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Ontario health leaders call on province to declare anti-Black racism public health crisis

Black community members’ suggestions on how to become an ‘ally’
WATCH ABOVE: As Black communities around North America protest against anti-Black racism, they are also calling out on people from other races to support them different ways. Kamil Karamali reports.

A coalition of Black community health leaders and organizations is calling on the Ontario government to declare anti-Black racism a public health crisis as protests continue across North America.

“Our communities are grieving. This moment is unprecedented, yet in many ways we have been here before,” a recent joint statement issued by the Alliance for Healthier Communities, the Black Health Committee, the Black Health Alliance and the Network for Advancement of Black Communities said.

“We cannot be silent in the face of the ongoing horror Black people are experiencing in Ontario, across Canada, and in the United States. We stand in solidarity with Black people everywhere in calling for justice.”

READ MORE: Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death reinforces need for major mental health and policing reforms, advocates say

As part of the statement, the group called for several actions to be taken to “meaningfully confront white supremacy and address anti-Black racism.” The main recommendations called for included:

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– Declaring Anti-Black racism to be a public health crisis.
– Strengthened accountability measures to “address police brutality, police violence and harms to Black communities.”
– Increased resources and a “clearly articulated, targeted, and systemic” anti-Black racism strategy.
– Provincial backing of allocating “protected funds to provide culturally appropriate health and wellbeing support within Black communities.”

Sané Dube, the policy and government relations lead for the Alliance for Healthier Communities and a signatory on the statement, said the time has come to formally acknowledge what members of Ontario’s Black community have been raising on an ongoing basis.

“What declaring a public health crisis does makes it visible, right. It says this is an issue,” she said, adding resources are dedicated and systems to support change would be put in place.

“What Black people don’t need are empty declarations of ‘We stand with you’ but then nothing is done to actually address the concerns Black folks are raising.

READ MORE: Canada doesn’t have same ‘systemic, deep roots’ of racism as United States, Premier Doug Ford says

“A public health crisis is something that also has systemic roots and it is allowed to continue because it is built into a system that is allowing it to flourish, so if you address that you’re dealing with the issue.”

While citing the death of George Floyd while in police custody, Dube also highlighted several examples in Ontario of Black residents with mental health issues who have died following interactions with police.

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Thousands rallied in Toronto on Saturday days after Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death. She died after falling from her 24th-floor apartment shortly following the arrival of police, who were called by her mother for assistance in a dispute.

In April, 26-year-old D’Andre Campbell was fatally shot after Peel Regional Police were called to his Brampton home with a request for assistance.

The circumstances of both situations are still being investigated by Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

Dube also cited the deaths of Andrew Loku in Toronto in 2015 and Abdirahman Abdi in Ottawa in 2016.

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“These are cases that are still really fresh in our memory, and so for Black people we understand that for us living with mental health and needing help actually puts us at more harm than it does for other people,” she said.

A 2018 Ontario Human Rights Commission report found that even though 8.8 per cent of Toronto residents are Black, SIU data showed “Black people were overrepresented in use-of-force cases (28.8 per cent), shootings (36 per cent), deadly encounters (61.5 per cent) and fatal shootings (70 per cent).”

Dube said by addressing anti-Black racism in a formalized way under a public health crisis declaration, “structural issues” that make life “unlivable” for many in Ontario’s Black community can hopefully be addressed in a meaningful way.

READ MORE: Black neighbourhoods in Toronto are hit hardest by COVID-19 — and it’s ‘anchored in racism,’ experts say

“We know that anti-Black racism frames so much of the Black experience. It’s not just that things like this where you’re facing police violence, but anti-Blackness is also in things like our children being streamed to certain streams through school or failing to achieve higher educational attainment,” she said.

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“Our children are disproportionately represented in the child and family services. We are disproportionately represented in the corrections system — so people who are in prisons and detention centres — and also even in health care, our health care access as inequitable compared to other people.”

READ MORE: Toronto lawyer reflects on local incidents of anti-Black racism, police brutality

Global News contacted the Ontario cabinet minister responsible for the province’s Anti-Racism Directorate (ARD), Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, to ask about the call for a public health crisis declaration. A spokesperson didn’t respond directly to the question when asked for comment.

“Our government supports the ARD’s work, which includes providing anti-racism advice and expertise across the government,” Stephen Warner said in a statement.

“Our government has shown its determination to put an end to hate in our communities, but we know there is more to do before everyone in our province can be safe and feel as safe as they should. We will continue to work with partners and communities to ensure everyone who calls Ontario home can feel at home no matter their background, race, language or religion.”

READ MORE: Want to support Black people? Stop talking, start listening

Warner said most recently the ARD has worked to advance Ontario’s three-year anti-racism strategy, helped draft unspecified regulations under recent police legislation, developed an applied learning program for Ontario’s public service to provide anti-racism knowledge and skills, provided guidance to multiple sectors on creating systems to collect race-based data and worked “to identify and address racial barriers” in recruiting corrections officers.

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“The goal is to eliminate systemic racism and advance racial equity in Ontario for Black, Indigenous and racialized populations.”

The directorate’s budget to carry out anti-racism initiatives for the 2020-2021 budgetary year is $4.92 million. In 2019, opposition party members raised concerns about the budget being given to the ARD.