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B.C.'s top doctor 'saddened,' 'disturbed' by COVID-related racism

Last Updated Jan 14, 2021 at 4:25 pm PST

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provide an update on COVID-19 on Nov. 16, 2020. (Courtesy Government of B.C./Flikr)

Dr. Bonnie Henry says racism and discrimination have no place in B.C.

B.C.'s top doctor says she's saddened to hear about racism against Indigenous people amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Henry says all British Columbians have a part to play in fighting back against racism

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – Despite her pleas for British Columbians to be kind, calm, and safe, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says she’s saddened and disturbed by recent reports of racism targeting Indigenous people amid the pandemic.

During her Thursday update, Henry took some time to admonish racist behaviour that’s come up in B.C., namely on Vancouver Island.

“We are all susceptible to getting ill from this virus and we all have a choice about our daily activities and how we treat those around us,” Henry said. “COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, but systems do. And it has illuminated for us many long-standing inequities in different parts of our society. It has also highlighted how First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples in British Columbia did not come into this pandemic on equal footing.”

She said the racism counters the “kindness and compassion” she expects and has seen from British Columbians over the past several months.

“In particular, members of the Cowichan tribes here on Vancouver Island have been stigmatized and discriminated against as a result of COVID-19,” she said.

A shelter-in-place order was issued last Wednesday by Cowichan Tribes Chief and Council after 23 cases were identified. The nation has about 5,000 members, about half of whom live on reserve. By Sunday, 45 cases had been reported.

District Municipality of North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said over the weekend the way some Indigenous people have been treated since the order came into effect “is the very definition of racism.”

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He condemned “vile” and “racist” responses to COVID-19 cases among members of the Cowichan Tribes First Nation in a social media, and detailed to NEWS 1130 some of these acts.

Henry said Thursday she’s received word that public health teams and “many others” have since come together to support these communities dealing with COVID-19.

“This type of racism cannot be tolerated and I stand against this with my colleagues to say, ‘This must stop — on Vancouver Island and elsewhere.’ Racism has no place in our society, in our communities here in British Columbia,” she said, adding everyone has a role to play in speaking up and out against such behaviour.

Saying the challenges associated with COVID-19 are difficult enough to deal with, Henry said stigma and discrimination are not welcome.

-With files from Lisa Steacy