A heat wave delivered punishing conditions across Ontario and Quebec on Wednesday, making it feel like 40 degrees and prompting warnings about heat-related illness.
Environment Canada forecasted maximum temperatures in the low 30s, and a humidex around 40, as the agency issued heat warnings for large parts of both provinces, following similar conditions on Tuesday.
In St. James Town, a low-income and diverse neighbourhood in Toronto’s downtown, Raj Kumar took refuge on a bench outside his apartment. Kumar said he can’t afford an air conditioning unit on his social assistance income, resorting to a small fan to help cool down his apartment.
“You have to keep it close though,” he said.
Researchers have repeatedly noted people experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, the elderly, people of colour and low-income people with little access to air conditioning and living in areas with fewer parks bear the brunt of heat waves.
“In the apartment, it’s really hot during the daytime,” Kumar said.
Parts of northern Ontario are forecasted to get cooler conditions by Thursday. But Environment Canada said the rest of the province will have to wait until Friday for the heat wave to pass.
With overnight temperatures hovering around 20 degrees, offering little relief to the day’s stuffy heat, Toronto extended outdoor pool hours to 11:45 p.m. Tuesday at seven locations.
Environment Canada cautioned people to watch for the effects of heat illness, such as cramps, fainting and swelling.
Keith Haywood spoke with a friend outside a St. James Town apartment complex Wednesday about the lack of air conditioning in his unit.
“It’s kind of hard to breathe,” he said.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission earlier this year welcomed the provincial government’s efforts to clarify tenant rights to install and use air conditioning units. But with climate change driving temperature increases and heat waves becoming more common, the commission called on the government to go further and make cooling a vital service for tenants, akin to heat, water and electricity.
Haywood, the St. James Town tenant, made his own appeal to local politicians, telling them to, “get down here and take care of business and take care of people.”
A 2022 study of Ontario’s heat warning system found people at risk of homelessness in the province were at a 10-fold higher risk of ending up in an emergency room with a heat-related illness than other groups. The result was “striking” given the increased threat of climate change and prevalence of homelessness, the authors wrote in the study published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.