Saskatchewan human rights commission will get involved in family’s racism case against hospital if asked

Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission says it would get involved in a family’s racism allegation against a local hospital if it receives a complaint.

(Lisa Tapaquon (left) and her mother, Joyce Tapaquon. Photo: APTN)

Kathleen Martens
APTN Investigates
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission says it would get involved in a family’s racism allegation against a local hospital if it receives a complaint.

The Tapaquon family of Regina hasn’t reached out to the commission yet in its two-year battle with the Pasqua Hospital over the treatment of daughter Juliette Tapaquon, who died of cancer in 2014.

But it is an option for them, said chief commissioner David Arnot.

“We can suggest a systemic solution,” Arnot said in a telephone interview Monday. “We stress anti-racism education so the public can be better informed.”

The Tapaquons allege a palliative care doctor acted in a racist manner when she kicked Juliette off the ward in the spring of 2014.

The alleged discrimination was made public for the first time last week in the APTN Investigates story Honouring Bear Woman.

The family says the doctor claimed to fear for her life after seeing an angry text from the patient. Staff reported a threat to the Regina Police Service and two officers arrived and escorted Juliette to the main door in front of other patients and staff. It was a humiliating event, says Juliette’s mother, Joyce.

One that led to other problems with the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region over the next six months until Juliette died of cervical cancer in October 2014.

DavidArnot_for web
Saskatchewan Human Rights Commissioner David Arnot


After Juliette’s death, the family met privately with hospital officials to resolve outstanding issues but says it left empty handed. This week, family members will hold a gathering in the cancer survivors’ garden outside the hospital.

“To bring attention to the shocking discriminatory treatment she received,” explained Bob Hughes, of the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism, “and to call on the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region to reopen communication with Juliette’s family.”

Hughes, who is an advocate for the family, said, “several RQHR employees…performed their duties with integrity and devotion in trying to assist Juliette to access proper palliative care. Those employees and their agencies have been silenced and blocked from continuing to provide the follow-up support that Juliette’s family so badly needs.”

The Tapaquons have not decided to register their complaint with the commission.

Arnot, a lawyer and former judge in Saskatchewan, says racism is a regular source of complaints to the commission. But the agency doesn’t reveal the number, source or target of the complaints.

Instead, it prefers to share “positive” outcomes in its annual reports, Arnot said.

A former treaty commissioner for Saskatchewan, Arnot says the comprehensive work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is something the commission wants to build on when it comes to combatting racism in Saskatchewan.

The RQHR also doesn’t comment on complaints citing patient and staff confidentiality. But it says it is making changes to educate staff about the differences between western and traditional practices in death. And it did apologize in a letter to the family.

“Losing a loved one to a terminal illness is very difficult in any circumstances and we are so sorry that we have compounded the sorry and grief associated with the death of Juliette,” said the letter obtained by APTN Investigates.

“It is the goal of the RQHR to provide competent, compassionate care to patients and families. It is apparent we fell short of that goal while caring for Juliette.”

But the family wanted a public apology. And a sacred space created in Juliette’s name to help restore the spiritual element that was lost after she couldn’t smudge in her room or have prayers with an Elder.

Talks to negotiate those things broke off and haven’t resumed, Hughes said.

“Unbelievably, the hospital’s Patient Advocate has also cut off communication and discussion with them,” he said in the news release. “(We are) calling on the RQHR to remove the constraints from these employees and to let them do the crucial work that they were intended to do.”

Meanwhile, the RQHR says it has no record of police being called to the hospital to remove Juliette Tapaquon. Even though the Regina Police Service confirmed it was called to the Pasqua on that particular day and time.

Lisa Tapaquon says she witnessed two officers escort her sister Juliette to the main door.

“RQHR has no formal system to track this and while we are aware of the allegation that this occurred, we have no record of any registered patients receiving care being escorted out of the facility by police at any time during the past five years,” RQHR spokeswoman Lisa Thomson said in an email to APTN Investigates. “Disruptive discharged patients have on occasion been escorted out at our request, but it is after they have finished receiving care.”

Thompson says a promised chart review of the case was concluded and delivered to the family. But the family says it never received it.

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Online Journalist / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.

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