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Overlapping crises in Canada: COVID-19 and inequities

The staggering rise of COVID-19 cases can be linked to political decisions, actions, and governments

by Mildred German

Anti-homeless architectures in many cities in Canada. Metal barred benches in Toronto, ON have discouraged homeless people in sleeping in public places.
Anti-homeless architectures in many cities in Canada. Metal barred benches in Toronto, ON have discouraged homeless people in sleeping in public places.

Canada has seen its COVID-19 case counts spike, setting a new record of over 5,000 new cases on Saturday. There have been over 325,000 cases of COVID-19 in Canada, and over 11,400 COVID-19 related deaths to date.

Canadian provinces have implemented public health protocols. Masks are mandatory in indoor public spaces, including grocery, retail, and condo & apartment hallways in BC, seven months after the lockdown. These protocols are not in place in Alberta, where cases have been skyrocketing.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC's Health Officer, said that everyone should be doing their part by wearing a mask in indoor public settings. She has stated, “she's not a fan of a penalty-based approach where people are fined for not wearing masks, because certain marginalized groups including the homeless are often disproportionately targeted.”

And in terms of masks, Dr. Teresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Office,  mandated earlier this month the 3-layer new mask protocol. Many criticise this new mask layer protocol and even ask for data on the new mandate.

The Ongoing Public Health and Quarantine Violations in Canada

Meanwhile, many people are mobilizing against masks and against the lockdowns, dismissing the COVID-19 public health protocols. Anti-mask and anti-lockdown supporters have been gathering in large numbers, as well as holding rallies, with no social distancing and no masks. There too have been over $120,000 in ticket fines in BC for quarantine violations.

Large gatherings and parties have been linked to the coronavirus. Organizers of large parties and social gatherings have been ticketed with fines by the RCMP in BC under the COVID-19 Related Measures Act. All in-person worship services in BC have also been suspended.

BC Premier John Horgan has called for national travel restrictions on non-essential travels between provinces. Yet, in terms of travel restrictions, BC also has seen the breaking of the rules in driving; such as the cases of the six US travellers caught breaking protocols while driving to Alaska, and other cases.

In terms of public transportation, masks are mandatory inside public transportation services, including buses, ferries, trains, and subways.

Schools Are Open, While Many Government Offices Remain Closed to the Public

Since April 2020, there has been a note on the office door and website of BC MLA Melanie Mark, the Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training indicating the Office has been closed to the public. The efforts to keep everyone safe from the coronavirus is ideal.

However as many government offices are not open to the public, schools have opened. Many parents have had mixed feelings about the schooling situation during this pandemic as COVID-19 cases rise. Many classes have moved to virtual or hybrid learning. Public health protocols in schools have been implemented, and are mandated. These additional associated tasks have been added on the back of the teachers and educators, who too are reportedly feeling the anxiety and the burnout brought by COVID-19.
Teachers are worried too about their health and the quality of education under these very challenging times.

Meanwhile, those who have the privilege to work at home can and may resort to home-schooling and attending virtual classes in fear for their children catching the deadly virus. Those who are “essential” workers may lack childcare and only depend on schools in accessing childcare as they work amidst the pandemic.

Schools can provide a safe haven for many children from domestic abuse, hunger, and isolation. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have been closing for millions of children worldwide. These school closures are due to the mandated protocols of governments as public health precaution and to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Over 990 million learners have been affected, in over 130 country-wide closures.

In Canada, schools have remained opened, despite reports of outbreaks in numerous schools provincially and nationwide. While Canadian provinces have different approaches on how to curb the coronavirus cases, there are debates whether schools should remain open, or to extend the winter break. Nunavut was eventually the first to shutter down all their schools in the Territory to halt the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Ontario has closed some schools where there have been outbreaks (though not others with outbreaks), and so has BC.

Despite these closures in BC and increasing COVID-19 cases and outbreaks, “school’s not ruled out”, according to the BC Education Minister. But widespread school closures may be a possibility, and may affect vulnerable families, such as parents scrambling with taking care of their children, of households, and going to work.

The Inequities in the Canadian Society

The list of inequities in Canada have been long and many. These inequities have been systematically ingrained in the colonial system that have discriminated and segregated many marginalised sectors of society, reflected in times of crisis, and are exposed during this time of pandemic. In fact, Canada is facing multitudes of crises at the moment--- the coronavirus, the uncertain economy, domestic violence, homelessness, unemployment, and overdoses.

In addition, there are increasing unjust evictions, a class war which favors the landlord and throws tenants to the curb. Therefore eviction bans, and rent freezes in different provinces have been implemented. But as bans have expired, the housing problems become more prevalent. In many cities across Canada, unhoused people have built tent cities during the ongoing and worsening homelessness amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many major cities in Canada also have many anti-homeless architectures, like the many public benches and seats with bars, so nobody can lay down. Public places such as community centres and libraries have very limited time and space as a COVID-19 precaution. The dire, if not lacking, rain shelters and roofs in many public sidewalks only exposes wet grounds not meant for laying or sitting down.

Many homeless shelters have also lowered their capacity due to the COVID-19 protocols of social distancing, leaving many community members in isolation with nowhere to go. However, there are a few temporary shelters that will be opening too, such as the 24/7 shelter being built for Vancouver’s sex workers.

Farmworkers, caregivers, custodians, grocery clerks, food counter workers, healthcare workers, nurses, and other workers in the dirty, difficult, and dangerous (3D) jobs in Canada are hailed as “essential”. However, they continue to face violations of their rights, from low wages, poor working conditions, lack of PPEs, housing, status, language discrimination, and hate crimes in public spaces. They work in the most precarious workplaces, which are the most hit by COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths, such as food processing plants, meat processing facilities, greenhouses, hospitals, and nursing homes.

As the coronavirus was first news spread in December 2019, it was only in March 2020 the government implemented the lockdown, on the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO). However, where were the unions and the government agencies in securing the PPE supplies for the workers, as news of the coronavirus spreading between December and March before the lockdown? It was nearly a wipe out of parts of Canada’s working class, and also a real threat to the healthcare system as healthcare workers scrambled to find N95 masks, and PPEs. Many frontliners contracted COVID-19 and passed away.

Several eviction bans, and rent freezes in different provinces have been implemented in the midst of this pandemic, racism, and class war. Latest reports show that the poorest neighbourhoods in the city of Vancouver have the highest rate of COVID-19. Many direct actions have been organized by community members, such as establishing tent cities in public spaces to continue bringing the issues of homelessness and the housing crisis to light. Amidst this COVID-19 pandemic, an individual needs a decent home and living conditions in order to isolate. 

Dr. Tam has assured, “We Are All In This Together.” However, for poor people and other marginalised groups, was there a lockdown? Or is it just poor and marginalised people, mandated by the government to work, cater, and deliver things to the rich and the privileged?


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