‘It was so scary’: First Nations woman records treatment in southern Alberta hospital

Cardston doctor threatens arrest if she leaves


A southern Alberta doctor investigated three years ago for a racist tirade against Indigenous street people is now accused of verbally abusing a First Nations woman. 

Dr. Lloyd Clarke, of Cardston, Alta., is heard on video threatening to have Marissa Smoke arrested if she leaves Cardston Hospital without treatment.

Smoke said she used her phone to record the confrontation with Clarke and two female nurses in the emergency department after arriving via ambulance with severe abdominal pain on March 25.

One nurse in the video speaks with a raised voice and accuses Smoke of “lying.”

“Stop talking to me like I’m an idiot and stop yelling at me,” Smoke replied in a calm voice.

“No,” said the nurse, “then stop acting like one.”

Tries to leave

Smoke then gets up from the bed and gathers her things to leave before going into the hallway.

“OK, I need to take your IV out,” continued the nurse in a loud voice. “You’re not walking out with an IV. And you have to sign a form that you’re leaving against medical advice.”

A second female nurse can be heard advising Smoke to go to nearby Lethbridge for treatment.

Smoke, who remained calm, told the nurses she didn’t like the way they were speaking to her.

“It’s hard to think right now because I’m in so much f***ing pain and I’m not going to be abused and be called a liar over and over,” she said on the video posted to Facebook and shared with APTN News.

First nurse

“We’re just here to help you,” said the first nurse. “We don’t need to take your shit and for you to give us attitude. You need to stop acting so entitled.”

Smoke kept recording while Clarke approached her in the hallway.

“I’m going to have you arrested unless you do this with me,” the doctor said trying to get her to look him in the eye.

Smoke declined and asked to sign the release form.

“Whatever is causing you to take this attitude in your care is not helping you get care,” said Clarke, who is also heard on the video calling Smoke “sweetie.”

“I’m not going to be yelled at by somebody,” Smoke added.

She then tells Clarke friends are coming to take her to hospital in Lethbridge.

“I am going to call the police and have you restrained if I have to,” Clarke said, “because you’re not in your right mind.”

However, Smoke was not arrested and allowed to leave the hospital. She told APTN on Tuesday she followed up with a doctor in Lethbridge, which is about a 55-minute drive north of Cardston. 

A complaint

Clarke was the subject of a complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) in 2018 after he made derogatory comments to a group of homeless Indigenous people standing outside a Cardston convenience store.

He told them to “get a job” and asked if they wanted a prescription for Tylenol 3 (an addictive painkiller), according to documents obtained by APTN.

In the documents, Clarke admitted his comments were inappropriate but not racist.

CPSA dismissed the complaint filed by Lethbridge attorney Ingrid Hess, explaining it would not discipline Clarke because his comments were “damaging” but did not amount to professional misconduct.

Hess appealed the decision. She argued, “Clarke’s blatant biases and negative views of Indigenous people might influence his care of the Indigenous patients he treats.”

‘Might be perceived as racist’

The appeal panel agreed Clarke’s remarks “might be perceived as racist.”

But it “did not feel that the remarks made were indicative of a racist attitude,” given that Clarke, as a Maori from New Zealand, is himself Indigenous.

Clarke pledged to formally apologize to the people he insulted but Hess, reached Tuesday, said she was unaware whether he had followed through.

“To my knowledge he hasn’t, to this date, apologized for making those awful statements to those people,” she told APTN in a telephone interview.

Hess, a well-known southern Alberta lawyer and First Nations advocate, said she is now representing Smoke and would be filing complaints on her behalf to CPSA, the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA) and possibly human rights organizations.

An inquiry

“I personally think there should be an inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous people by the doctors in Cardston,” Hess told APTN.

“This is a chronic problem. There is a feeling amongst Indigenous people that they are not getting treated fairly, adequately or properly.”

Smoke’s video is more evidence of anti-Indigenous racism in Canada’s healthcare system.

Last fall, Atikamekw mother Joyce Echequan recorded nurses making degrading comments while in a Quebec hospital during the last moments of her life. As she screamed in distress, female staff members called her stupid and said she would be better off dead.

Other Indigenous patients have reported racist incidents to APTN and other media outlets since then.

The federal government has condemned the racism and announced plans to develop new Indigenous health legislation.

Meanwhile, AHS told APTN it is investigating what was recorded on the Cardston Hospital video.

Trust 

“We know that trust is a significant barrier to First Nations, Métis and Inuit people accessing the healthcare system, and acknowledge that institutional racism and stereotyping has kept people from getting the care they need,” it said in an emailed statement.

“We also know that the relationships between AHS and First Nations, Métis and Inuit Albertans must continue to improve, and we are committed to building, nurturing and growing those relationships.”

CARNA did not comment on the video but said anyone could file a complaint against a registered nurse.

“It is CARNA’s responsibility to address complaints related to the professional conduct of our registrants,” it said in a statement received Tuesday.

CPSA, which regulates physicians in Alberta, said it was aware of Smoke’s video.

It told APTN in a statement it expected all physicians “to treat patients with respect and dignity while providing the best care possible.”

Dr. Lloyd Clarke works out of the Cardston Health Clinic. Photo: APTN file

Spokesperson Jessica McPhee said she couldn’t comment specifically on Cardston, but, in general, she noted “hospital staff” could “consult law enforcement” in any “situation where a patient may be in danger to themselves or others.”

Additionally, under the Mental Health Act, she said “a qualified health professional can examine a patient and if admission certificate criteria under the Mental Health Act is met, and in order to treat the patient or prevent serious bodily harm to the patient or others, they can be detained in the hospital for 24 hours.”

APTN did not hear back from Clarke after leaving a message seeking comment at his medical clinic in Cardston Tuesday.

Smoke, who is originally from Manitoba, runs the Whitecalf Emergency Shelter on Kainai First Nation next door to Cardston.

She said she called an ambulance from her workplace and praised the paramedics who treated her enroute. But said what happened with the nurses and doctors in Cardston was frightening.

Real issue 

“The real issue was they were telling me I was not in my right mind, and that I was actually abusing opiates…when  I have the right to refuse care,” Smoke said in a telephone interview.

“I felt so unsafe. I felt judged and attacked. I went for help and for them to call me a liar – it was so scary.”

Hess said Smoke had the right to refuse medical treatment.

“I hope that this kind of generates more complaints of things that have happened so we can get to that point of somebody saying, ‘Enough. Like we need to have a serious look at this,’” the lawyer said.

“It has to be an investigation of some kind or an inquiry of some kind within AHS.”

Watch Tamara Pimentel’s story:

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. 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.

Video Journalist / Calgary

Tamara is Métis from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She received a diploma in interactive media arts at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon and has worked as a videographer for CBC in Winnipeg and Iqaluit. Tamara was hired by APTN in 2016 as a camera/editor and is now a video journalist in our Calgary bureau.