It was time for our organization to tackle this issue head on, one that has been getting a lot of attention for some time. At the convention, the delegation heard presentations from two speakers from the health sector who shared their experiences, observations, and expertise on systemic racism.
Samir Shaheen-Hussain is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University and works as a pediatric emergency physician at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. For almost twenty years, he has been involved in different social justice movements, including Indigenous solidarity, anti-police brutality, and migrant justice organizing.
Isabelle Wallace is a member of the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation in New Brunswick. She works as a nurse in Northern Indigenous communities. Ms. Wallace has a Bachelor’s in nursing from the University of Moncton and a Master’s degree in nursing from the University of Ottawa. Her thesis was on improving access to health care for Indigenous peoples and transforming nursing education to better meet their needs.
Both speakers spoke to the delegation about how systemic racism is omnipresent in the health network. It is present in major administrative decisions and in small everyday actions, as seen in the many examples featured in the news in recent years: Joyce Echaquan, Mireille Ndjomouo, Kimberly Gloade, Brian Sinclair. All of these people are part of racialized groups and died due to negligence in a health system that was supposed to protect them.
Mr. Shaheen-Hussain spoke about Inuit children who were airlifted and denied parental accompaniment. The health minister at the time, Gaétan Barette, justified the decision by saying that the people accompanying children could be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This example perfectly illustrates the existence of strongly established medical colonialism that is often unconscious.
Ms. Wallace invited each healthcare professional to be humble and recognize that there is racism within us, due to biases instilled from our education, experiences, socialization and personal beliefs. Becoming anti-racist is a life-long effort and requires that we first become aware of our privileges and prejudice.
To quote former senator Murray Sinclair, “…systemic racism is that racism left over after you get rid of the racists.”