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Letter to Aboriginal Legal Services supporting the open letter: Adding the fight against racism to the Canada Health Act: the time is now

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January 13, 2021

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Emily Hill
Senior Staff Lawyer
Aboriginal Legal Services
211 Yonge Street, Suite 500
Toronto, ON M5B 1M4

Dear Ms. Hill:

Re: Adding the fight against racism to the Canada Health Act: the time is now

Thank you for your correspondence of November 6, 2020, advising the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) regarding the advocacy efforts of the Brian Sinclair Working Group. I am writing to you as OHRC Chief Commissioner to support the open letter: Adding the fight against racism to the Canada Health Act: the time is now.

Although the Canada Health Act (Act) is federal legislation, the OHRC recognizes the significant impact it has on the delivery of health services in provinces and territories and believes principles respecting human rights should be reflected in the Act, as well as all other federal and provincial legislation.

The OHRC shares your dismay regarding the tragic events surrounding the death of Joyce Echaquan, and the many other gut-wrenching and heart-breaking examples that are proof of the deep-seated systemic racism Indigenous people face when seeking medical care in Canada. In a recent opinion editorial, Why it’s dangerous to be disabled and Indigenous in Canada, I expressed my concerns about the prevalence of discrimination in healthcare services and the serious need to be attuned to intersecting grounds of discrimination in ensuring equitable treatment in healthcare.

One of the OHRC’s strategic focus areas in our 2017–22 Strategic Plan: Putting people and their rights at the centre, is to embody human rights through reconciliation. One of the ways the OHRC is working towards this is by collaborating with Indigenous communities and groups to respond to and address systemic racism, discrimination and inequality. Our goal is to increase accountability for systemic racism and discrimination against Indigenous peoples.

The OHRC’s 2017 report, Under suspicion: research and consultation report on racial profiling in Ontario, highlighted concerns that, compared to all survey respondents, a greater proportion of Indigenous people said they were racially profiled in health care. We also heard about situations where Indigenous people seeking health care experienced rude and discriminatory treatment, they were perceived to be a risk to others, and their symptoms were not treated seriously because of assumptions of substance abuse. This type of systemic racism is unacceptable and must be eradicated.

To promote health equity, we must advance an intersectional understanding of discrimination. Under Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

As noted in my Op-Ed, in our efforts to combat systemic racism, it is critical we understand the unique oppression experienced by people because of intersecting identities, for example race and gender. Racism is often compounded by other features and systems of oppression. Acknowledging “anti-racism” as a fundamental equality rights principle must also challenge the intersectional nature of discrimination, by identifying the multidimensional characteristics, such as ancestry, gender, disability, age, sexuality and socioeconomic status, etc., that along with race, ethnicity or colour can be part of the reason a person is subjected to implicit or explicit bias leading to inequitable health services. “Anti-racism” must be interpreted in the broadest sense to recognize the multiple axes of social identity and include direct, indirect, institutional and structural discrimination.

Additionally, all stakeholders in the healthcare system should adopt and implement anti-racism and human rights policies and strategies in consultation with Indigenous groups, communities and organizations, as well as other racialized groups affected by systemic racism and legacies of colonialism within the healthcare system.

Please let me know how the OHRC can continue to provide support for this effort.



Ena Chadha, LL.B., LL.M.
Chief Commissioner

cc:        Josée G. Lavoie, Professor, University of Manitoba
            Mary Jane Logan McCallum, Professor, University of Winnipeg
            Annette J. Browne, Professor, University of British Columbia
            Hon. Christine Elliott, Minister of Health
            Hon. Doug Downey, Attorney General
            OHRC Commissioners