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Terrace grapples with racism, poverty and toxic drug crisis: Human rights report

B.C. Office of Human Rights Commissioner releases comprehensive survey results for four communites
An aerial view of the city of Terrace from Terrace viewpoint on April 7, 2024. (Prabhnoor Kaur/ The Terrace Standard)

Terrace is suffering from a staff shortage at its social services societies, leading to a lack of information to reclaim human rights, a report by BC’s Office of Human Rights claims.

Colonization, racism and discrimination, housing and poverty, healthcare issues, and the toxic drug crisis are on the rise in Terrace, the report noted.

With a population of roughly 12,000 and, on average, younger than other B.C. municipalities, Terrace is a regional services hub shaped by major resource development projects. However, several concerns about projects such as the LNG Canada liquefied natural gas export terminal in Kitimat, the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter and hydropower facility have been highlighted.

“Even though we’re small and away from Victoria or from Vancouver… these issues impact this community so much more greatly because of that… I often feel that community members feel like they’re forgotten by the province,” one unnamed interviewee is quoted as saying.

Colonization, racism and discrimination

One of the major human rights challenges faced by the city, the report claims, is racism and discrimination against Indigenous people and newcomers.

Several Indigenous people shared experiences of discrimination and exclusion in healthcare settings, when looking for work and when visiting stores. Many of the Indigenous participants pushed back against tokenism which is described as a practice of doing something only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly.

Newcomers, on the other hand, reported experiencing human rights violations by their employers, as they are the most vulnerable when their work permits are tied to a specific employer. The employer then has control over communication with IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada).

Some employers also charge their temporary foreign workers for the cost of the labour market impact assessment required to hire them, which is illegal, the report found.

Because of barriers to securing affordable housing, the report found some of the newcomers, even on open work permits, have signed contracts stating they will lose their housing if they leave their jobs.

“On their [lease] it said even though [you] have [an] open work permit, if you get a second job, you have to leave within forty-eight hours. If you get fired, you have to leave within twenty-four hours,” the report states.

Housing and poverty

Slightly lower than the provincial rate of 10 per cent, seven per cent of Terrace residents lived in poverty in 2020, according to Statistics Canada’s Market Basket Measure of poverty. But the poverty rate for Indigenous people in Terrace is nearly double that of non-indigenous people.

Housing is another major human rights issue faced by community members, according to the report. In 2020, one in four tenants spent 30 per cent or more of their income on housing. The influx of workers for the major resource industry projects in the area may have added additional pressure on the local housing supply, the report states.

With 23 per cent of tenants in subsidized housing compared to 11 per cent across B.C., there is still a high unmet need for affordable housing.

In 2023’s Homeless Count, 156 people reported they were experiencing homelessness in Terrace, up from 107 in 2022 marking a 46 per cent increase. These figures are generally considered an undercount due to the methodology of the Homeless Count, which is a one-day survey carried out by service organizations and volunteers in communities across B.C.

“According to the 2023 Homeless Count, 84 per cent of all people experiencing homelessness in Terrace are Indigenous, while making up only 22 per cent of the general population,” the report states.

The shelters available in Terrace fall short of meeting the need for emergency housing, the report mentions, partly due to staffing issues. Discrimination against un-housed people is also highly prevalent, it says.

Staffing Challenges

The biggest employers in Terrace such as healthcare, education and social services are facing acute staff shortages. Challenges faced by these sectors include closing shelters for the day due to under-staffing, and recruiting and retaining educators as the schools rely on one-year contracts to fill gaps.

Under-staffing often means higher workloads and stress for the existing employees causing burnout. Low wages in the social services sector further add to the issue.

Barriers to services

The report highlights some services, programs and benefits available for community members are difficult or unsafe to access. Lack of use of a trauma-informed approach can lead to difficulty in navigating systems, especially for people facing complex and stressful situations.

The Canadian National Railway tracks cutting across the town poses a unique transportation barrier in Terrace with only one overpass and limited public transportation to help people cross Terrace from north to south.


A drastic limiting of access to healthcare in the city is caused by challenges in recruiting and retaining healthcare professionals in the community. Lack of family doctors and continuous primary care is adding to a disproportionate impact on seniors, and individuals struggling with mental health or substance use.

The new regional hospital opening in 2025 will offer an expanded range of health services, but concerns around staffing given the existing recruitment and retention challenges in the community remain.

Some participants of the survey report also noted a lack of mental health care available in Terrace.

Discrimination in health settings is prevalent for Indigenous peoples, as well as for people who are un-housed or use substances or experience mental health issues. Being frequently dismissed or stereotyped as ‘just seeking pills’ when they try to access necessary care is not uncommon for Indigenous peoples, the report found.

“Things I’ve overheard at the hospital…’Oh, it’s his third time in here OD’ing this week. I wish they’d just ship ‘em away,” an interviewee of the survey stated.

There are also challenges faced by older adults in Terrace. A wait-list of about three to five years for assisted living at one facility and a wait-list of two to five years at a long-term care facility are two of the examples given.

Toxic drug crisis

In 2022, Terrace had the second highest rate of unregulated drug fatalities in B.C., second only to Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside. As of October 2023, the annualized death rate per 100,000 people was 98.7, double the provincial rate of 45.7. Limited access to harm reduction and treatment in Terrace adds to the issue with 92 people dying in Terrace from the toxic drug supply between 2015 and 2023.

While Northern Health has established an overdose prevention site in Terrace, staffing capacity continues to be a challenge with the centre opening only four hours a day, Monday to Friday, excluding holidays.

Discrimination against substance users has added to the delay of the much-needed harm reduction and treatment programs.

“There was a considerable resistance to establishing an opioid agonist therapy clinic in Terrace, from both the public and some physicians,” the report states. There are only two detox beds available in Terrace.

As detox and addiction treatment has not been available in the city, people must travel to Vancouver or Prince George, but often get off the bus to use substances along the way and do not make it, the report said.


Indigenous students, students with disabilities and LGBTQ2SAI+ students reported facing discrimination in the education system.

Students at Parkside Alternate School described feeling socially separated from other youth, including being discriminated against for their attendance at an alternate school. Indigenous students also report being bullied and labelled as having a disability or needing medical attention or speaking English as a second language.

Unique challenges are faced by LGBTQ2SAI+ children who find it harder in a smaller community to connect with other people who are LGBTQ2SAI+.

Services for children and youth with disabilities

Many children in Terrace do not receive the support they need due to insufficient healthcare resources and long wait-lists for assessment, diagnosis and specialist services. Staffing challenges for programs such as Family Connections Centre and the Integrated Child and Youth Team for children and youth with disabilities, further escalate the problem.

Many youth also fall between the cracks when they age out from receiving support through the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s Child and Youth with Support Needs Services and through the School District.

Though many young adults with disabilities are eligible for support through Community Living BC, they are not aware of those supports due to a reported lack of coordination and information sharing.

About the Author: Prabhnoor Kaur

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