There have been many moments during this dark pandemic where, after hearing or seeing something chilling flash by in a news headline or on the radio or on social media, I’ve thought to myself: No, it cannot be, we cannot sink any lower, things just can’t get any worse. Perhaps you’ve felt the same way.
Here in Toronto, we are living in the epicentre of the third wave, with our COVID-19 case and death numbers creeping higher with every passing day. Our hospitals’ intensive-care units are overflowing and skies once full of air traffic are silent but for the whirling sounds of Ornge helicopters airlifting out our most critically ill patients in search of a free ICU bed elsewhere.
If you are a Black or Indigenous person or a person of colour living in this great metropolis of glass and steel, you are feeling the brunt of the pandemic. You or your families might be based in Scarborough or Rexdale or in Thorncliffe Park, making a living driving buses, stocking warehouses, or ringing up groceries. Your chances of catching the virus or one of its insidious variants are unequally high.
And yet, tears still came to my eyes when I heard that the Scarborough Health Network cancelled 10,000 vaccine appointments last week, citing supply issues. What a cruelty to deny vaccines to those putting themselves in harm’s way every day, and have no other choice because they can’t afford to stay home from work.
Make no mistake, our political leaders made that choice for them.
How else should we feel when we see long, hours-long lineups in the cold and snow in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood, home to many essential workers, as they wait for a vaccine that should have been given out in their community months ago? The lines of class and privilege couldn’t be more apparent than they are now.
And then Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones announced on Apr. 16 that they’d be giving enhanced powers to all police in the province to ensure people were staying home during the pandemic – allowing them to stop and question anyone they wanted. Indigenous, Black, brown and Asian people, already disproportionately affected by the pandemic, felt the additional and familiar fear about being carded. And Mr. Ford seems to have made this already brutal move without any advice from a qualified medical professional.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association called the move unconstitutional and threatened court action. Toronto Police Service and other forces pushed back, publicly declaring they would not conduct these “random” stops. Just a couple days later, Mr. Ford modified the government’s stance, but ambiguities around what officers can do – and whether they should be trusted by communities with whom they may have broken faith – remain.
Now, Level 3 triage could be implemented in hospitals; some doctors say it’s already occurring. That means if you have less than a 70-per-cent chance of surviving your intubation or resuscitation and ICU care, you will be allowed to die.
A disproportionate share of the patients in ICU are Black, Indigenous or people of colour; they are essential workers or members of their families; they are people struggling to make ends meet while risking exposure at their jobs.
Ontario’s civil society has completely broken down. What can we do but weep when we see Michael Warner, the medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, talk about the horrors he’s seen, or hear that Peter Juni, a top adviser on Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, was among those who considered resigning because Mr. Ford consistently ignores the group’s advice, or read heart-wrenching social media posts about the exploding societal inequities from the front lines?
“If there were fires and the fire dept. said we need to send at least half of all our trucks to save lives in racialized/low-income neighbourhoods but we decided to only send a quarter, what would you call that?” physician Andrew Boozary tweeted on Thursday. “This is how systemic discrimination is choking off communities from life.”
Mr. Ford apologized to Ontarians on Thursday and finally climbed down on paid sick days for workers, promising to fill the gaps of the federal fund. He’s on his heels and sitting at home in quarantine after one of his staff members became infected with COVID-19 – enjoying the luxury of working at home with pay that too many racialized and low-income people do not have.
Mr. Ford shed tears when he made those apologies and reversals. But they are too little, too late.
How many of our essential moms, dads, brothers, sisters and friends died while Mr. Ford wasted time empowering Ontario’s police? How many more will die before paid sick days actually come into effect? Only decisive action, not saying sorry, will help.
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