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 District of Kitimat has announced to continue their free transit fares for all students in kindergarten to Grade 12. The pilot project will continue to run until August 2023, and will be reviewed in 2023 to see if it will be renewed. (Black Press photo)
Free student transit fare pilot project continues in Kitimat

The project was launched in September 2020 and allowed students to board buses for free

Kitimat Search and Rescue was tasked by RCMP on Friday, April 21 2021, requesting help in finding three lost hikers north of the Smith Street hiking trail. Hikers were found and brought back into town at 8 pm. (Kitimat Search and Rescue logo)
Kitimat SAR find three lost hikers

Kitimat SAR issued a warning to locals using the trails

Gates will open at 8:30 p.m. with the first film starting around 9:15 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. (AFFNO file photo)
AFFNO hosts french film in the Kitimat-Stikine and Northcoast Region

AFFNO had to create different approaches this year to set up events

(Clare Rayment photo)
Column: Whether weather correlates to your mood

Nearly nine per cent of people fall into a ‘rain haters’ category

Adrian Tryssenaar performing as Elvis at the Gyro Park Bandshell in Penticton, 2004. (Photo supplied)
In Our Valley: Adrian Tryssenaar

Kitimat’s king of rock

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Two-year-old Kashius Weme rides at the Steve Smith Memorial Bike Park in Nanaimo on Tuesday, May 11. The youngster’s precocious bike-riding ability is already attracting cycle sponsors. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
2-year-old B.C. bike rider already attracting cycle sponsors

Nanaimo’s Kashius Weme has a knack for extreme cycle sports

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Sunfest country music bash won’t be shining on B.C. in 2021

Annual Vancouver Island Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, along with Laketown Shakedown

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elected chief councillor Moses Martin, who was also Chantel Moore’s grandfather, speaks to media in Port Alberni on Aug. 16, 2020, during a visit from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh following the police shooting of Chantel Moore. (Elena Rardon photo)
Mother of 2 shot by police in critical condition, says B.C. First Nation chief

Community ‘devastated’ by third member of 1,150-person Vancouver Island nation shot in less than a year

Most Read