where a pregnant Indigenous mother’s daughter was delivered a stillborn after being refused care by Kitimat General Hospital staff on Feb. 10.

Last November, an independent investigative report into B.C.’s health-care system revealed widespread racism and stereotyping. Of the nearly 9,000 Indigenous patients who participated, 84 per cent reported experiencing some form of discrimination.

“These stereotypes can and do cause us serious harm,” Varley said, emphasizing the need for a place outside the medical system to monitor complaints of anti-Indigenous racism.

“Stereotyping, discrimination and racism are not medical errors. They should not be a part of the internal medical system reporting.”

RELATED: Family claims pregnant woman was turned away at Kitimat hospital, ending in stillborn birth

Safespace was created by the president-elect of the Canadian Medical Association, Alberta-based Dr. Alika Lafontaine of Anishinaabe, Cree, Metis and Pacific Islander descent.

Lafontaine said he’s experienced the toll of racism both as a doctor and patient, but that isn’t what initially prompted him to create the app.

It was when he witnessed his brother struggle to receive care for a life-threatening condition, due to racism, that he knew something had to be done.

“People come to hospitals and doctor’s offices when at their most vulnerable and in need of help,” Lafontaine said.

“What patients are asking for the most: they want to feel like they are believed – not interrogated – about their experiences.”

He said fear of retaliation or losing access to care keeps Indigenous patients tight-lipped.

“We rarely share our trauma. I have big hopes that we can bring learning from ones reported on the app into the health-care system,” Lafontaine said.

“As a doctor, I believe if health care providers were made aware of their racism and bias many change how they operate.”

Safespace was launched in late winter and is now set to roll out nationwide to Aboriginal Friendship Centres in nearly 100 municipalities across Canada.

READ MORE: Anti-Indigenous racism embedded in B.C. healthcare system: report



sarah.grochowski@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC HealthIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Mabel Todd, 83, of the Nak’azdli First Nation, leads a group of family members and advocates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as they walk along the so-called Highway of Tears in Witset. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Province, feds fund full cell service along ‘Highway of Tears’ following years of advocacy

A ‘critical milestone in helping prevent future tragedies’ after at least 10 Indigenous women murdered, missing along the route

Dianna Plouffe, right, with Mayor Gladys Atrill in front of Town Hall following the announcement she will be the new CAO> (Facebook photo)
Director of corporate services named Smithers CAO

Dianna Plouffe replaces Alan Harris who is retiring at the end of April

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Volunteer Robbie McKnight works the screening table at the Coast Mountain College COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Smithers. (Deb Meissner photo)
UPDATE Smithers clinic expands vaccine eligibility to ages 55+

Community members born in 1966 or earlier can now register and will be notified when they can book

Pembina Prince Rupert Terminal shipped its first vessel full of liquefied petroleum gas on April 9, just less than three years after breaking ground at the re-purposed pulp mill site on Watson Island.
Pembina ships first vessel of LPG out of Prince Rupert

More than $12 million spent to repurpose Watson Island for the LPG export facility

A deep cut on a humpback whale is shown in this recent handout photo in the Vancouver area. A conservation organization is warning boaters to be extra careful to prevent further harm to an injured humpback whale swimming in the Vancouver area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Ocean Wise, Vanessa Prigollini *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Boaters urged to use caution around hurt humpback off Vancouver

Ocean Wise says watchers first noticed the wound 3 days ago and believe it was caused by a vessel strike

Ron Rauch and his wife Audrey are photographed at their home in Victoria, Friday, March 5, 2021. Their daughter Lisa Rauch died on Christmas Day 2019 when a tactical officer with the Victoria Police Department shot her in the back of the head with plastic bullets after barricading herself in a room that was on fire. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. families push for changes as special committee examines provincial Police Act

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth acknowledged the need to update the legislation last year

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Major-General Dany Fortin, left, looks on as Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. The Public Health Agency of Canada has set aside up to $5 billion to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada negotiating contracts to secure COVID-19 booster shots for next year: Anand

Most of Canada’s current vaccine suppliers are already testing new versions against variants

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Most Read