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

The Trail Smoke Eaters fell 6-1 to the Penticton Vees on Sunday, their third loss to the perennial BCHL powerhouse six games into the 20-game season. Photo: Stephen Piccolo
Penticton Vees dominant in win over Trail Smoke Eaters

Trail Smoke Eaters enjoy two day break until their fourth meeting with Penticton Vees on Wednesday

Kalesnikoff Lumber will be providing materials for a 21-storey apartment building in Vancouver. Rendering: Henriquez Partners Architects
Kalesnikoff supplying mass timber for several major projects

The West Kootenay lumber company will be making the products at South Slocan facility

This painting is a piece from Young Visions 2021, opening April 22 at the Kootenay Gallery. Photo: S. Painter
Showcase of artwork by Kootenay Columbia students opens April 22

Young Visions 2021 runs April 22 to May 29 in the Kootenay Gallery of Art, Castlegar

Selkirk College has received provincial funding to assist students. File photo
Selkirk College receives funding to assist students

Provincial funding is available to West Kootenay students

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Tenants disappear in the night leaving Okanagan home trashed with junk, feces

Spallumcheen rental rooms filled with junk, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to register people ages 40+ for COVID-19 vaccines in April

Appointments are currently being booked for people ages 66 and up

Interior Health improves access to mental health supports amid COVID-19 pandemic. (Stock)
Interior Health connects people to mental health resources amid COVID

310-MHSU line receives positive feedback in early months of rollout

A volunteer disinfects a historical Mohabat Khan mosque ahead of the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, April 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)
For Canadian Muslims, second pandemic Ramadan is a time of hope and sadness

Many members of the association are trying to find ways ‘to help people stay connected to one another’

Most Read