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Canada has only recently started tracking race-based health data, due to the strong urging of leaders in Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities. Apart from the crisis in long-term care facilities, which were hanging by a thread before the pandemic, it was predominantly these populations, in low-income, dense housing that were hit hardest by COVID-19.
In Windsor-Essex, the migrant workers living in dorm-style housing with no access to health care continued to get sick and die. Many in Toronto and Montreal had precarious employment, which put their health in jeopardy, or held high-risk jobs in factories or performed shift work. Many were new immigrants and refugees, some of whom had undiagnosed chronic diseases and no family doctor.
Canadians are smug when it comes to class and race. We like to pretend there is no systemic racism or barriers for non-whites; we march for Black Lives Matter and our prime minister takes a knee in solidarity. However, when Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches stated that racism was a serious public health issue, most were confused at best; some even chose to ignore the concept entirely.
The notion that systemic racism and classism may be a contributing factor in COVID-19 cases has not been a conversation our society has been prepared to have. Perhaps it is really hard to think of yourself as better off than others. There is always someone you know who is richer and more powerful. But being white, having an education and working remotely throughout the pandemic is actually a privilege. In addition, being able to educate your children at home, while serving healthy snacks and reading interesting books, and knowing that they won’t lose their chance at a successful life, is also a privilege not all are granted.