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Increasing calls for Ontario government to declare anti-Black racism public health crisis

The impact of anti-Black racism on health
WATCH (June 7, 2020): Global News Weekend host Aalia Adam talks to Lydia-Joi Marshall from Black Health Alliance about the toll these past few weeks have taken on the overall health of Black communities.

There are increasing calls for the Ontario government to declare anti-Black racism a public health crisis.

“Anti-Black racism has undeniably harmful effects on Black Ontarians,” CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We need to name what happens to Black people when it comes to policing, workplace discrimination, the stress it causes and so much more as a public health crisis requiring urgent and comprehensive action.

READ MORE: Toronto board of health unanimously votes to recognize anti-Black racism as public health crisis

“We’ve all seen the scope available, and how quickly government can act during a public health emergency … It is long past time to acknowledge that fighting anti-Black racism needs the same scale and speed.”

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CUPE Ontario also called for consultations about a quick release of the collection of race-based COVID-19 data, the budget for the provincial government’s anti-racism directorate and increased police oversight.

Veriline Howe, a development services worker and chair of the union’s racial justice committee, said many front-line workers who are Black are “at serious risk.”

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

“Seventy per cent of my colleagues are racialized, with many of them Black. We know we’re being impacted the most, but we need the government to collect race-based data to help create the best measures possible,” she said in the statement.

The request comes as peaceful protests surrounding issues of anti-Black racism and police violence continue to be held across North America after the May 25 death of George Floyd in the United States.

Several other health organizations, including a collective call from the Alliance for Healthier Communities, the Black Health Committee, the Black Health Alliance and the Network for Advancement of Black Communities, have pushed for a declaration.

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The coalition also called on the Ontario government to enact 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 as well as provincial backing of allocating “protected funds to provide culturally appropriate health and well-being support within Black communities.”

On Monday, the City of Toronto’s board of health unanimously voted to recognize anti-Black racism as a public health crisis. The board also affirmed a commitment to support policies affecting marginalized and racialized communities, submitted a request for Toronto’s medical officer of health to reprioritize resources to address anti-Black racism and addressing inequities, moved to reschedule a training session for the board on anti-Black racism and other equity-related measures and asked for the city’s civic appointments committee to diversify the filling of positions on city boards and committees.

When asked multiple times if the Ontario government is looking at declaring anti-Black racism a public health crisis, a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott didn’t directly address the issue.

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Instead, Hayley Chazan referred to a statement made by Premier Doug Ford during a recent announcement about a new advisory group, the Premier’s Council on Equality of Opportunity.

“As a society, as a people, we’re coming face to face right now with the hardest issues, the most difficult topics, and there’s a lot of pain in Canada and the U.S. and around the world,” he said.

Ontario’s Council on Equality of Opportunity
Ontario’s Council on Equality of Opportunity

“We must acknowledge this pain and where it’s coming from, and it’s only by facing these issues head-on that we can address them, that we can move forward.

“It starts with our young people. It starts with our next generation. It starts with equipping them with the tools they need. It starts with economic opportunities, education opportunities and supports. It starts with giving every young person from every community, from every neighbourhood, the tools to succeed.”

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With respect to CUPE Ontario’s call for a quick release of race-based COVID-19 data, Chazan said the Ontario government gave the approval to collect race-based COVID-19 “on a voluntary basis” while considering making it mandatory to report the income and race of those who test positive for the novel coronavirus.

She called the move “an important first step to understand the unique impacts race and income may have on public health incomes.”