Investigation Details

Independent Investigator’s Biography

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond was appointed on June 19, 2020, by Health Minister Adrian Dix to lead an investigation into Indigenous-specific racism in the British Columbia health care system.

A member of Saskatchewan’s Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Turpel-Lafond served as a Saskatchewan Provincial Court judge for 20 years before moving to B.C. to become the province’s first-ever Representative for Children and Youth, serving in that capacity as an independent officer of the B.C. Legislature from 2006 to 2016.

Now a tenured full Professor of Law at the University of British Columbia’s Peter Allard Hall Law School, Turpel-Lafond is also the Director of UBC’s Indian Residential School Centre For History and Dialogue. In addition, Turpel-Lafond serves as a senior associate counsel at the legal firm Woodward and Company, appearing at all levels of court on cases relating to land claims, Indigenous and human rights matters, and public law litigation. She is a member of the Indigenous Bar as well as the Law Societies of B.C, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.

Turpel-Lafond holds a Doctorate in Law from Harvard Law School (S.J.D.), a master’s in international law from Cambridge University (Gonville and Caius College), a J.D. law degree from York University’s Osgoode Hall, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carleton University. She also holds a certificate in the international and comparative law of human rights from the University of Strasbourg and is the recipient of honourary degrees from nine Canadian universities and schools of law.

Terms of Reference

Establishment of the Investigation

  1. An independent investigation into systemic Indigenous-specific racism in health care in British Columbia is established by the Minister of Health.
  2. Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (Independent Investigator) is the leader of the investigation.
  3. Turpel-Lafond will independently select and assemble a team to carry out the work of the investigation.

Purposes of the Investigation

The purposes of the investigation are as follows:

  1. to inquire into and report on alleged incidents of Indigenous-specific racism in emergency departments in B.C., situated and examined within a broader context of Indigenous-specific systemic racism in the health care system in B.C.
  2. to make recommendations regarding the matters described in section 3.

Scope of the Investigation

  1. The investigation is to study data and information, conduct hearings and interviews, and make findings of fact respecting Indigenous-specific systemic racism in B.C.’s health care system, including the following:
      1. the veracity and extent of allegations of incidents of Indigenous-specific racism in Emergency departments, and the institutions in which they are housed, in B.C.;
      2. the potential extent of Indigenous-specific systemic racism in the health care system in B.C.;
      3. the acts or omissions of regulatory authorities or individuals with powers, duties or functions in respect of the health care sector, or any other relevant sector, to determine whether those acts or omissions have contributed to systemic racism in B.C.;
      4. the scope and effectiveness of initiatives and investments to address systemic racism in Emergency departments and in health care, including by regulatory authorities or individuals with powers, duties or functions in respect of the health care sector, or any other relevant sector;
      5. the barriers to addressing Indigenous-specific systemic racism in B.C.;
      6. any other relevant and necessary matters.
  2. The investigation will make any recommendations it considers necessary and advisable, including recommendations respecting the following:
    1. Measures to eliminate systemic racism against Indigenous people accessing health care in B.C.
    2. Measures to uphold the human rights of Indigenous peoples accessing health care in B.C., as articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry Calls for Justice.
    3. Measures to resolve barriers to addressing Indigenous-specific systemic racism in B.C.
    4. Public and health professional education to address bias and eliminate Indigenous-specific racism in B.C. and create space for the exercise of Indigenous peoples’ human rights.
    5. The regulation of the health care sector or any other relevant sector to eliminate Indigenous-specific racism in B.C. and create space for the exercise of Indigenous peoples’ human rights.
    6. Processes required to implement the recommendations of the investigation.
    7. Measures to ensure ongoing transparency, accountability and progress in eliminating Indigenous-specific racism in B.C. and creating space for the exercise of Indigenous peoples’ human rights.
    8. Any further inquiries or studies.
  3. The investigation will summarize the results of its work in a written report submitted to the Minister of Health by no later than Dec. 31, 2020. A phased approach may be taken to development and issuance of the reports.
  4. If the Independent Investigator has reasonable grounds to believe that any information obtained during the inquiry may be useful in the investigation or prosecution of an offence under the Criminal Code, or disciplinary action applicable to their regulated health profession, the Independent Investigator must forward that information to the appropriate authorities.


  1. Recognizing the potential vulnerability of affected individuals and key informants, and the sensitivity of information collected during the course of this investigation, the following measures will be taken:
    1. The investigation will take all reasonable steps to collect information in a manner that protects the security of the person interviewed and respects their confidentiality.
    2. The investigation will not disclose personal information of affected individuals without their informed consent.
    3. All information will be treated confidentially and in accordance with B.C. privacy legislation.
    4. Investigation records will be sealed and held by the Independent Investigator’s law firm.

Data Governance

A core function of the investigation is to collect data and information to understand the presence and extent of Indigenous-specific discrimination in health services in B.C. All data and information which arises from the operating and reporting of this investigation, including surveys, individual incidents and testimonials, interviews, submissions and analysis of pre-existing sources of information are subject to these data governance provisions.

  1. The Independent Investigator is the data steward and custodian of all data created as a result of this investigation, on behalf of the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia who own the data collectively.
  2. The investigation has instituted processes that ensure access to data and information collected/created as part of fulfilling its mandate is limited to the investigation team, and its use and disclosure is in alignment with applicable provincial privacy legislation. All electronic and paper-based data and information is fully protected in a secure manner.
  3. All data and information collected/created by the investigation is confidential, and privacy of individuals will be ensured through anonymous reporting in information products released externally, both informally and formally. In cases which describe individual incidents, the utmost care will be taken to remove any identifying features of the incidents in all reporting, and if reporting verbatim comments, that nothing in the comment, including content, vocabulary and/or style of writing, could serve to identify the individual respondent. Prior approval of the persons who submitted the incident information will be obtained before reporting involving individual incidents.
  4. All information and data which is published or otherwise distributed from the investigation is culturally appropriate and for the ultimate benefit of Indigenous people in British Columbia. The investigation team is developing specific policies and procedures to guide the review and disclosure of Indigenous information and data in investigation reports.
  5. The Independent Investigator has overall accountability and responsibility to manage all data and information collected/created in this investigation.
  6. Following the conclusion of this investigation and submission of the final investigation report, all data and information, including survey responses, will be sealed and will not be available for any use, including further analysis, editing, research or publication. All data and information used by team members in the course of their duties will be returned to the returned to the Independent Investigator.