MLHU board officially declares racism a public health crisis

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At Thursday’s Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) board meeting, members voted to officially declare racism as a public health crisis.

Councillor and board member Arielle Kayabaga put forward the motion at the meeting, which also saw the board receive a new report showing that visible minority groups account for more than a quarter of all COVID-19 cases reported in the region despite making up only 17 per cent of the London and Middlesex population.

The declaration follows mounting public pressure locally, nationally and around the world to address systemic racism, specifically anti-Black racism.

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

On Monday, the Ottawa Board of Health unanimously voted to recognize racism and discrimination as a determinant of a person’s mental and physical health. Just last week, the Toronto Board of Health voted to recognize anti-Black racism as a public health crisis.

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Two years ago, the Canadian Public Health Association released a statement urging Canadians to speak out against racism with a factoid explaining the negative health impacts of discrimination.

The World Health Organization released its findings in 2005 that linked exposure to sexism, racism and poverty to mental health problems.

Dr. Chris Mackie, MLHU medical officer of health, spoke to the declaration at Friday’s COVID-19 media briefing, explaining that the next steps in addressing the crisis involve “two streams of work.”

“The first is to look inside our organization to make absolutely certain that we have our house in order,” he explained.

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“Do we have appropriate policies, procedures and practices to make sure that minority groups are able to be successful both as clients of our programs and also as staff within our organization? And that will be a formal process that we’ll undertake over the next several months.”

READ MORE: A man was ignored to death in an ER 10 years ago. It could happen again

The second stream, Mackie said, involves external partnerships.

“As a health unit, what we can achieve is limited by our resources in the extent of our work, but if we’re able to work with other community partners, I think there would be lots of opportunities to address the issue of racism,” he said.

“{For} both of those pieces of work — and I want to be very clear, as a white male person of privilege — it will be incredibly important for me to seek leadership, and as much as possible even cede power, to those communities that are most affected. So I am looking for the best ways to involve Black, Indigenous and other people of colour to help lead that work and make sure that they’re appropriately compensated to do so.”

Click to play video 'Living In Colour: How anti-Black racism affects mental health' Living In Colour: How anti-Black racism affects mental health
Living In Colour: How anti-Black racism affects mental health – Jun 12, 2020

–With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun and Matthew Trevithick.