Race Matters in a Pandemic

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The leadership from the Canadian Prime Minister and Provincial Leaders has been outstanding during this crisis.  Canadians rely on the daily press conferences for up to date information on the Pandemic.  It is truly a source of pride that we have such exemplary leadership and I share this news with friends in other countries.

Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan as listed on the Government of Canada website https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/03/canadas-covid-19-economic-response-plan-support-for-canadians-and-businesses.html includes support for historically disadvantaged populations such as women, seniors, students, Indigenous communities and the homeless.

To ensure that certain groups who may be vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 have the support they need, the Canadian Government is proposing targeted help by:

  • Providing $305 million for a new distinctions-based Indigenous Community Support Fund to address immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation communities.
  • Placing a six-month interest-free moratorium on the repayment of Canada Student Loans for all individuals currently in the process of repaying these loans.
  • Reducing required minimum withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs) by 25% for 2020, in recognition of volatile market conditions and their impact on many seniorsretirement savings. This will provide flexibility to seniors that are concerned that they may be required to liquidate their RRIF assets to meet minimum withdrawal requirements.
  • Providing the Reaching Home initiative with $157.5 million to continue to support people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak. The funding could be used for a range of needs such as purchasing beds and physical barriers for social distancing and securing accommodation to reduce overcrowding in shelters.
  • Supporting women and children fleeing violence, by providing up to $50 million to womens shelters and sexual assault centres to help with their capacity to manage or prevent an outbreak in their facilities. This includes funding for facilities in Indigenous communities.

The impact of COVID-19 is intersectional, therefore compounding, race, gender, economic status, education level and job responsibilities to be a deadly force for some communities. Disappointedly, there is no race based disaggregation of data to influence decisions for a comprehensive support plan.

While the Canadian Health Act is built on the principles of equity, (we have universal health care in Canada) it must be noted that Systemic Racism continues to be a pre-existing condition for morbidity in times of undue stress (pandemics, natural disaster, economic down turn) to the general population.  Until we address system biases we will continue to have a disproportion number of casualties in marginalized communities as they are over-represented in frontline work, which holds a greater risk of contact with infected persons, and do not have the option to work virtually.

Several states in the United States of America have started to stratify their data by race in order to revise their policies and make it more equitable. It is time to insist on health rights here at home, with targeted funding for research and eradication of diseases that are over represented in minority groups.  With a baseline of healthy body, healthy mind, there would be no pre-existing condition and hyper-vulnerability to a virus.  The one thing the Pandemic has taught us is that we are all connected and if our neighbour is not doing well we are also at risk.

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Cheryl Hayles

Cheryl Hayles

Cheryl Hayles serves on the Board of the International Alliance of Women as Vice President North America. Her commitment to Women’s Rights is a daily charge to advocate for women locally and globally.

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