A Goodacre Place review found no link between the cultural safety practices of the assisted living facility and the deaths of six Aboriginal men.
The report, commissioned by BC Housing and supported by the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA), says two independent consultants were asked to assess whether the Smithers Community Services Association (SCSA) was meeting the terms of its agreement with BC Housing.
“During the review, however, the consultants observed no direct link between the cultural safety practices employed at Goodacre Place and the deaths, and therefore could not substantiate any of the allegations,” the report said.
The allegations referenced in the report stem from an April 22, 2021 joint press release from the Dze L K’ant Friendship Center (DLKF) and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centers demanding an investigation and suggesting the deaths were related to ‘Smithers’ lacks culturally safe housing programs for Indigenous people.
All six men died approximately 12 months apart between spring 2020 and April 2021. For the most part, the causes of death were never released. The exception was Arthur Tom, who died in hospital following a freak accident in which he fell down a flight of stairs in Goodacre Place.
Cathryn Olmstead, executive director of SCSA, would not speak to individual cases, but said most were the types of death facilities that cater to vulnerable customers tend to see.
The report acknowledges Goodacre Place’s efforts to provide culturally safe services “despite the absence of specific guidance from BC Housing in the operator agreement and the absence of definitions or standards of cultural safety in the housing sector “.
“The review found that SCSA is making efforts to create cultural safety at Goodacre Place and that the organization is committed to further improvements,” said a press release accompanying the release of the report. “The review also highlighted the ongoing impacts of systemic racism and colonization on the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples.
Some of the report’s key recommendations to SCSA were to continue to build on existing relationships with Indigenous groups and other service providers, to become more transparent with their reporting policies and practices, and to expand on-site health care in conjunction with Northern Health.
Olmstead said in a statement in May 2021 that his organization and the staff at Goodacre Place were devastated by the deaths and subsequent allegations and welcomed an independent review of their programs and services “because it will bring out the truth”.
In a statement dated Feb. 15, the same day BC Housing released its final report, Olmstead said the review did just that.
“Findings from the recent review of Goodacre Place Supported Housing in Smithers confirm that Goodacre Place staff are leaders in cultural safety practices and recognize that staff always go above and beyond the mandate of the program to respond to the unique needs of each participant,” she wrote.
Nevertheless, while the SCSA accepts the recommendations from the review, saying there is always room for improvement, the organization is not satisfied with the report as a whole.
Olmstead said that while the report fully vindicates the SCSA and its staff and Goodacre Place and its staff, it does not say so explicitly enough and continues to cast a veil over the organization’s reputation.
The SCSA Board of Directors had the opportunity to review a draft of the report before the final version was released and sent a seven-page response asking what they considered to be deficiencies that needed to be addressed.
Specifically, among a number of requests for clarification and corrections, the CSSA expected the final report to clearly state:
- That the original DKLF press release contained damaging and unsubstantiated allegations;
- That the review found no fault with SCSA and, in fact, concluded that the organization exceeded the requirements of its contract with BC Housing;
- That an independent survey found that respondents were unanimous in saying their culture was respected at Goodacre Place and that 33% said their access to culture had improved when they entered the program;
- And that the reviewers’ positive findings on the SCSA are clearly written and feature prominently in the report.
Olmstead told Black Press Media that none of those expectations were met by the final report.
“On the contrary, they have toned down some of the rhetoric of the first report, although I think it continues to subtly imply that we are responsible for the limits of the health system and the racism experienced in the community.
“To be honest, I don’t think that exonerates us strongly or clearly enough.”
Although review respondents gave Goodacre Place an overall positive rating, they did not view Smithers itself as favorably.
“Reviewers also heard of many experiences of local anti-Indigenous racism,” the report said. “Most interview respondents agree that Smithers is not an Aboriginal-friendly community.
Margaret Pfoh, CEO of AHMA and a member of the Gitga’at First Nation, said there was a much bigger picture to consider.
“This report to me, and the process, is much more than a matter of exoneration or finger pointing,” she told Black Press Media. “But really about the decolonization of systems in Canada, and in particular the housing and support systems where Indigenous peoples … represent the majority who are served.
“And so, I think this report has really demonstrated a good process and a way forward to ensure that where Indigenous communities are impacted, Indigenous-led organizations have a seat at the table to ensure that level of transparency, cultural safety and inclusion.
BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay acknowledged that SCSA had done “a very good job” in managing Goodacre, especially during the most difficult times, but, like Pfoh, wanted to focus on possible improvements.
“[SCSA is] a strong partner, and we want to work with them…to implement the recommendations to make them even stronger,” he said. “And you’re absolutely right, the report acknowledged their current practices, but also…made recommendations on where improvements could be made.”
Additionally, Ramsay said BC Housing wants to use the lessons learned from the report to improve its services across the province.
“I think it’s really a reflection of a commitment to truth and reconciliation, the truth part of which is facing the issues, acknowledging them and having those tough conversations,” he said. “But then the real positive is the reconciliation element and the parties come together with a great set of recommendations to improve cultural safety practices, not just at Goodacre Place but because of the provincial role of AHMA, it’s how we can translate those learnings. for BC Housing across all of our housing providers, because we know Indigenous people are so overrepresented in all categories of housing need.
The full report can be found at BC Housing website.
The other major issue SCSA had with the report is that it did not address their concerns about a perceived conflict of interest with Dze L K’ant Friendship Center Executive Director Annette Morgan, who carried the initial allegations and was a member of the AHMA Board of Directors at the time.
Pfoh denied that there was ever a conflict of interest.
“Once the story broke, Annette declared her conflict of interest and no longer participated in board discussions about it,” she said. “And shortly thereafter she resigned from the board due to the direct conflict of interest in this matter and a perceived conflict of interest related to a separate matter.”
The Dze L K’ant Friendship Center has yet to respond to the report, but Morgan said it will.