Racism and access to health care in Canada

With the presence of diverse cultures in Canada, systematic racism continues to thrive. The dominant cultures are more recognized and well taken care of, while the minority are disregarded and offered poor quality health services. The immigrants, particularly refugees and the indigenous people face the highest level of racism and discrimination.

Racism began in the colonial days, nonindigenous people were well aware of the structures to undermine to take control over the indigenous people. They despised their social and educational institutions and constructed poor quality hospitals where the indigenous people were treated at cheaper costs. They outlawed their spiritual and traditional medical systems.

The indigenous people were secluded and discriminated against. They were offered poor quality medical and nursing services. They were incarcerated, starved and put in community reserves. Colonialist infected them with contagious diseases. All this was to ensure that the nonindigenous people maintained dominance and control over them. They took over their resources and were offered high-quality health care services.

Since the colonial days, racism has continued to exist and the consequences reflect on the health status of the indigenous. Despite the provision of culturally relevant and safe care training among physicians. They continue to discriminate against them. The mortality rate among indigenous infants in Manitoba is double that of the nonindigenous.

The death of Brian Sinclair, a man from Manitoba exposed high levels of discrimination and racism. After a physician referred him to Winnipeg Health Sciences Center, Brian took a taxi to the facility, he entered the emergency room using his wheelchair. After hours of neglect and lack of care, he died. He died of a treatable bladder infection.

The language barrier has also played a role in promoting racism, researchers discovered that Arabic speakers lack access to quality health care because of the language barrier. There is a small number of Arabic interpreters in Canada. Also, Tamil immigrants and refugees lack access to breast cancer screening services due to the language barrier.

The Canadian health care system is characterized by racism and discrimination. Refugees and indigenous people are the most discriminated population. They lack access to quality care. This harms their health. Health providers treat nonindigenous people better than them. This has contributed to a high mortality rate among infants and poor health. There is a need for more culturally relevant and safe care training among health care providers to end racism in the health care system.


Hyman, Ilene. “Racism as a determinant of immigrant health.” Ottawa: Strategic Initiatives and Innovations Directorate of the Public Health Agency of Canada (2009).

McGibbon, Elizabeth, Josephine Etowa, and Charmaine McPherson. “Health-care access as a social determinant of health.” Canadian Nurse 104.7 (2008).

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