Ontario to ask Ottawa to help more PSWs immigrate

Of note:

The Ford government will be closely watching the shakeup of Justin Trudeau’s cabinet on Tuesday to see which Liberal MP takes over immigration.

That’s because whoever it is will largely determine the success of Ontario’s ambitious plan to fix its beleaguered system of long-term care.

The Progressive Conservative (PC) government’s plan is three-pronged: to pass legislation strengthening care standards in nursing homes; to spend $2.7 billion for 30,000 new beds; and to spend another $4.9 billion to hire 27,000 full-time workers.

But meeting the most expensive objective requires migrants, which in turn depends on Ottawa’s willingness to give Ontario the control it wants over jobs that tend to attract foreigners to the province.

“Ontario generally … is working with Ottawa for more flexibility (over) our immigration,” Ontario’s Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said at an event hosted by the Canadian Club of Toronto last week.

“If we’re going to get those 27,000 people … there’s no way we get there without providing pathways.”

Before the last Parliament dissolved in August, Phillips spoke to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland about attracting more migrants to work as nurses and personal support workers (PSWs), he said.

The PCs plan to resume those discussions sometime after Tuesday, when the prime minister either renames Marco Mendicino as his minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, or appoints someone else.

The PCs want more autonomy in running the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP), and for Ottawa to let it accept more immigrants through the program each year, said Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, last week.

A source close to McNaughton told iPolitics the PCs want to double the 8,900 immigrants Ontario accepts each year through the OINP, which is open to foreign workers, international students, and other would-be migrants who work jobs the Ontario and federal governments categorize as in need.

A foreigner who applies to the OINP has to be nominated for permanent residence by the provincial government, and his or her application must be approved by Ottawa.

In 2018, there were 56,000 full-time-equivalent positions in Ontario’s long-term-care sector, and 58 per cent of them were PSWs.

The 27,000 full-time-equivalent positions the PCs want to add over the next four years include 17,000 PSWs, according to comments made by Phillips that were reported by the Ottawa Citizen.

Currently, the OINP doesn’t consider PSWs “skilled workers,” thereby disqualifying them from most of the program’s streams. They can only qualify through the OINP’s “in-demand skills” stream, which has other complicating requirements, including that the applicant already has a job lined up in Ontario that pays more than the provincial average for the position, and that the applicant recently had a job in the same field in Ontario.

Many sectors in Ontario are short workers; government officials say 290,000 jobs are unfilled.

To attempt to fill them, McNaughton announced last week that the Ontario government will introduce a bill making it easier for people trained in certain professions outside Canada to become licensed in Ontario. While the bill would cover jobs in law, accounting, architecture, engineering, and plumbing, it wouldn’t apply to licensed health-care workers, however.

The PCs are interested in exploring similar legislation for immigrant health-care workers, but the sector’s complexity precludes them from McNaughton’s bill, said a source close to the minister.

Trudeau’s government shares some of the PCs’ goals for immigration and long-term care. During the federal election campaign, the Liberals promised to train 50,000 PSWs in Canada and raise their wages to $25/hour. Their platform also included promises to reform economic-immigration programs and to recognize more foreign job credentials.

While she’s in favour of classifying PSWs in a way that makes it easier for them to immigrate, it’s just “one piece of the puzzle” of filling the sector’s staff shortage, Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association, told iPolitics.

The group represents 70 per cent of the province’s nursing homes, including those which are private, not-for-profit, and municipally run.

Source: Ontario to ask Ottawa to help more PSWs immigrate

Canada has a big-time nursing shortage. So why can’t these two fully certified nurses get the OK to practise?

Of note, along with the backlog numbers for the various programs:

A former intensive-care nurse in the Philippines, Katrina Deauna has watched from the sidelines as Ontario — and all of Canada — struggles with chronic nursing shortages laid bare by the pandemic.

While the foreign caregiver enjoys looking after the 18-month-old baby girl and six-year-old son of her Canadian employer, she says, she would rather use her front-line nursing skills and experience to help those fighting for their lives against COVID-19.

Deauna has met all the licensing requirements of the Ontario College of Nursing. All she is missing is the authorization to work — either through a letter that confirms she’s eligible for permanent residence or a bridging open work permit.

“We are ready to practise in our profession. We are just waiting for our papers,” says the 28-year-old, who worked in the intensive-care unit of the Manila Doctors Hospital, one of the top hospitals in the Philippines, for three years until September 2019, when she was hired as a nanny in Toronto.

“They’re talking about the shortages of nurses in Ontario and Canada. And here we are. The only thing that’s keeping us from our practice is a piece of immigration paper.”

According to Ontario’s regulatory body of nurses, there are currently at least 41 applicants who meet all of its registration requirements but are waiting for the immigration authorization to work in Canada. It’s not sure what the numbers are for other provinces.

Statistics Canada reported that in the first three months of this year, the health-care and social-assistance sector had the largest year-over-year increase in job vacancies compared to other sectors, rising by 27,700 to 98,700 vacancies — an increase of 39 per cent. The positions with the largest vacancy increase were registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses. Half of those positions had been vacant for 90 days or more, according to Statistics Canada.

Ontario has, so far, been hardest hit. With a ratio of 725 registered nurses per 100,000 people, it ranks as the lowest province in Canada and well below the national average of 811 nurses per 100,000 people, according to 2019 data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Hospitals across the province currently have a vacancy rate of 18 to 22 per cent for nurses, the Ontario Nurses’ Association says.

“Some smaller hospitals closed their emergency departments after four o’clock because they don’t have enough staff,” says Vicki McKenna, head of the association, adding that some operating rooms are running at limited capacity for the same reason..

While complaints from internationally trained nurses have traditionally had to do with the lengthy registration and licensing process with regulators, McKenna said it’s deplorable that those who have met the licensing requirement are being held back due to an immigration backlog.

“We need these nurses, and we can’t afford to have them languish on that list, and we can’t afford to lose them to other provinces. The nursing shortages aren’t in Ontario alone. It’s across this country and it’s an international issue,” she said.

“The U.S. is recruiting hard. Our nurses are leaving, in some cases, to what is seen to be greener pastures there, and we can’t afford to sit and watch. We have to do something.”

Reduced processing capacity due to lockdowns here and abroad, as well as travel restrictions worldwide, have wreaked havoc in the immigration system during the pandemic.

As of July 31, more than 561,700 people were in the queue for permanent residence and 748,381 had a pending temporary residence application as students, workers or visitors, while the backlog for citizenship stood at 376,458 people.

Traditionally, many internationally educated nurses from the Philippines, the Caribbean and Africa arrive and work as foreign caregivers while trying to register and restart their licensing process in Canada once they’re here.

The permanent residence backlogs for foreign caregivers began long before the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. In April, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced a move to prioritize the permanent residence applications of 6,000 caregivers by Dec. 31.

The immigration department said it had processed the applications for a total of 3,253 people under the initiative up to Oct. 17, but it’s not known how many of those were caregivers because the number included their family members. Officials were unable to say how much the caregiver backlogs have been reduced since the announcement.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has prioritized applications from workers in essential occupations in agriculture and health care, where labour is most needed to protect the health of Canadians and ensure a sufficient food supply,” said department spokesperson Rémi Larivière.

“Applicants who intended to work in agriculture or health care but who applied for an open work permit and didn’t have a valid job offer in advance would not be triaged for priority processing.”

Deauna said she was thrilled with the government announcement, but feels those with pending nursing licences should be fast-tracked if Canadian officials are serious about addressing the shortages of nurses in the country in the wake of the pandemic.

She applied for permanent residence and the bridging open work permit in August 2020 but only received an acknowledgment of receipt this past June. Her caregiver work permit has expired since June.

The Ontario licensing process requires of applicants practical nursing experience within the three years before a certificate of registration is issued.

Deauna fears she may have to go back to the Philippines to get back to practice and restart the licensing process if her immigration and nursing certificate don’t come through before June.

“I can’t afford more delay in my permanent residence or open work permit,” she noted.

Leslie Apurada arrived in 2018 under the home support worker program to look after an elderly man with dementia in Montreal and initiated her licensing process with the Ontario College of Nurses a year later.

The former Filipino registered nurse with a psychogeriatric background underwent Canada’s national nursing assessment, registered for prep courses and sat for — and passed — a couple of required nursing exams, all while working full time to look after her client.

Even though her employer was supportive and tried to spare her from overtime work while she was studying for exams and attending courses, Apurada said she was mentally and physically exhausted jumping through all the hoops to get past the final qualifying test in June. She’s since been waiting for her immigration authorization to work.

“During the height of the pandemic … Canada’s prime minister said we’re all in this together. But we, caregivers, feel we’re always pushed to the sideline. No one really answers to us why the backlog for the caregiver programs has been so extensive,” said the 31-year-old, who is now enrolled in an online course about nephrology at Humber College.

“It’s disheartening to see how strained the Canadian health system is while all along we are here. We’ve passed all the exams and we could’ve helped.”

Karla Ducusin, another former RN from the Philippines, came to Canada in late 2018 by way of Israel to look after an elderly couple with medical needs in Markham. She’s responsible for preparing them meals, administering their medications, escorting them to doctor’s appointments and helping with household chores.

The permanent residence application that she filed last October costs $1,050 and each time she extends her caregiver work permit, it’s another $155.

Given she’s now in Canada on the so-called implied status — in transition with a pending permanent residence application in the system, Ducusin said she has lost her OHIP, which requires a temporary foreign worker to have a valid work permit to be eligible. Her caregiver work permit expired last November.

“I want to be able to help my family more financially. My father is sick and my two younger brothers are not working. I could make a lot more money and pay more taxes as a nurse than as a caregiver,” said the 32-year-old, whose file will be closed by the College of Nurses of Ontario if there’s no update for two years.

“This is putting a heavy toll on our mental health. You wake up every day and there’s still no movement in your immigration application. It’s just so frustrating.”

Source: Canada has a big-time nursing shortage. So why can’t these two fully certified nurses get the OK to practise?

These ‘first of their kind’ Ontario changes could get more skilled immigrants working in their actual fields of expertise

Good initiative that may break some of the logjam. Will see over time the impact. More significant that Premier Ford’s unfortunate remarks on immigrants and the political and activist pile-on:

The Ontario government is unveiling a new plan to help get immigrants working in the fields where they have expertise.

Legislative changes to be introduced Thursday would force some professional regulators to drop Canadian work-experience requirements from their licensing criteria — and to speed up processing times.

If passed, the changes would address what newcomers often cite as two key barriers to acquiring their professional designations in Ontario.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton, whose ministry also oversees training, skills development and immigration, called the changes “unprecedented and the first of their kind in Canada.”

“They’re just long overdue,” McNaughton said. “My goal is to ensure that we’re creating a clear path for new Canadians to fully apply their skills and remove barriers so immigrants can find meaningful work.”

The proposed amendments to the Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act would cover 37 non-health-related professions and trades.

The affected fields would range from architecture to teaching, social work, plumbing, electricians’ work, auto-body repair and hairstyling.

The changes, if passed, would give the minister and the fairness commissioner the powers to order financial penalties for regulators found to have breached the law. 

At present, licensing time in some professions takes as long as 18 months, and both the ministry and the fairness commissioner’s office will gather baseline data to inform and establish reasonable timelines in consultation with oversight ministries, regulators and communities.

For decades, many immigrants who were selected for their education achievements and work experience have complained about being unemployed or underemployed because their foreign credentials are devalued in Canada.

Those who have training and background in a regulated profession also complain they lack the coveted Canadian experience to meet licensing requirements and that the process is too lengthy and costly.

When asked about the timing of this announcement, following another earlier this week to regulate temporary worker agencies and recruiters, McNaughton denied it was part of a Conservative strategy to galvanize immigrant votes in next year’s provincial election.

“The pro-worker reforms we’re unveiling … it’s all about rebalancing the scales. Coming out of this pandemic, the scales were tilted toward a lot of big corporations that make billions of dollars run by billionaires,” he said.

“We are on the side of workers and just ensuring that they’re getting better paychecks and better protections.”

Premier Doug Ford has been at the centre of controversy since Monday, when he said Ontario is desperate for people to move here — as long as they want to work.

“You come here like every other new Canadian has come here, you work your tail off,” he said. “If you think you’re coming to collect the dole and sit around? Not going to happen, go somewhere else.”

The comments have drawn fire from many who say the premier was playing to racist stereotypes about new Canadians.

According to McNaughton, currently only 25 per cent of all immigrants are actually employed in their field of study, while 293,000 jobs are waiting to be filled in the province, which could see its GDP increase by $20 billion, if the skill gap is addressed.

“That’s unacceptable,” he told the Star in an interview Wednesday. “It’s important that we ensure that everyone’s talent is being used and we unleash their talent to its full capacity.”

The proposed changes to eliminate the Canadian experience licensing requirement do have exemption provisions if regulators can demonstrate that it is necessary for public health and safety. The expectation, however, would be that they find alternative methods to minimize barriers. The Ontario fairness commissioner’s office would review exemption requests and make recommendations to the minister, who would have the final say.

The government also plans to align and streamline language-testing requirements for immigration and licensing purposes, for instance, by asking regulators to accept the same tests as proof of language proficiency or embed it as part of their respective technical exams.

“We’re eliminating the unfair Canadian work experience requirements, reducing burdens including duplicative language training and ensuring that licensing applications are processed faster,” McNaughton said.

“Last year alone, about 17,500 internationally trained individuals applied to receive their licence to practise from our regulator. We want to increase that number in a big, big way.”

The expectation is for the Canadian work experience requirement to be struck down within two years.

The changes could potentially extend to the regulated health sector in the future, which is far more complex due to health and safety concerns.

“We continue to work with health (authorities). That is a priority for me,” McNaughton noted. “But this is going to apply across the board apart from health, at least at this point.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/10/21/these-first-of-their-kind-ontario-changes-could-get-more-skilled-immigrants-working-in-their-actual-fields-of-expertise.html

Star Editorial: Those who care about math education for all should focus on results, not rhetoric about colonialism

Good editorial calling for focus on substance, not rhetoric:

Kids in Ontario ought to get the best possible education in mathematics. And that means all kids — including ones who have historically been left behind in this crucial area.

We should hold the government accountable on this, and demand it do everything possible on both counts — designing the best math education, and delivering an approach to teaching that ensures no groups are excluded from success.

What we shouldn’t be doing is getting hung up on rhetoric about “decolonizing” math education and worrying about the “historical roots and social constructions” of mathematics.

This is a giant distraction from those real issues — the quality of education and making sure the government gives teachers the resources they need to deliver it to all their students.

The issue arises because the Ford government has dropped language about racism and colonialism from the preamble to the province’s new math curriculum.

The paragraph that’s been edited out said this: “Mathematics has been used to normalize racism and marginalization of non-Eurocentric mathematical knowledges, and a decolonial, anti-racist approach to mathematics education makes visible its historical roots and social constructions.”

How does focusing on language of this sort help any students actually learn math, or help any teachers operate to their best ability in the classroom? 

And how does it help to get Ontarians behind the cause of making sure we have the best math education possible, and the government carries through on delivering it?

The answer is it doesn’t do any of those things. All it does it convince most parents — and most teachers, for that matter — that the people in charge of designing curriculums are more interested in pushing a political/social agenda than in delivering the best education.

It also distracts from the genuine issues buried beneath those layers of jargon. It’s undoubtedly true that many students — Black, Indigenous and other racialized students among them — have been disadvantaged by the way math and other subjects have been taught.

This is a real, documented problem and it’s in everyone’s interest that it be addressed without delay.

To the government’s credit, it took a big step in that direction vowing to end streaming in Grade 9 — making young teenagers choose between “academic” and “applied” tracks in high school. There are stacks of evidence that this has had a disproportionate impact on Black, Indigenous and poor students, limiting their opportunities for the future.

So any new curriculum, especially in core subjects like math, should take into account the fact that some groups have been left behind.

And, in fact, while the government chopped some words from the preamble to the new math curriculum, it added this new paragraph: “The curriculum emphasizes the need to eliminate systemic barriers and to serve students belonging to groups that have been historically disadvantaged and underserved in mathematics education.”

That gets to the heart of the matter, but of course words alone are not enough. The real test will be if the government follows through and makes sure the intent in that paragraph is translated into action and results.

We made that point last month when Education Minister Steven Lecce unveiled Ontario’s new Grade 9 math curriculum.

It’s a single curriculum for all students — no more of that “streaming” — and it looks like a step forward toward making sure they’ll acquire math skills they can use in a wide range of science, technology and trade careers. It includes mandatory learning on coding, data literacy, mathematical modelling and financial literacy.

The government says it’s committed millions to make sure the new curriculum is properly delivered — and that students who find themselves in a more academic math class get all the supports they need to succeed.

But this government has a track record of cheaping out in areas like this, and those who care about math education need to keep up the pressure and make sure that doesn’t happen. In the end, that will count a lot more than all that grad-school rhetoric about “colonialism.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2021/07/19/those-who-care-about-math-education-for-all-should-focus-on-results-not-rhetoric-about-colonialism.html

Education minister under fire after introduction deleted from Ontario’s new Grade 9 math curriculum

Appears that the substantive aspects related to systemic barriers and inclusion remain while the ideologic reference to “non-Eurocentric mathematical knowledges” has been dropped. Much of math has non-European roots (numerals, algebra etc):

Premier Doug Ford’s government has deleted a preamble to Ontario’s new Grade 9 curriculum that said math “has been used to normalize racism and marginalization of non-Eurocentric mathematical knowledges.”

While the updated syllabus remains unchanged, introductory language for teachers was quietly edited earlier this week.

The modernized curriculum was introduced June 9 as the first step of ending the streaming of students so early in high school. That practice that has been tied to poor outcomes for Black and Indigenous youth.

As first reported by the Toronto Sun on Saturday, the Progressive Conservatives initially approved of a curriculum introduction that said “a decolonial, anti-racist approach to mathematics education makes visible its historical roots and social constructions.”

“Mathematics is often positioned as an objective and pure discipline,” said the preamble to the curriculum, which was made public last month.

“The Ontario Grade 9 mathematics curriculum emphasizes the need to recognize and challenge systems of power and privilege, both inside and outside the classroom, in order to eliminate systemic barriers and to serve students belonging to groups that have been historically disadvantaged and underserved in mathematics education.”

But within the past few days, that entire 124-word paragraph entitled “An equitable mathematics curriculum recognizes that mathematics can be subjective” was deleted.

Sources told the Star that “while the section referenced is not in the core curriculum taught to students, we revised it to ensure there is no confusion when it comes to making sure our students are being taught fundamental math concepts.”

“The curriculum did not change. It continues to educate on cultural understandings of math, of the history of these concepts, and attempts to advance that lens throughout the curriculum. What changed was language in the preamble only,” an official said.

In a statement Wednesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office said the Tories “ended streaming in the Grade 9 math curriculum — a system that disproportionately affected Black, racialized and Indigenous students — along with launching new and specialized supports to ensure these students graduate, enter post-secondary education and get good-paying jobs.”

But the new president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which supports destreaming, said the education minister “needs to take responsibility” for the episode.

“It’s time for a mea culpa. If you make a mistake, you have to own up to it,” said Karen Littlewood, who took over the union’s presidency on June 22.

Littlewood said “it seems to be very reactionary” for Lecce to amend the language in the wake of media coverage.

“The preamble really sets the stage for the changes to the curriculum and why it was necessary,” she said.

Despite the editing, the lesson plan still addresses inequities in society.

The revised curriculum emphasizes “there are groups of students (for example, Indigenous students, Black students, students experiencing homelessness, students living in poverty, students with LGBTQ+ identities, and students with special education needs and disabilities) who continue to experience systemic barriers to accessing high-level instruction in and support with learning mathematics.”

“Systemic barriers, such as racism, implicit bias and other forms of discrimination, can result in inequitable academic and life outcomes, such as low confidence in one’s ability to learn mathematics, reduced rates of credit completion, and leaving the secondary school system prior to earning a diploma,” it states.

“Achieving equitable outcomes in mathematics for all students requires educators to be aware of and identify these barriers, as well as the ways in which they can overlap and intersect, which can compound their effect on student well-being, student success, and students’ experiences in the classroom and in the school,” it continues.

“Educators must not only know about these barriers, they must work actively and with urgency to address and remove them.”

Still, the New Democrats expressed concern about the deletion.

“The Grade 9 math program was changed specifically because Ontario had to finally recognize that the existing system treated Black, Indigenous and racialized students inequitably,” NDP MPPs Laura Mae Lindo (Kitchener Centre) and Marit Stiles (Davenport) said in a joint statement.

“It’s pretty clear we need more of an equity and anti-racism lens in schools, not less.”

Source: Education minister under fire after introduction deleted from Ontario’s new Grade 9 math curriculum

New data provides a rare glimpse at ‘substantial’ Black overrepresentation in Ontario’s jails

Of interest:

Nearly one out of every 15 young Black men in Ontario experienced jail time, compared to one out of about every 70 young white men, and incarcerated Black people were more likely to live in low-income neighbourhoods, a new study of hard to come by race-based inmate data shows.

Using a snapshot of every Ontario inmate released in 2010, self-reported race data, home address data and 2006 census demographics, researchers from the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, McMaster University, St. Michael’s Hospital and ICES, a non-profit clinical research institute, have provided a rare glimpse at “substantial” Black overrepresentation in jails.

“The key thing here is really just the extent to which young Black men experience incarceration in Ontario,” said lead author Akwasi Owusu-Bempah. “It’s hugely troubling, especially in light of what we know about the consequences of criminalization, of incarceration for their futures and the futures of their families and their communities. We know what it does. Incarceration derails lives.”

The jail data, provided by the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General, held details of 45,956 men and 6,357 women who were released from provincial correctional facilities, which house accused awaiting bail or trial, and offenders sentenced to less than two years.

Overall, 12.8 per cent of men identified as Black and had an incarceration rate of 4,109 per 100,000; 58.3 per cent identified as white, for an incarceration rate of 771 per 100,000, and 28.9 per cent as “other,” for a rate of 1,507 per 100,000.

“Other” includes Indigenous, another group vastly overrepresented in jails and federal prisons but not the focus of this study.

For women, the rates were much smaller for all groups but, overall, Black women were incarcerated at a rate of 259 per 100,000, white women had a rate of 96 per 100,000 and the rate for “other” was 248 per 100,000.

Young men between the ages of 18 and 34 had the highest rates of incarceration in all groups, but young Black men had rates ranging around 7,000 per 100,000, compared to about 1,400 per 100,000 for younger white men.

Neighbourhood demographic data gleaned from the forward sortation area of postal codes showed Black men and women were more likely to come from low-income areas of the province. Black men spent more days incarcerated than white men and had higher rates of being transferred to a federal prison.

“This study demonstrates that incarceration is heavily concentrated among young Black men who come from economically marginalized neighbourhoods,” concluded Owusu-Bempah, an assistant sociology professor at U of T, and co-authors Maria Jung, an assistant criminology professor at Ryerson, Firdaous Sbai, a doctoral sociology student at U of T, Andrew S. Wilton, an ICES researcher, and Fiona Kouyoumdjian, an assistant professor in McMaster’s department of family medicine.

At the root of the higher rates are “historical and contemporary social circumstances of Black people in Canada,” note the researchers. These include 200-plus years of slavery and anti-Black racism, and disparities in many systems, including education, employment, child protection and justice.

Black people experience higher rates of child apprehensions and school suspensions and expulsions, and are more heavily policed, the authors said in highlighting disparities found in numerous studies, and also groundbreaking reporting done by the Star around Toronto police arrest and charging patterns and carding, when police stop, question and document citizens in non-criminal encounters.

Lower incomes for Black people have resulted in Black families living in areas that are “underserved by transit, libraries, schools and hospitals,” and those neighbourhoods tend to have higher levels of crime and crime victims, and concentrated law enforcement, the paper notes, citing academic work done by David Hulchanski on Toronto.

In the United States, the “American experience” with race and incarceration “shows us that concentrated incarceration has negative consequences at the individual, family and community levels, including social problems relating to poverty, mental health, education, employment and civic involvement,” the researchers wrote.

That ends up distorting “social norms, leads to the breakdown of informal social control, and undermines the building blocks of social order which are essential for community safety,” the paper concludes.

The often claimed but false trope that Canada is better on race and racism than the United States is also examined at the outset of the paper, which is published in the journal Race and Justice.

While not directly comparable, the authors later note that 2016 data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics showed Black men were jailed in state and federal institutions each day at a rate of 2,417 per 100,000. In the Ontario study, the annual incarceration rate in 2010 for Black men was 4,109 per 100,000.

That, the authors wrote, helps to “contextualize the extent of Black over-incarceration in Ontario.”

Owusu-Bempah, in an interview, said that “when we think about mass incarceration and we think about this kind of concentrated incarceration as an American phenomenon, I think we can see very clearly here that the levels of overrepresentation that we see in the United States is here in Canada.”

The age of the Ontario data — now over a decade old — speaks to how rare it is to come across race-based Canadian data, the researchers noted in an emailed response to Star questions.

“While these data are from 10 years ago, our ongoing involvement in the criminal justice system indicates that the overrepresentation of Black people persists today,” said the research team. “We think that monitoring and publicly reporting on the overrepresentation of Black people on an ongoing basis is important.”

In order to examine Ontario jail demographics, the researchers used gender and birthdates to link the provincial jail data to health administrative data held by ICES that was used in a 2018 study that looked at use of health care during incarceration and following release from jail. That study found the access rates of all types of health care were significantly higher for incarcerated people.

There is also a huge financial cost involved in jailing people. The Star has twice used inmate postal code data, length of incarceration data and daily cost of housing an inmate to show that in some Toronto city blocks, tens of millions of dollars are being spent to jail their citizens.

Preventing and reducing incarceration could free up money that could be reinvested in those neighbourhoods.

The authors of this report are part of a growing chorus of researchers, academics and advocates calling for more racially disaggregated justice data in Canada, which lags behind the U.S. and U.K.

More data around Canadian incarceration populations in provincial and territorial jails that identifies areas and groups experiencing high levels of incarceration, the paper concludes, “will help inform targeted initiatives to prevent criminal justice involvement” and “mitigate” the impacts on people and communities.

Source: New data provides a rare glimpse at ‘substantial’ Black overrepresentation in Ontario’s jails

Even in hot spots, newcomers to Canada are missing out on COVID-19 vaccines

Good detailed analysis:

Refugees, immigrants and other recent newcomers to Ontario are being vaccinated for COVID-19 at much lower rates than Canadian-born or long-term residents, new data shows.

And even with the provincial government’s revised vaccination rollout plan prioritizing hot spots, newcomers living in neighbourhoods most at risk for transmission continue to experience the lowest rates of vaccination compared to those who were born in Canada or who have lived here for more than 35 years, according to a new report by the non-profit ICES, formerly the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

The report acknowledges that the province’s decision to target hot spots and expand age eligibility in early April has resulted in an overall increase in vaccinations in these neighbourhoods, but finds that vaccine coverage continues to lag in immigrants, refugees and recent OHIP registrants, including older adults. 

“There’s age risk and there’s transmission risk, and we know that immigrants and refugees are overrepresented in essential workers, and we know that many immigrant communities live multi-generationally,” said Dr. Astrid Guttmann, chief science officer of ICES and lead author of the report. “So the risk of transmission is higher and they’re less vaccinated. We need it to be the other way around.”

In the province as a whole, Guttmann and her team found that, as of April 26, vaccine coverage in Canadian-born and long-term residents 16 years of age and older was 38 per cent, compared to 28 per cent in immigrants, 22 per cent in refugees and 12 per cent in recent OHIP registrants. 

The report notes that large percentages of Canadian-born and long-term residents aged 70 and over have been vaccinated, between 71 and 86 per cent. But in the same age cohort among immigrants, refugees and recent OHIP registrants (with the exception of recent OHIP registrants in the lowest-risk neighbourhoods), vaccine coverage has ranged between 47 and 65 per cent. 

“We’ve seen within a hot spot, not everyone is feeling the heat equally,” said Dr. Andrew Boozary, executive director of social medicine at University Health Network. “And that is where we need to continue to be more data driven, being led by communities as to how to best reach the most disadvantaged populations, even within a postal code.”

He noted that the provincial government’s announcement Thursday that it will shift 50 per cent of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine supply to the 114 hardest hit neighbourhoods for two weeks starting next week was “definitely welcome” but that not doing so earlier “has come with very real costs.”

Last Friday, Ontario’s Science Advisory Table published a brief recommending immediately moving half of the province’s vaccine supply to the 74 highest-risk neighbourhoods for four weeks, a strategy it said could dramatically cut case counts, hospitalizations and deaths. 

Safia Ahmed, executive director of the Rexdale Community Health Centre, said she was not surprised by the ICES report’s findings, noting that many recent immigrants are essential workers who are not able to get to vaccination sites unless the locations are open on evenings and weekends. 

“When you think about the way vaccines have rolled out across the city, with mass vaccination sites that require online bookings, that’s a challenge, definitely, for new Canadians and immigrant seniors,” she said. 

Having clinics closer to home staffed with people who speak different languages, and who are a “familiar face,” all helps.

She noted that her organization learned during COVID-19 testing that “the more local, the more community-based services are, the more trust people have.”

Sabina Vohra-Miller, co-founder of the South Asian Health Network, said many older new Canadians may not have the digital literacy or language skills to navigate the complex web of online vaccine booking portals. And their children and grandchildren may not have time to support them if they are essential workers.

“It’s a Hunger Games style right now,” she said, adding those that are tech savvy and work from home have a huge advantage. 

“Who’s sitting in front of the computer waiting for appointments?”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2021/04/30/even-in-hot-spots-newcomers-to-canada-are-missing-out-on-covid-19-vaccines.html

Justin Ling: How Ontario’s health advisors handled the ‘darkest day’ of the pandemic

Case study of speaking truth to power:

There are plenty of tough jobs in Ontario right now: From those moving parcels at Amazon warehouses to those guiding i-beams at a condo construction site, workers are facing the grim of reality of the pandemic.

Workers are going to the job site everyday without the guarantee of sick pay if they fall ill, need to get tested or snag a much-coveted vaccination spot.

There is one particular job that might not carry the same risks, but which still isn’t inspiring much envy these days: Being a member of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table.

The Table, composed of some 100 doctors, researchers and specialists, is the independent body that furnishes advice to Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet on how best to beat back the deadly pandemic. It is their modelling that shows Ontario careening towards 30,000 news cases per day.

But it was their advice—to shut truly non-essential workplaces, pause construction where possible, and prioritize more vaccines for front-line workers—that was summarily ignored.

Instead, they dispatched officers to police a pandemic: As a pre-teen in Gravenhurst recently found out. They promised more inspectors, but that means very little if the provincial regulations allow employees to remove their masks on the job—a recent outbreak at a provincial testing laboratory shows that nowhere is truly safe from the virus.

The whole Table is in an impossibly awkward spot. Ford continues to tout their work, insisting it has informed his own approach to the pandemic. But, in practise, his actions have consistently been directly at odds with the advice from the Table.

Last week, as the divergence between advice and action grew wider, talk around the Table turned to mass resignation. A protest, in essence, of being used by a government that appears to have little interest in a science-based approach to fighting the pandemic.

But the majority of the Table opted, instead, for a softer approach: One that retains cautious optimism that the Ford government may yet see the light, and pursue measures that may actually avert a worst-case scenario in the province.

To underscore their position, the Science Table drafted a letter to the government with pointed advice on what to do next. It’s a letter that lays out the choice the Ford government faces. Whether or not he will make the right decision is, ultimately, up to him.

***

On Friday afternoon Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, the co-chair of the Science Table, appeared alongside Dr. David Williams, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health to present new modelling on the risks facing the province.

“Without stronger system-level measures and immediate support for essential workers and high-risk communities, high case rates will persist through the summer,” the presentation warned.

Brown said financial support for workers and strict measures for workplaces were desperately needed: “We need to stop infection coming into our central workplaces,” he said.

Vaccines, he added, were a central part of the strategy but wouldn’t solve this problem on their own.

The lines on the graph were three colours: Green, which rose slightly, then bent towards the X-axis. Yellow, which wobbled upwards so slightly—hovering right above 10,000 cases per day. And, finally, the red line: A line that sloped menacingly upwards, past the 30,000 marker.

Ontario is currently trending along the yellow line.

Red, yellow, and green dotted lines shadowed each of the solid lines: They represented what case counts would look like if Ontario managed to ramp up from the status quo, 100,000 vaccines administered per day, to an arbitrary number of 300,000 shots per day.

“Under every scenario, more vaccines mean a faster resolution in the long-run,” the presentation explained.

The Table communicated the crisis looming, and provided clear advice on how to avert disaster—both publicly and privately.

Hours later, after prolonged cabinet discussions, Ford appeared in front of television cameras to announce his decision: Playgrounds and outdoor sports would be banned. Outdoor gatherings forbidden, for members outside our household. Police would be dispatched to enforce the orders, with nearly-limitless authority to stop and question anyone in public. More inspectors would be dispatched to workplaces, but there would be no meaningful change to what constituted an ‘essential’ workplace. The number of vaccines reserved for frontline workers in hotspot zones would be set at 25 per cent.

The premier waved a sheet from Brown’s presentation: The chart showing the case projections. He seized on the idea that 300,000 vaccines could blunt this punishing third wave. “Would we be in this position if we were getting 300,000 doses a day back in February? Like the rest of the world? The answer is absolutely not,” Ford said.

The province looked on in alarm. The premier was, effectively, announcing a police state. Meanwhile, he was ranting at the federal government for not sending enough vaccines. When asked directly why he couldn’t shut more businesses, Ford explained how “deep” the supply chains were—light switches wouldn’t be made, he explained.

Reaction from the public was swift, and horrified. But the members of the Science Table, in particular, were beside themselves. Brown and fellow co-chair Brian Schwartz sent an email to dozens of his colleagues on the Science Table.

“We know that many of you are frustrated and angry after today’s announcements,” Brown and Schwartz wrote.

“We did the right thing,” they wrote of their early afternoon briefing, which set the stakes for Ford’s 4 pm announcement. The research and data, furnished by members of the table, they wrote: “Made it possible for us to be firm in saying what we know should be done to fight the pandemic.”

Several members of the Table took to Twitter to blast the decision. One member, Dr. Andrew Morris—who is a University of Toronto professor of medicine, a medical director in the Sinai Health System, and who co-chairs the Table’s working group on drugs and biologics—called the decision “criminal.

Many of their blistering repudiations of the government’s decision were splashed on the frontpage of the Toronto Star on Saturday morning.

Brown and Schwartz didn’t discourage the comments. “The only thing we would ask is that you speak truth to power in the same way you would conduct any other discussion,” they wrote.

They summed up, in bullet points, the recommendations and analysis they had been providing for weeks: More vaccines for high-risk communities, close businesses that are not absolutely necessary, do more to protect workplaces that must remain open, create dedicated sick leave benefits, reduce mobility within the province, and encourage people to meet outside safely.

“Unfortunately, our advice does not align with what the cabinet announced this afternoon,” they wrote. “That requires serious discussion.”

Brown and Schwartz signed off the email, recognizing that many of the members were actually on the front-lines of this deadly fight. For those still on clinical duty, they wrote, “we wish you and your patients the very best through this exceptionally challenging weekend, and that you get a few moments of rest too.”

They arranged a 10 am Sunday morning meeting to discuss next steps.

In the outside world, pressure was mounting. Registered Nurses Association of Ontario CEO Doris Grinspun called for the Science Table to “resign en-masse.”

***

On Saturday afternoon, the Ford government appeared to walk back its enforcement measures, which would have given police nearly unfettered power to stop and interrogate people out for a walk, or driving, and ask their home address and purpose for being out in public.

The retreat came after nearly every police force in the province said they would refuse to conduct the arbitrary stops—journalist Andrew Lawton found that only the Ontario Provincial Police said they would enforce the measures.

Yet the supposedly walked-back regulations still allow police to stop anyone on the suspicion that “an individual may be participating in a gathering that is prohibited.” Of course, provincial regulations now ban any outdoor gathering, except for those in the same household. The new regulations allow police to demand the individual provide “information for the purpose of determining whether they are in compliance with that clause.”

Lawyers pointed out that the new, supposedly “refocused,” measures actually gave police more power to interrogate Ontarians on flimsy grounds. A group of young skateboarders in Gravenhurst would learn that reality pretty quickly on Sunday morning. Leanne Bonnekamp’s 12 year old son was out skateboarding with friends—in a park near the YMCA, as the skate parks were closed by provincial order. That’s when a cop approached.

“Two officers showed up, yelled at these kids—that they weren’t wearing masks, and weren’t socially distanced,” the boy’s mother, Bonnekamp, told me. One of the Ontario Provincial Police officers demanded the kids’ ID, and was running it in his cruiser as his partner stayed with the other youth.

Bonnekamp’s son was giving the officers attitude for the arbitrary stop—though no profanity, she says—as the cop gripped his scooter. In the video, the officer can be seen reaching over the scooter and shoving the pre-teen, who falls on the ground. When another youth asks just what in the hell the officers are doing, the cop yells “he’s failing to identify.”

The OPP says they are investigating the officer’s actions.

The same weekend, an outbreak in Toronto put into sharp focus the inadequacy of the government’s workplace measures. An outbreak of cases in a Toronto lab, run by Public Health Ontario to analyze COVID-19 tests, infected 16 employees.

The agency’s president Colleen Geiger sent an email to staff, which was forwarded to Maclean’s, indicating an investigation into the outbreak was ongoing and that they would identify “areas that require improvement.” Close contacts of those who tested positive, Geiger wrote, were already isolating. Other staff would be tested onsite.

One employee, who contacted Maclean’s with details of the outbreak but asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak to media, said the outbreak was just waiting to happen. Social distancing in the lab is nearly impossible and good public health measures aren’t being enforced, they wrote. Masks are often worn improperly and limits posted by the lunch tables and elevators aren’t respected.

This outbreak isn’t even the first. Previous instances where employees of the lab caught COVID-19 are “posted on bulletin boards that are tucked away in corners of hallways.”

The employee, quite correctly, argued that “Public Health of Ontario should hold a higher standard than the rest of Ontario residents and I find it shameful that this outbreak could have been avoided.”

Public Health Ontario confirmed to Maclean’s that 16 staff fell ill. “Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 as well as other infectious diseases are continuing as normal and there is no impact on laboratory services at this time,” they wrote.

If the provincial lab responsible for processing COVID-19 tests can’t even keep safe, how much trust can we put in other workplaces?

***

Sunday morning, Dr. David Fisman—professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, and a member of the Science Table—wrote to the other members: “My concern is that the science and modeling tables are being used as cover.”

“What we saw on Friday was exactly the sort of thing I’ve been concerned about: Meaningful guidance from this group was disregarded,” he continued. “But the premier took the time to hold up a graph in which a hypothetical 300,000 vaccines per day scenario was plotted, and indicated that this would be the way forward.”

“As I have said at our meetings, at some point this starts to feel like aiding and abetting a government that has prosecuted a pandemic response that frankly feels negligent, or even criminal,” Fisman wrote.

“I don’t think I am on the same team as this government.”

That intense frustration was shared by many of his colleagues.

In an interview with Maclean’s, Morris said he was “dumbfounded” by the Friday announcement. At the same time, he called it an “apex” of a trend that has been growing over the course of the pandemic.

“When we get to Friday, they come out with these measures that are absolutely antithetical to the beliefs and advice of the Science Table — en masse, and individual members,” Morris says. “I don’t think there’s a single member who would have recommended those things.”

He phrases it as a consistent and repeated “gaslighting” by the government.

“Friday, for me, was probably my darkest day in my professional career,” says Dr. Peter Jüni, the scientific director for the Science Table—who is also a world-renowned researcher and a professor at the University of Toronto.

Jüni told me he found himself asking: “Were we not clear enough?”

“It’s pretty clear that there is a gulf between what the Science Table has recommended and what the policy announced in the province was. That’s clear,” says Dr. Isaac Bogoch who sits on the Table’s modelling working group, teaches at the University of Toronto, and who consults on infectious disease outbreaks at the Toronto General Hospital.

When the entire Table joined a Zoom call on Sunday morning, there were divergent views on what to do. Some wanted them all to resign, as a show of force that the government couldn’t use their modelling but ignore their advice.

But, as Bogoch notes, the public outcry about the measures actually prompted a retreat. The Ford government, perhaps more than the average government, is intensely sensitive to criticism. The Table’s advice—enabled by their independence, both from government and from any kind of particular hierarchy—no doubt enabled that public backlash.

There was also some pessimism about whether resigning would have much impact.

“I’m not sure, personally, what resignation would do,” Morris confesses. Bogoch agrees: They still have a job to do, he says. Being ignored “doesn’t mean you fold up your tent.”

Jüni, who publicly mused about resigning, came to a similar conclusion. “I could make a point, not a difference,” he says.

One feeling is particularly stark: The Science Table fears what, if anything, will replace their advice and modelling if they leave.

“There’s no question there are times, it has felt to many people, like we’ve been played,” Morris says. With resignation off the table, his mind turned to: “How can we avoid being played like that?”

***

What, exactly, the Ford government is going to do next is an open question. On Monday, after a brutal weekend for the Ford government, I got on the phone with someone in the Premier’s office. We agreed on anonymity so they could speak freely.

They certainly acknowledged the blowback that came from Friday’s announcement, and recognized more action would be necessary to stem the transmission of the virus. And they were quick to highlight the areas where they did, general speaking, follow the Science Table’s advice. Chiefly, Ford announced his government would dedicate 25 per cent of the vaccine supply for frontline workers in hotspot neighbourhoods.

The Science Table, I pointed out, recommended allocating 50 per cent of the vaccine supply. The government source said: Well, if we had done 50 per cent, they would have called for 75 per cent.

At another point, I noted that the Science Table was apoplectic about how virtually nothing was being done to shut truly not crucial construction projects. Yes, the source said, but the construction industry was furious.

(Indeed, the Ontario Construction Consortium attacked the government’s order barring non-essential construction, bizarrely insisting that “a recent snapshot of 10,000 Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) claims related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began showed that fewer than 200 of those cases originated in the construction industry.” Provincial data shows that, since the start of the pandemic, some 10,000 cases were a direct result of outbreaks at offices, warehouses, and construction sites.)

But the balancing act this government is striving for is exactly the problem: Splitting the difference, or trying to strike a balance between rigorous scientific advice and the construction lobby is not a wise or successful move.

“How does a cabinet—that has even a rudimentary understanding of what’s going on—how do they deliberate over numerous hours over two days and come up with this?” Morris asked me.

“If you do half measures, you hurt everybody,” Jüni says. “Including the economy.”

The province has dedicated more inspectors for these workplaces, but its own advice is faulty: The Government of Ontario’s official policy on masks in the workplace holds that “you do not need to wear a face covering when you are working in an area that allows you to maintain a distance of at least 2 metres from anyone else while you are indoors.” (The provincial regulations state that workers may be maskless if they can maintain social distancing and are in an area inaccessible to the public—a construction site, for example.)

That is a fundamentally backwards policy that ignores the strong likelihood of airborne transmission. If workplace inspectors are continuing to enforce that standard, the inspections are going to be largely ineffective.

Things that the science table believes are going to be helpful is more support for workers, essential workers, to access support—primarily financial support so that they can get vaccinated, tested or stay away from work if they’re unwell.

When asked directly whether the government would finally retreat, and ensure sick leave for workers in the province, the government source said they were waiting to see whether Monday’s federal budget would do the job for them. Even though labour law, including sick leave, is explicitly provincial domain, they said, they wanted Ottawa to act.

The federal budget did, in fact, expand the Employment Insurance sickness benefit—but that support is claims-based, meaning it isn’t automatic nor does it mean much for an employee who suddenly falls ill. Those employees, clearly, need sick leave: Something many employers still refuse to provide, but which the provincial government can mandate.

The government source said, despite the Ford government’s dogmatic opposition to date, the government would give “serious consideration” to sick leave. But it would be unlikely any decision would be made anytime in the near future.

Part of the Ford government’s commitment to the status quo seems to stem from their belief that things are heading in the right direction. The government source said that, while things may change fast—and new ICU admissions could force their hand—they do not anticipate announcing new measures this week.

Asked where this optimism was coming from, the source pointed to the mobility data found in the Science Table’s modelling showing that, in recent weeks, fewer people have been travelling outside their home. If mobility trends downward, they think, case counts will flatten.

But that, too, runs contrary to the advice from the Science Table. “Mobility is a surrogate for contact,” Jüni says. “It’s a marker. It isn’t causal.”

As Jüni points out, declining mobility could be a sign that, through general anxiety or enforcement measures, people are staying indoors—a good sign, if social gatherings are driving transmission.

Provincial data shows that a significant number, likely the majority, of COVID-19 cases in the province are coming from workplaces and schools. I asked for data to prove that private gatherings were driving significant caseloads, but have yet to receive it.

On the flipside, however, mobility trends might not mean much if Ontarians are leaving home to engage in low-risk activity, like meeting friends in a park, or going for a walk.

The more I cited the Science Table’s work, the more the government source suggested the advice was at odds with itself. Or unclear. Or, for example, that the Table couldn’t agree on advice about the safety of gathering outdoors.

The Table doesn’t see it that way. Jüni himself presented before cabinet. “Outdoors is safe,” he told them. It can be made more safe, he added, but he says he was abundantly clear. “I do not know what more I could do,” he says.

Morris echoes the sentiment: He says it is “essential” that the province provide clear advice, encouraging outdoor activity.

***

On Tuesday afternoon, the Science Table issued a letter to the Ford government, entitled: The Way Forward.

“Ontario is now facing the most challenging health crisis of our time,” the Table wrote. “Our case counts are at an all-time high. Our hospitals are buckling. Younger people are getting sicker. The disease is ripping through whole families. The Variants of Concern that now dominate COVID in Ontario are, in many ways, a new pandemic. And Ontario needs stronger measures to control the pandemic.”

The letter put to paper, publicly, what the Table has been telling the Ford government emphatically since the third wave began swelling.

It proposed clear strategies—things the Ford government is pointedly not doing:

  • Reducing the list of essential workplaces allowed to remain open to be “as short as possible,” and ensuring that those workers wear masks on the job.
  • “Paying essential workers to stay home when they are sick.” And not, they note, the federal Employment Insurance benefit, which is “cumbersome” and inadequate.
  • Allocating as many vaccine doses as possible to hotspot communities and essential workers—and ensuring “on-the-ground community outreach” to connect doses to those workers.
  • Providing “public health guidance that works.” That means communicating a simple message: Indoor gatherings should be strictly forbidden, while underlining that “Ontarians can spend time with each other outdoors” while social distancing. That means allowing small gatherings of people from different households, while also encouraging masks and two metres distance.

The letter warns that “inconsistent policies, with no clear link to scientific evidence, are ineffective in fighting COVID.” That includes, they wrote, policies that “discourage safe outdoor activity.”

The premier isn’t mentioned by name in the letter, but the closing lines offer a stark warning for the government:

“There is no trade-off between economic, social and health priorities in the midst of a pandemic that is out of control.”

Source: How Ontario’s health advisors handled the ‘darkest day’ of the pandemic

@Justin_Ling #COVID19: How did it come to this?

One of the best overviews I have seen:

After a year of struggling with this pandemic, science has developed a relatively good grasp of COVID-19.

We know that it is difficult to catch the virus from surfaces: Sanitizing your groceries and obsessively covering your hands in hand sanitizer is probably unnecessary.

We know community spread is driven, in large part, by large outbreaks and super-spreader events: Big gatherings lead to explosions of cases.

We know that indoor transmission is particularly dicey because the virus is easily aerosolized: Many people can get sick very quickly if they congregate indoors.

We know that outdoor transmission is possible, but unlikely: A combination of air flow and UV light means the virus can’t get very far.

We know vaccines are incredibly effective and safe, but that herd immunity will be needed to stop community spread: They can protect the elderly but won’t stop community spread until the vast majority of people are vaccinated.

While there’s clearly room for smart people to disagree on the details of those conclusions, they have been born out by an emerging body of science. New variants have changed the math a bit, but haven’t fundamentally altered those facts. Early in the pandemic, when these truths and solutions were murkier and less clear, absolute lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and border closures were the safe and prudent choices. Advice on washing your hands and not touching your face were reasonable, cautious, suggestions.

It’s a year later. Those five facts are now incredibly well documented in the scientific literature.

Understanding more about the virus has allowed more effective strategies to come into focus: Avoid indoor gatherings whenever possible. When they can’t be avoided, have as few people indoors as possible, keep people apart from each other, make sure they mask up, and circulate air with good HEPA filters. Where possible, move people outside—and actively encourage the outdoors as an alternative for people who may ignore good public health advice.

Those solutions, of course, are easy to write and hard to implement. Warehouses, prisons, meat processing plants, greenhouses, schools: Even when these places follow the rules most of the time, religious adherence around the clock can be hard to maintain.

So that’s why mass, randomized, testing and aggressive contact tracing is necessary to catch outbreaks before the virus moves down the chains of contact and creates new outbreaks. Shutting down those locations where the outbreaks occur is necessary. When things slip through the cracks and community spread begins, short-term circuit-breaker lockdowns should be a last resort to get cases under control.

There’s no real debate about this. These strategies work: As Atlantic Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, and a host of other states have proved them effective.

And yet, most of Canada is in the midst of a punishing third wave. Public health officials continue to insist washing our hands will get us out of this mess. Politicians warn us to stay indoors, avoid the outside.

Ontario’s health-care system is hanging on by a thread. Other provinces could be in a similar spot soon.

We are here, in large part, because many of our politicians have ignored the core facts of the COVID-19 virus and the main strategies that will clearly fight the pandemic.

Heading into the spring, off the back of the second wave, the premiers of these provinces have insisted that they were special. That they could reopen the economy—and brag to their voter base about their rosy jobs numbers—without consequence. The leaders of every province west of New Brunswick have laboured under the belief that their gyms, places of worship, and workplaces could open, even amid uncontrolled community transmission, and nobody would get sick. These governments have been sure that they have grown more clever, more agile, more adept than the virus.

Those governments have been wrong, and people have died because of it.

And when things have gone wrong, all the things governments promised us they had done turned to sand. In most of the country, mass testing was promised and not delivered—Ontario and Quebec require appointments, and have not expanded their testing capacity in any significant way since last year. Contact tracing has been essentially abandoned on a provincial basis. Circuit-breaker lockdowns didn’t touch the industries most responsible for spreading the virus.

Governments have begged us to stay at home—except if you need to go to work in an Amazon warehouse (600 cases); the Cargill chicken processing plant (82 cases); the Saskatchewan Penitentiary (more than 260 cases); St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Parish, where congregants could gather without masks (10 cases); Mega Gym, which the Quebec government permitted to re-open (400 cases), and so on.

It is infuriating to find ourselves in the third wave, only to learn that we haven’t learned a damn thing.

Governments have pointed to the variants as some terrifying change in the equation. And, yet, look at Ontario’s data: This is just a ramped-up version of the same virus we’ve been fighting since March, 2020.

In late February of this year, in the lull between waves, nearly 60 per cent of cases could be attributed to a specific outbreak and/or a close contact of someone who tested positive. (A bit more than a third of cases had no known epidemiological link, a failure in and of itself.) In late March, as the third wave was in full swing, that proportion remained unchanged.

Where those outbreaks have occurred haven’t changed much, either.

Around 30 per cent were in congregate living or care spaces: Hospitals, prisons, shelters. Around 30 per cent were in schools. The remainder, about four-in-10 outbreaks, were workplaces.

Recently, Ontario has provided more visibility on the types of workplaces experiencing outbreaks: Hairdressers, restaurants and retail stores are responsible for vanishingly few superspreader events—between the three, they caused just eight per cent of overall outbreaks.

Even as case counts were climbing, and outbreaks were being reported across the province, people congregated on patios at bars and restaurants. In mid-March, before that naughty behaviour was banned, bars and restaurants reported eight outbreaks across the province: 37 cases in total. (This proportion hasn’t changed since last summer, when case counts were low and bars and restaurants were open.) That same week, there were 66 outbreaks in warehouses, food processing plants, and farms: 479 cases.

Dig into the data, as the Globe & Mail has done, and the absurdity becomes more acute: these outbreaks are happening in facilities that manufacture sporting goods. A retail marketing firm. An Amazon warehouse.

Many outbreaks also occurred in settings run by governments. There has been widespread transmission of the virus inside prisons and jails—which governments have been criminally inept at preventing. Shelters, too: Ontario’s data shows there are 32 ongoing outbreaks in shelters across the province.

This story is about the same from one province to the next. The data speaks for itself: Workplaces and schools are driving transmission of this virus. Were the whole country to lock themselves in their closets, except for those students and “essential” workers, the crisis would continue.

An emerging body of research explains what’s happening here. From the start of the pandemic, leaders have told us that the concern is about the transmission of droplets—and, rightly so, because the early science suggested that saliva particles from speaking, coughing or sneezing was the main driver of transmission. Good science is increasingly telling us that the virus is aeresolized.

That means we ought to be less fearful of tiny blobs of the virus covering everything—our hands, our faces, our picnic blankets—and more worried about the air around us. If you think about the virus that way, it becomes immediately obvious how much less risky it is to sit with some friends for a picnic, or on a restaurant patio. Conversely, how risky it is to run a warehouse with hundreds of workers, exerting themselves.

Have governments addressed this? No. Instead, governments have proffered curfews, as though the virus hunts at night. Parks have been closed. Camping has been banned. Outdoor mask mandates have been implemented. Outdoor gatherings limited. Police patrols to harass people out for walks.

Even as projections have shown Ontario teetering on the brink of a deadly crisis, Premier Doug Ford’s solution was to limit outdoor gatherings and to shut outdoor recreation sites.

But here’s the rub: Provinces know outbreaks aren’t happening in parks, or on patios. Quebec public health officials have acknowledged that they have no evidence to prove transmission is happening outdoors. Peer-reviewed studies have said that, on the high end, some eight per cent of global COVID-19 cases were linked to transmission outdoors. On the other end, Ireland studied its own data and found 0.1 per cent of cases occurred outside. Air quality monitoring done in Italy in the height of the second wave found the prevalence of the virus in the open air waseither negligible or not high enough to lead to transmission. (Though researchers admitted that dynamics could change in very crowded areas.)

Scaremongering about outdoor transmission, and instituting curfews is a feat of social engineering. This an effort to ignore the data, withhold information, and twist the facts to scare us.

The conspiracy-minded will see that as an exercise in population control: Politicians getting their jollies off by playing dictator.

The reality is more mundane—governments are doing this because they are frozen with indecision. Actually acknowledging the reality of the data means acknowledging this catastrophe was caused by governments’ idiotic reopening plans: Plans that were warned against by public officials at the time. Doing that means taking action that will hurt employment numbers, which could hurt our politicians fragile egos. Confronting this data and science also means admitting that all of our advice about washing your hands and not touching your face has been useless. And accepting that reality means provinces requiring sick leave, so people can go home if they’re ill.

Governments are loath to do any of that. They would rather shower us in meaningless pablum about how we, as citizens, need to do our part. The implication, of course, is that we are to blame for this crisis. That it’s us wayward youth who are driving this pandemic. Our lack of personal responsibility means they have to ground us to our rooms. Stay home, for god’s sake!

If our politicians stop blaming us for outbreaks, we may start blaming them.

And for good reason.

We need to stop talking to people like they are infants to be controlled. Especially when the politicians issuing these stay-at-home orders have zero credibility with which to be lecturing anyone. Any bit of trust people have in Doug Ford, Francois Legault, Scott Moe, Brian Pallister, and John Horgan has been shredded, and lit on fire.

In Atlantic Canada, the territories, and in Indigenous communities across the country, politicians of various political stripe show what real leadership looks like. How effective management means trusting the public while also accepting responsibility.

The rest of our provincial politicians need to act immediately to undo the damage they have enabled. Businesses need to be shut, unless they are absolutely essential. Those that need to remain open need stringent measures to deal with air quality. Given the pressure it puts on parents and students, schools should probably remain open: But, again, actual measures need to be taken to reduce the risk of that aerosolized transmission.

And we need to provide clear, coherent advice to people on what to do. Advice that follows the science.

We need to avoid indoor gatherings as much as possible. We should wear masks whenever possible. We should give each other two metres of distance. We should stay home when we have any symptoms, check our temperatures daily, and get tested if we feel sick.

But we also need to tell people what is safe. And it is very safe to go outside—it is extraordinarily safe, in particular, if you give people a little extra space and avoid crowded areas.

Have a picnic. Hold a barbecue in your backyard. Go for a walk. Play tennis. Go camping.

People need hope. Lying to them won’t engineer a solution. Politicians need to do their job.

Source: How did it come to this?

Indigenous, Black youth spend more time in Ontario court system, according to report

Yet more evidence of system bias in our court system:

Young people charged with crimes in Ontario are waiting longer for their cases to be resolved, prolonging their time behind bars or extending onerous bail conditions – a situation that disproportionately affects Black and Indigenous youth.

The finding is part of a comprehensive report on youth bail by the John Howard Society of Ontario that is set for release on Tuesday. The research draws on provincial justice data and interviews with people who’ve endured the youth criminal-justice system.

The report, titled Unequal Justice, portrays a system that made huge advances after the passage of the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2003, but has slipped of late in its treatment of a vulnerable subsection of the population.

Last year, The Globe and Mail found that racial bias pervades the adult correctional system as well. An investigation revealed that risk-assessment scores used to determine parole decisions, treatment plans and security classifications in adult federal prisons discriminated against Black and Indigenous inmates.

“Looking at young people, there’s an opportunity here, early on, to stop a lifetime of involvement with the justice system,” said Safiyah Husein, senior policy analyst with the John Howard Society of Ontario. “So if we are able to connect these children with the resources and supports they need early, then we can prevent them from cycling in and out of the justice system for the remainder of their lives.”

The Youth Criminal Justice Act, which applies to people between 12 and 17 years of age, has largely succeeded in doing just that. In 2000, Canada’s rate of youth incarceration was among the highest in the Western world, at 17.64 per 10,000. Today, it’s 3.79.

But those gains have come with huge racial disparities. The proportion of whites among youth in secure detention, the most restrictive form of youth custody, declined to 28 per cent from 39 per cent between 2006 and 2016. Over the same period, the rate remained flat for Indigenous prisoners, at about 10 per cent, and increased to 21 per cent from 19 per cent for Black inmates.

“The rate of youth detention has decreased overall since the implementation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, but the question is, are those positive impacts being felt by all? They’re not,” said Fareeda Adam, staff lawyer at the Black Legal Action Centre. “And specifically Black and Indigenous youth are not seeing these benefits.”

John Howard researchers found some heartening news in the court data. For instance, they determined that around 59 per cent of youth cases in 2017 recorded a bail decision at the initial court appearance. However, the number of young people who have to appear before a court five or more times before receiving bail is on the rise, to 9 per cent of cases in 2017 from 5 per cent of cases in 2009.

And those appearances are becoming more spaced out. While five appearances equated to roughly 2½ weeks in custody as of 2006, it stretched out to three weeks by 2017.

While such a stint might seem short from the outside, just a few days in detention can shift a young person’s mindset permanently.

“Whether it’s group care or jail, the system teaches you to run away from people who do anything negative toward you, or physically fight them,” said Liam Smith, a 22-year-old Belleville-based youth peer mentor.

Mr. Smith helps teens navigate the criminal-justice system. He says many of them are encumbered with impossible bail conditions.

“They get these silly conditions like ‘keep a curfew’ and ‘keep peace and good behaviour,’ ” Mr. Smith said. “What happens if the court tells a kid he has to be somewhere at 9 o’clock but due to circumstances he can’t control, he doesn’t have a bed and has to sleep on the streets? That’s a bail breach. He can get arrested for that.”

Those bail breaches come with administration-of-justice charges that can further entrench a young person in the justice system, the report states.

The report calls for an end to such “boilerplate” bail conditions, an increase in funding for programs that divert youth from jail, a renewed focused on expediting release for detained youth and the adoption of a strategy to address the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous youth in the justice system.

“Once we have a robust system of community-based alternatives to jail, we can fully realize the goals of the Youth Criminal Justice Act,” said Ms. Husein, the John Howard analyst.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-indigenous-black-youth-spend-more-time-in-ontario-court-system/