We all certainly are in this fight against COVID-19 and its impacts together, but some of us are experiencing the impacts of this crisis more than others.
While most Ontarians are stuck inside, others are on our front-lines. They’re in our long-term care facilities caring for the elderly; in group homes caring for people with disabilities and providing a range of supports for the most vulnerable; and in our towns and cities, providing vital services our communities need.
Many of these workers are CUPE Ontario members – and a disproportionate number of them are racialized women. 96% of personal support workers (PSWs) are women, and 42% of these workers are racialized. Homecare workers represented by CUPE Ontario are also disproportionately racialized women. The same realities are true for those working in the private sector, including the grocery store workers who are risking their health to keep Ontarians fed.
The numbers show that racialized workers are more likely to be front-line workers. Equity-seekers are also more likely to have chronic illnesses, due to a systemic lack of access to equal healthcare and long-standing stressors that are influenced by inequality. Canadian researchers are pointing out that racialized, immigrant, and Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community may be more affected by contracting the virus. We must also remain in solidarity with the many migrant farm workers who continue to provide essential services without safe and sanitary working conditions compliant with physical distancing protocols.
We know that south of the border, racialized people are dying at higher rates because of underlying health issues and barriers to proper care. Race-based data analysis in Chicago, for example, has found that Black residents have made up 70 per cent of the city’s deaths due to the virus, despite representing just 30 per cent of the population.
While Toronto Public Health has just announced it will be collecting and analyzing race-based and socio-demographic data, and Alberta has committed to introducing such information, the Ford Conservatives have dragged their feet.
The province’s chief medical officer Dr. David Williams has resisted calls from researchers and advocates to collect race-based and socio-demographic data, as has the Premier. Instead, the Conservative government has claimed this crisis affects all people equally.
Yet existing models suggest that low-income neighborhoods, home to many newcomer and racialized communities, are at greater risk during this crisis. We know that Indigenous and northern communities will be impacted at greater rates due to systematic underfunding of healthcare and other basic services. LGBTQ2S+ communities are also particularly at risk due to ongoing barriers to healthcare access and existing health disparities. And despite these scary realities, the Ford Conservatives deemed the Assistive Device Program non-essential. This government continues to fail to ensure that our communities have in place the necessary safety equipment and measures, like home testing for people with disabilities and access to personal protective equipment.
Ontario should establish race-based and socio-demographic data and engage in consultation with worker and equity-seeking organizations to ensure that the burden of fighting, and living through, this crisis doesn’t fall on people who are already marginalized.
We are all in this together. Now’s the time to make sure our policies actually reflect that reality.