They’ve been called hot spots. It’s actually ‘code’ for social inequity

More analysis confirming COVID-related racial and other disparities:

People who live in Toronto and Peel COVID-19 hot spots are on average nearly twice as likely to be racialized and about four times more likely to be employed in manufacturing and utilities compared to those in the regions’ other neighbourhoods, a new analysis shows. 

New research from the Gattuso Centre for Social Medicine at University Health Network also highlights how residents of these hot-spot areas are, on average, more than twice as likely to work in trades, transportation and equipment operation and also more likely to meet low-income thresholds.

While the public has heard over the past year that racialized people, those with lower-income status and essential workers are bearing a disproportionate burden of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, the analysis from the Gattuso Centre highlights at a granular level who actually lives in the neighbourhoods hardest hit by the virus, how much money they make, and what they do for a living. 

“When we talk about ‘hot spot’ postal codes, what we’re really talking about is the structural determinants of health. Social inequities and the pathologies of poverty have been driving this pandemic,” said Dr. Andrew Boozary, executive director of the Gattuso Centre. “This is further evidence that life-saving measures need to get to neighbourhoods with the highest structural risks –– this at the very least means community leadership driving vaccine rollouts and better safety measures at workplaces.”

Using Census data, the social medicine team looked at demographics in Toronto’s 13 “sprint” strategy communities deemed most at-risk and compared it with the rest of Toronto’s forward sortation areas (the first three characters in postal codes). They also compared hot spots in Toronto and Peel with the remainder of neighbourhoods in those regions, and did a similar comparison of all of Ontario’s 114 hot spots with postal codes in the rest of the province.

In virtually every case, the most at-risk neighbourhoods had, on average, higher proportions of racialized individuals, those who meet low-income measures, people who work in manufacturing and utilities, and those employed in trades, transportation and equipment operation. 

For example, M3N, which includes Jane and Finch and Black Creek, has the most manufacturing and utilities employment, the sixth-highest proportion of people who meet low-income thresholds, the eighth highest employment in trades, transportation and equipment operation, and is the 10th most racialized community out of all postal codes in Toronto and Peel.

Similarly, L6R, in northern Brampton, has the most trades, transportation and equipment-operation employment, the fourth-most manufacturing and utilities employment and is the third-most racialized postal code out of all Toronto and Peel neighbourhoods. 

The only exception the researchers found was in the Ontario-wide hot-spot comparison, in which the percentage of people who work in trades, transportation and equipment operation in hot spots was slightly lower than non-hot-spot neighbourhoods.

“That’s the thing with this data, it also really shows the disparity. It really shows that no, we haven’t all been through the same experience with COVID,” said Sané Dube, Manager, Community and Policy with Social Medicine at UHN, using the example of someone who makes over $100,000 annually, lives in downtown Toronto and can pay for their groceries to be delivered.

“That is very different from the experience from the person who is making $30,000 in a grocery store, has continued to work the whole pandemic and lives in a certain part of the neighbourhood. There’s this idea that we’ve all had the same experience in this pandemic. We haven’t. This really brings that home.”

Laura Rosella, scientific director of the Population Health Analytics Lab at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and a collaborator on the analysis, notes that hot spots are vulnerable for different reasons, which is why connections between policy-makers and the communities are so important.

“The data kind of gives you that first layer, saying we need to pay attention here. Then it’s the conversations with the community that will tell you what the solutions are,” Rosella said. “The data alone won’t tell you what the solutions are. The community will.”

Michelle Dagnino, executive director of the Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre, says that while she is not surprised by the data, many people, including many who work in social services, did not realize just how many people in vulnerable areas have continued to go to work throughout the pandemic. 

“I think there was a sense that there were going to be more workplace shutdowns than there ever actually ended up being. The definition of ‘essential’ just ended up being so broad in terms of these workplaces,” she said. 

“Effectively, all of our factory workers, whether they’re manufacturing glass panes or producing clothing or whether they’re delivering factory-made goods through Amazon distribution centres, they have been open the whole time. And the consequences of that in this third wave have led us to a situation where we have seen racialized, low-income workers dying because they’ve had to continue to go to work.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2021/05/11/theyve-been-called-hot-spots-its-actually-code-for-social-inequity.html

 

Before COVID-19, inequity in healthcare was, in effect, a pandemic for Black communities. Here are five issues that need to be addressed

Of note. Good list of issues:

Toronto has a new, $6.8-million plan to fight the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community. But the roots of health inequity were taking hold long before the pandemic started.

“These are conversations we have been having. We’ve been advocating, we’ve been speaking about it,” said Lydia-Joi Marshall, president of the Black Health Alliance. “This is not a new crisis for the Black community …. This is just highlighting the inequities that have been happening all along.”

Marshall, who has worked in healthcare research for more than 15 years and was a speaker at this month’s TEDxToronto: Uncharted, spoke with the Star to explain five long-standing issues that have made the healthcare system unequal for the Black community. Many of these still need to be addressed.

It’s not biology, it’s racism: As a geneticist, Marshall said she does not believe in race as a biological construct. “Race is not the determinant of health. Racism is,” she said.

“We often hear all these higher rates of illness in Black people — Black people have higher hypertension and diabetes,” and we can see that and think there must be a “very specific biological reason,” Marshall said. But, really, it’s more to do with systemic barriers that make these illnesses more likely, such as disproportionate stress and lack of access to nutritious food. “What are the other social determinants?” she said.

For instance, a 2019 study by FoodShare and the University of Toronto showed that Black Canadians are twice as likely as white Canadians to be food insecure. Without access to affordable, healthy food, health problems can fester.

“This idea that it is biological, we have to come away from that, because it allows people to dismiss the systemic and institutionalized racism of why we’re seeing such different rates.”

Microaggressions take a toll on physical health: Dealing with small, daily instances of racism can overtime lead to poorer health outcomes. “It takes a toll on our health,” Marshall said.

A study conducted by Harvard University and NPR in 2017 found that people who reported high numbers of daily indignities, such as receiving poor service in a restaurant or being treated with less courtesy than others, also ranked high in developing heart disease, or, in the case of pregnant women, ranked high in giving birth to babies of a lower weight.

“This stress, whether it is daily stress or overt … can result in illness,” Marshall said.

Mental health and wellness has a ripple effect: Marshall notes that mental health can affect other branches of health, and yet have so far not received as much attention.

Much of Marshall’s research relates to other clinical and chronic illnesses, but rates of under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed mental illness in the Black community, have “shocked” her, when she has looked at them.

Black respondents ranked the lowest in a December 2020 mental health surveyconducted by Morneau Shepell.

Barriers to mental healthcare for the Black community must be reduced, and a better understanding at the point of diagnosis developed, so the rates of under- and misdiagnosis are addressed.

Bias affects quality of care: Marshall recalls a time when her aunt called Telehealth to assess her symptoms when she was feeling ill. The questions went: “Are you healthy? Does your skin look pink?” Marshall said.

“I had to explain to her that this is just the ingrained bias — that here in Canada, the normal is not us.”

Apart from small instances such as this, the phenomenon also manifests in textbooks that are used in medical schools, hospital visits and is a hardship shared by Indigenous communities.

Mistrust of the system lingers: As concerns about hesitancy around taking the vaccine get more attention in public policy, it’s worth really considering the questions Black communities have and the source of their concerns, Marshall says.

Mistreatment has been both on a large scale historically — as with the Tuskegee study in the U.S. and nutrition experiments in the Indigenous community in Canada — but also on a smaller scale in the form of personal trips to the hospital.

Many are “asking valid questions, because of a historical pattern of the system not catering to our needs,” she said.

“Why would we trust a system that has not been built for us?”

This approach can inform the way Canada addresses vaccine concerns in the Black community.

Source: Before COVID-19, inequity in healthcare was, in effect, a pandemic for Black communities. Here are five issues that need to be addressed

‘Nothing we’ve done has helped’: In Toronto’s poor, racialized neighbourhoods, second-wave lockdowns are again failing to slow COVID cases

Good detailed analysis:

The data is clear, and has been for months: Ontarians who are poor, under-housed and racialized are disproportionately attacked by COVID-19.

And yet, deep into the second wave, this central feature of the pandemichas not been central to our pandemic response, health experts say. The current “one size fits all” restrictions have so far failed to protect the vast majority of people getting infected by COVID-19. As a result, lockdowns in hot spots like Toronto and Peel are on track to be longer, harder and more devastating for everyone. 

“If we don’t tackle this problem, we will continue to struggle through the winter. I can guarantee you that right now,” says Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, which provides evidence to inform the province’s pandemic response.

In the first wave, lockdowns worked instantly in richer, whiter Toronto neighbourhoods but failed to flatten the curve in the poorest, most racialized ones, Star analyses showed. 

Experts fear the same thing is happening again. Over a recent four-week period, the 20 Toronto neighbourhoods with the highest proportions of visible minorities recorded more than 3,300 cases. The 20 whitest neighbourhoods reported just 360. This racialized tilt is not a function of race itself, research shows, rather of who performs essential but low-paying work and is more likely to live in sub-standard housing.

“This is really about the people who do all the work for us and who allow you and me to stay home,” says Juni.

“The restrictions work very nicely in my neighbourhood, Moore Park,” an affluent area in North Toronto, Juni adds. “In some other neighbourhoods, they don’t. Why? Because we do not support people to actually be able to decrease the amount of contact they have.”

Summer offered a reprieve from the virus — a chance to reflect on the first wave of the pandemic and prepare for the second. And perhaps the harshest lesson from the spring was that COVID-19 predominantly impacted poor and racialized Torontonians, especially from Black and South Asian communities.

According to Toronto Public Health data released in July, racialized residents accounted for 83 per cent of cases despite making up 52 per cent of the population. People in the poorest households accounted for the largest share of cases of any income group.

Many of the worst-hit neighbourhoods were in the city’s northwest and northeast. And while the rest of Toronto — particularly whiter, more affluent downtown neighbourhoods — enjoyed a relatively pandemic-free summer, residents in these areas continued to see transmission simmer along at low levels.

As the second wave took off, the same first-wave patterns quickly took hold: the downtown Waterfront neighbourhood initially emerged as a hot spot, then infections began to spike in neighbourhoods more densely populated by poor and racialized residents. 

The province and the city began a series of interventions over the fall that escalated in severity — all of which have been too lax, many epidemiologists have argued. In late September, capacity limits were imposed for indoor dining and bars. In early October, indoor dining was nixed entirely along with fitness classes, and gathering sizes reduced. 

These measures did have an impact — but most dramatically in downtown neighbourhoods like Little Portugal and the Waterfront. In the northwest and northeast corners especially, cases continued to climb.

“Rates in some of those downtown communities have dramatically decreased. You can see the direct effects of the intervention on those neighbourhoods, and you can hypothesize that (restaurants and indoor dining) were a very big driver for the cases in those neighbourhoods,” says Dr. Vinita Dubey, an associate medical officer of health with Toronto Public Health. 

Dubey acknowledges that the inequalities of the first wave are repeating. “We are still seeing some of the same patterns that have actually persisted,” she says. “We’re doing more, we’ve learned more, we’re working with the communities more. But some of those systemic inequalities or disparities haven’t (been) fixed between the first and second wave.”

In an emailed statement, a health ministry spokesperson said the provincial government has had “an explicit focus on equity issues” with respect to the pandemic’s impact and cited several steps it’s taken to address these, including: public-health marketing efforts in more than 18 languages; a relief fund of $510 million for food banks, shelters and other organizations; and working with community groups to improve testing access in hard-hit areas.

If the lockdown that began Nov. 23 has had any effect on the hardest-hit neighbourhoods, it is not yet apparent. But while the inequities underlying differences in COVID risk may be deep-rooted, they can still be tackled, health experts say.

“We’ve set up a response, I think, at the extreme … it’s been only for the rich, or at least with the rich in mind first,” says Dr. Stefan Baral, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, who provides clinical care in homeless shelters in Toronto.

“There were very specific and tangible things that I think could have been done to prepare for what was going to be a very difficult winter.”

In early October, the Star obtained provincial data showing that some Toronto neighbourhoods had alarmingly high positivity rates, suggesting that pockets of the city were in worse shape than previously known.

Provincial health officials admitted they first saw this data in the newspaper, and Premier Doug Ford cited mobile testing as part of what the province was doing to support marginalized communities.

But just days earlier, community health organizations in some of Toronto’s hardest-hit neighbourhoods were pressured by the province to stop offering pop-up testing, those involved say. 

The province was transitioning to an appointment-only testing system as the backlog of unprocessed specimens ballooned. But community groups knew that easier-to-access pop-up testing sites were critical for reaching residents at highest risk of COVID-19.

The community groups pushed back, and “highlighted that without their pop-ups, there would be nothing available for (their) communities,” says Sané Dube, with the University of Health Network’s social medicine program, who was working in the community at the time. 

It was “disturbing and concerning,” she adds. Though the province “backtracked” and the pop-up sites happened as planned, she says, “it raised serious questions about how decisions were being made.”

The health ministry says “there was absolutely no plan or proposal to ever cancel testing” in the neighbourhoods in question. 

“Ontario Health Regions are working with high priority communities to offer additional testing sites.”

Many advocates describe a chronic inability to reach people in marginalized communities, where the need for COVID-19 testing is most dire.

In September — when testing volumes peaked in Toronto and the second wave started taking off — there was no pop-up testing in Scarborough and just three sites in the city’s northwest corner, two regions with high densities of poor, racialized communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. 

But people in the richest and whitest neighbourhoods were likely being overtested. In late September, testing rates in Toronto’s whitest neighbourhoods were double that of the most racialized communities, according to a Star analysis of public health data.

After the province overhauled its strategy in late September, including restricting access for those with no symptoms, testing rates fell dramatically in the richest, whitest neighbourhoods. Today, they are more or less in line with rates in the city’s poorest, most racialized neighbourhoods — even though testing rates in the latter neighbourhoods “should be through the roof” given the soaring infection rates in those areas, says Dr. Sharmistha Mishra, a scientist with the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute and a member of the province’s modelling consensus table.

In response to the Star’s questions about testing access in northwest Toronto, the health ministry spokesperson cited the dozens of testing sites across the larger region that encompasses these neighbourhoods — but also acknowledged that uptake was still too low, and that the “expansion planning is underway.”

“Next efforts focus on mobilizing increased uptake of testing within targeted communities and providing culturally relevant and community tailored messaging addressing the social determinants of health, such as income, food security, and housing, that make it difficult for some people to seek or access care.” 

Coun. Joe Cressy said that though COVID-19 testing is the province’s purview, the city recently ramped up supports for testing in targeted neighbourhoods. All city facilities — from fire stations to libraries — are now available for pop-up testing, he said. The city also recently kicked off a $5 million program in partnership with 11 communities agencies that have played a crucial role in supporting marginalized neighbourhoods.

Cressy said community involvement is key to increasing testing rates in the hardest-hit areas. Dube agrees, noting that many people are understandably mistrustful of a health system that has long excluded their needs.

“The failures we have with testing are actually linked to the failures of our pandemic strategy in general,” she says.

The province’s science table has begun referring to something called the “prevention gap” — the observation that “light touch” restrictions will flatten the curve in mildly affected areas, but allow large amounts of transmission to carry on in the hardest-hit regions. 

Different tools are needed to meaningfully protect people at highest risk of COVID-19, experts say — for example, paid sick leave or a moratorium on evictions. Both measures would allow people to self-isolate without worrying about losing their job or home, and are now being formally requested by the City of Toronto in forthcoming letters to the provincial and federal governments.

Low-wage earners, who are the most likely to contract COVID-19, are also the least likely to have paid sick leave, according to data from the Labour Force Survey. Among Torontonians who make $17 an hour or less, only 17 per cent of workers who took a week-long sick leave between March and September were paid to take that time off. 

This statistic almost certainly underestimates the problem, since it only captures workers who took an entire week off; low-wage workers are much more likely to only take a few days off at most, according to Dr. Kate Hayman with the Decent Work and Health Network.

Hayman, an emergency room physician in downtown Toronto, says paid sick leave is “a concrete tool for behavioural change that the government is underutilizing.” She frequently sees patients with COVID-19 who would benefit from paid sick leave; the food services worker whose employer wouldn’t allow her to self-isolate without a doctor’s note, for example, or the construction worker who continued working to pay the bills, even though he lives with his mother who had the virus.

“This is actually an intervention that has the (biggest) potential to benefit people who need it the most,” Hayman said. “Which is completely different from a lockdown, which might benefit people who can work from home the most.”

The ministry spokesperson said the Ontario was the first province to sign onto the federal Liberals’ Safe Restart Agreement, which provided $1.1 billion for paid sick leave. The province had earlier changed labour laws to provide unpaid, job-protected emergency leave, a requirement to receive the federal funding. 

“No one should have to choose between their job and their health, which is why our legislation ensures those who stay home to self-isolate or care for loved ones will not be fired.”

Hayman says the federal program — $500 a week, for two weeks maximum — is both onerous and insufficient, with too many barriers, exclusions and delays to meet many workers’ needs. 

Hayman notes there is good evidence paid sick leave can be a powerful tool for outbreak control. American researchers recently found that states with paid sick leave had a statistically significant reduction in COVID-19, according to a paper that will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Health Affairs.

A COVID-19 research survey from Israel also suggests that when pay was available, workers’ compliance with public health measures was 94 per cent. When pay was removed, compliance dropped to less than 57 per cent.

And following the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, a U.S. study estimated that up to eight million workers did not take time off despite being infected — leading to an estimated seven million additional infections.

Without paid sick leave, precarious workers are both less likely to get tested — because being forced to self-isolate can have devastating financial consequences — or make use of the city’s voluntary isolation centre, experts say. Toronto Public Health did not respond to questions about how many admissions there have been at the city’s 140-person isolation centre, which opened in September.

Failing to take targeted, meaningful steps to stop the spread in hardest-hit communities — those primarily populated by Black and other racialized people — is just another example of “how systemic racism actually moves,” says Dube.

“Because the truth is we value some lives over others.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/12/04/nothing-weve-done-has-helped-in-torontos-poor-racialized-neighbourhoods-second-wave-lockdowns-are-again-failing-to-slow-covid-cases.html

Three times more racialized renters live in overcrowded housing in Toronto than non-racialized renters — and the starkest gap is among those born in Canada, study says

Significant study on inequality and minority groups:

If you look at Toronto renters who spend at least 30 per cent of their income on housing — a traditional marker of unaffordability — you might miss the deep racial divides of the city’s housing crisis.

There’s barely a gulf between racialized and non-racialized renter households that spend that much: 41 per cent versus 43, respectively, census data says. Similarities prevail as fortunes get worse: 19 per cent of racialized renter households spend at least half their income on rent, versus 20 per cent of non-racialized households.

But a new study of census micro data, shared exclusively with the Star, reveals stark inequalities in the housing conditions of Toronto renters — especially in unsuitable housing, an indicator of overcrowding that was found to be nearly three times higher for visible minority renters.

For housing to be reported as unsuitable, it has to lack an adequate number of bedrooms for the size and composition of the household that lives there, according to the national occupancy standard.

University of Calgary researcher Naomi Lightman said looking at overcrowding allowed for a broader understanding of the housing crisis — noting that some renters may choose to squeeze more people into a smaller unit, instead of overspending on enough space.

“People are making choices within constrained conditions,” said Lightman, who co-authored the study with York University associate professor Luann Good Gingrich and Social Planning Toronto analyst Beth Wilson.

The data took on new weight during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lightman noted — neighbourhoods in Toronto with high levels of overcrowding have shown infection rates almost four times higher than in other areas, as stated by Toronto’s public health agency in July.

In York Centre in the city’s hard-hit northwest corner, 22 per cent of non-racialized renter households are considered unsuitable. Among racialized renters, that jumps to 51 per cent. In nearby York South-Weston, the unsuitability rate is 25 per cent and 49 per cent, respectively. Racialized renters in every city ward had higher rates of unsuitable, overcrowded conditions.

And though those gaps persisted among both the newcomer and long-term immigrant populations, the starkest racial divide the study found was among those born in Canada. While 14 per cent of non-racialized Toronto renters born in Canada reported unsuitable housing conditions, that number more than tripled for racialized non-immigrants — to 48 per cent.

Toronto councillor Joe Cressy, chair of the city’s board of health, said that finding illustrates how racism can be systemic — noting longstanding inequalities in access to employment and income.

“People often talk about opportunity like, you know, ‘Everybody gets a fighting chance,’” he said. “The fact of the matter is, in our city, non-racialized people are starting at the 50-yard line. And that’s due to decades of disproportional access and intergenerational wealth.”

Lightman said their data overall highlighted that the housing crisis played out in “different ways than we might have expected,” and had geographic implications within Toronto. “The divides between people translate into divides between places — and an increasingly segregated city.”

The findings are part of a multi-year research project on social exclusion in Canada. It examines micro data from the last census — specifically, data on affordability, unsuitability, housing in need of major repair, and what’s known as “core housing need.” The latter refers to housing that falls below any of those standards, where the household would have to spend 30 per cent or more of its pre-tax income to afford the median rent of alternative, adequate housing nearby.

Core housing need, like overcrowding, saw higher rates among racialized tenants — with 39 per cent of them reporting core housing need versus 27 per cent of non-racialized renters.

But Lightman said their work also underscored a need for more granular data, as it showed that certain groups — like Black, Latin American and Southeast Asian tenants — were reporting especially high rates of core housing need. While racialized and non-racialized renters had similar rates of unaffordable housing, the study found more than half of Korean, West Asian, Arab and Chinese renters reported spending at least 30 per cent of their income on shelter.

Avvy Go, director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, said the findings about specific racialized communities underscored a need for more disaggregated, race-based data in the housing sphere, to understand which communities are facing the worst outcomes, followed by more targeted efforts from governments to address the housing crisis within those groups.

While Go said she’d expect racialized communities to struggle more in the rental housing market — noting that racialized people were more likely to live in low-income households in general — the difference in the study between racialized and non-racialized renters, born in Canada and living in unsuitable housing, was more significant than she would have expected.

“Even if you take away immigration status as a factor, there is still a racialized gap. You cannot blame it on the fact they are born outside of Canada, to explain away the racial inequality that exists in Canada,” she said.

Cressy backed calls for more disaggregated data, noting the city’s executive committee will consider a strategy on Wednesday that would collect voluntary data on race from those who use city services or participate in public consultations.

“In the face of data, decision makers have one of two choices,” he said. “They can address it, or they can remain complacent.”

Source: Three times more racialized renters live in overcrowded housing in Toronto than non-racialized renters — and the starkest gap is among those born in Canada, study says

‘A fight for the soul of the city’: Report shows how COVID-19 has deepened Toronto’s racial and economic divide

No real surprise as it confirms other reports and analysis, both in Toronto and elsewhere. Nevertheless, extremely disturbing:

Higher COVID-19 infection rates. Higher unemployment. Deepening poverty.

Racialized and lower-income Torontonians are bearing a heavier burden during the coronavirus pandemic, which is widening the gap between rich and poor in this city.

That’s the grim conclusion delivered by the Toronto Fallout Report, which provides a snapshot of where Torontonians stand in the midst of the pandemic.

Released Thursday by the Toronto Foundation — which also produces the annual Vital Signs report — this latest report offers an interim look at how the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequality in the city.

Among the report’s findings:

  • People earning less than $30,000 a year are 5.3 times as likely to catch COVID-19 than those making $150,000 or more.
  • Black, Latin American and Arab, Middle Eastern or West Asian Torontonians have COVID-19 infection rates at least seven times as high as white residents.
  • About 30 per cent of Torontonians are struggling to pay rent, mortgage, food, utilities and other essentials.
  • Across the country, Canadians who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) have unemployment rates almost twice as high as white Canadians. Nearly one-third of BIPOC youth are unemployed, compared to 18 per cent of white youth.

The report shows just how much of a “crisis moment” this is for Toronto, said Mohini Datta-Ray, the executive director of the North York Women’s Shelter and one of the dozens of non-profit leaders who were consulted for the report.

“The consensus is really, really loud and clear that this is a fight for the soul of the city, for who we are as a city.”

The pandemic didn’t create this inequality, she said, but it has magnified it and exploded it into view.

“We’ve all been ringing the alarm bells for years, decades really,” Datta-Ray said. “There’s been a worsening over time and any of us that are working with vulnerable, marginalized, low-income families know how desperate these times have already been.”

The report looks at a broad range of issues, from income and employment, to food security and housing, and what comes up again and again is the widening gulf between rich and poor, and how that divide is increasingly occurring along racialized lines.

“When I looked through the report, for me it really highlighted how deeply embedded racism and white supremacy are in just about all of our systems and institutions,” said Paul Taylor, executive director of FoodShare Toronto, which has dramatically increased its services in response to rising food insecurity during the pandemic.

“It seems like communities that are made up predominantly of white folks have had a very different experience of the pandemic.”

In Toronto, racialized people make up 52 per cent of the population, but currently account for 79 per cent of the COVID-19 infections. The highest infection rates in the city are concentrated in the neighbourhoods with the most racialized people.

It’s in those neighbourhoods where people are often living in crowded housing, Taylor said, and where people are more likely to have to take public transit to low-wage jobs without adequate sick days, PPE or the opportunity to physically distance.

“We really have to ask ourselves what allows us to chronically underinvest in the communities where there are higher incidences of COVID infections,” Taylor said.

Datta-Ray, who lives in a relatively affluent downtown neighbourhood and works in the hard-hit northwest corner of the city, has seen first hand the city’s divergent pandemic experiences.

Where she lives, the pandemic has been novel, almost festive, she said. “You wouldn’t even know that the virus is around.”

But in the city’s northwest, where infection rates are 10 times as high, most people aren’t able to work from home and public transit is crowded. “Those neighbourhoods feel the city in crisis.”

Neethan Shan, executive director of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, said governments need to put racial equity at the heart of any pandemic recovery plan.

“Universal programs aren’t going to be enough,” he said. “If you’re serious about racial equity you have to start looking at it.”

If you target the most vulnerable and most affected communities, he said, everyone will benefit.

“But if you just keep continuing with universal programs that are in some ways colour-blind, we’re not going to see the solutions that we need.”

Liben Gebremikael, executive director of the TAIBU Community Health Centre in Scarborough, said attention on Black communities is often driven by high-profile news events — such as the so-called “Summer of the Gun” in 2005 — which leads to cyclical but unsustained investment.

“We can’t really do systemic change with cyclical investment,” he said. “We have to have a long-term strategy, from the city, the province and the federal government, on how to address these injustices and inequities that are mostly impacting Indigenous and Black communities.”

Gebremikael said he’s hopeful the inequities laid bare by COVID-19 will garner enough attention for more substantial, long-term investment. He cited the provincial government agreeing to collect race-based data during the pandemic — after their initial reluctance — as an example of a step in the right direction.

“If we have evidence then we can really advocate for the resources and the policies and the strategies we need.”

Source: ‘A fight for the soul of the city’: Report shows how COVID-19 has deepened Toronto’s racial and economic divide

High anxiety: In Toronto’s immigrant-rich apartment towers, elevators and density keep many students at home

Yet another example of inequalities at work:

When the final bell rings at Thorncliffe Park Public School, Canada’s largest elementary school, dozens of children burst through the doors onto the schoolyard, immediately pulling their colourful masks below their mouths with the same relief that comes from undoing one’s top button after a big meal. In the apartments housed inside a cluster of highrises, the rest of the school population marks the end of the day more quietly, logging out of their online classrooms.

Most of those students live within a five-minute walk of the school, but their families, many of whom were deterred by the vertical commute, opted for remote learning this school year. In a survey conducted by community organizers in September, 75 per cent of parents in Thorncliffe and neighbouring highrise community Flemingdon Park – both COVID-19 hot spots – expressed worries about waiting for elevators and physical distancing on them.

Even before COVID-19 this was a struggle, and families, community leaders and teachers feared the crowding and wait might worsen without the ability to pack a dozen or more people in an elevator like they had in the past.

The school eliminated its late policy and parents were encouraged to pack lunches the night before for their children, but that still wasn’t enough to assuage fears. “I worried so much about the elevator. I couldn’t imagine them being at school on time,” said Saara Khota, who shares her two-bedroom 16th-floor apartment with her husband and four children.

She had big plans for the fall: For the first time in 13 years, she was going to go back to school to continue her education in computer science with hopes of finding work. Instead, over concerns about the elevators and her children’s abilities to wear masks properly, she signed three of her kids up for remote learning.Zoom/Pan

When school started, just 62 per cent of students returned to class at Thorncliffe Park Public School, which has a student body of 1,350. Later, even more made the switch and, this week, only about 56 per cent are registered to be in class, according to the Toronto District School Board.

It’s part of a larger trend of approximately 7,500 students across the board moving online in the weeks since school started as COVID-19 case counts have exponentially risen.

For decades, this neighbourhood has been a magnet for newcomers. Eight out of 10 residents are racialized (the majority are immigrants from South Asian countries) and the median household income is $46,595, about 30 per cent less than the city as a whole.

Toronto Public Health data show the coronavirus has disproportionately infected racialized and low-income people, who have also felt the virus’s secondary effects more acutely, logging higher rates of job losses, poverty and food-bank reliance.

School board data show families in areas with the highest COVID-19 case rates were more likely to select remote learning.

Keeping her children at home didn’t feel like a viable option for Sana Khan, a mother of two and a Pakistani immigrant.

Her children are in junior kindergarten and Grade 5 and she doesn’t feel equipped to parent and assist with their learning at home, so, with reservations, she sent them back to school.

“I’m always worried for the kids,” she said in the lobby of her building on a recent morning after school drop-off. “You don’t know who they’re coming across, who might make them sick.”

That afternoon after the pickup, she detoured to the nearby plaza after school – she needed to get groceries, but this is a common tactic neighbourhood parents use to avoid afternoon rush hour at the highrises.

A queue snaked out the door of Ms. Khan’s building until about 4:15 p.m. as one staffer played usher, managing the crowd and ensuring not too many crowded onto the elevators, while another deposited a squirt of hand sanitizer in every resident’s palm before they entered the lobby.

All the parents The Globe and Mail spoke to said they were pleasantly surprised by how smoothly things have gone with the elevators – they’ve made adjustments, as have the schools, but most importantly, far fewer students are actually leaving their buildings each day to get to school. The crowds have been so light that Ms. Khota decided to send her second eldest, who is in Grade 5, back to class this week.

Mehreen Ubaid, one of Ms. Khan’s neighbours, lives on the second floor of the building, but the elevator is still a part of her daily routine because she has a one-year-old who is usually transported by stroller. The risk of one of her three school-going children becoming infected with the coronavirus already felt high before school started: Her husband is a taxi driver.

Having arrived here from Pakistan in July, 2019, she is still learning English (she spoke to The Globe in Urdu through an interpreter), so assisting her children with anything they struggled with this school year would’ve been an impossibility.

Since the first day of school, a WhatsApp group for Thorncliffe parents who chose remote learning for their young children has lit up several times with inquiries about whether any neighbourhood teens might be available to tutor since the language barrier has left parents unable to assist their children with even simple assignments – 57.8 per cent of residents have a home language that isn’t English.

Shakhlo Sharipova, a member of that group, said the remote learners experienced a host of other problems as well. On the morning she assumed would be her daughter Khadija’s much-postponed first day of kindergarten at Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy, which is beside Thorncliffe Park Public School, she couldn’t log into the online learning platform and learned she wasn’t the only one. Each morning for weeks she was greeted with a flurry of messages in the WhatsApp group: “Were you able to get into Brightspace?” “Has class started?” “Does your child have a teacher yet?”

Certain her daughter would not be able to wear a mask on the elevator ride for the journey from her apartment down to the lobby (let alone in class all day), Ms. Sharipova thought remote learning was the best option. But once classes finally began, Khadija was distracted and disengaged, especially as her teacher navigated WiFi issues, at one point clumsily reading a book to her virtual class while holding her cellphone out so they could see the pictures.

Ms. Sharipova found herself responsible for multiple hours of teaching each day, which she knew she couldn’t keep up after accepting a job at a local pop-up COVID-19 testing site. So she decided after a few days to send her daughter back to class – risks and all (about 3,000 other students have registered to do the same within the board). She says it’s a shame so many in her community don’t feel they have a true choice when it comes to how their children will be educated. “It’s disappointing and kind of unfair, you know?” she said.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-high-anxiety-in-torontos-immigrant-rich-apartment-towers-elevators/

Data shows an increase in anti-Asian hate incidents in Canada since onset of pandemic

Although collected through online portals with anonymity, of concern and buttressed by official police stats:

More than 600 incidents of hate targeting Asians within Canada have been reported to Chinese Canadian groups since the pandemic began, and one in three of those attacks have been assaults, say the groups.

The data, collected through online portals that have allowed victims to report hate incidents anonymously, are consistent with reports from Canadian police forces that they are also investigating an increase in anti-Asian attacks.

The data, released last week, were compiled by the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, Project 1907, the Vancouver Asian Film Festival and the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice. All of the incidents were reported through two online platforms based in Toronto or Vancouver. The reports were received from seven provinces.

Justin Kong, executive director for the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, said the data again indicate Asian Canadians have been targeted through the pandemic and racism will continue to taint Canada until there are policies in place to tackle it.

“Those attacks stemmed from historical anti-Asian racism, but also because of the ways in which COVID-19 has been racialized,” he said, adding COVID-19 is seen as a Chinese disease, similar to SARS.

“We saw what happened during SARS, and I guess it became obvious that this was going to go the same way. … That’s why we started collecting the data on the racist attacks.”

Mr. Kong acknowledged they weren’t able to verify the reports, and the groups instead have been relying on “a trust system.”

The data, which have been collected since February, show that 83 per cent of the incidents were reported by East Asians, followed by 7 per cent by Southeast Asians. It says 44 per cent of the attacks were reported from B.C. – the highest in Canada – while 38 per cent of the occurrences were reported in Ontario and 7 per cent in Quebec.

Women reported 60 per cent of all incidents. In B.C., women were even more disproportionately affected, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of all reported incidents there.

The data found nearly 30 per cent of reported incidents are assault, including targeted coughing, physical attacks and violence, and that verbal harassment is the most common type of discrimination.

These groups’ findings echo those of the Vancouver Police Department, which has reported a dramatic rise in hate incidents against East Asians.

In July, Vancouver police said they have had 66 hate-motivated incidents against East Asian people reported to them so far in 2020, a huge spike from the seven during the same period last year. A VPD spokesperson said the most targeted community continues to be East Asian.

Toronto Police Service spokeswoman Connie Osborne said, in comparison to 2019, her force has seen an increase in the number of hate-motivated occurrences, including where race has been a factor.

She said many of the 2020 cases are active investigations and the motivation of the offence may change or more offences may be uncovered, so the force can’t provide specific numbers for the year so far. But she added such incidents often go unreported and the number of reports received by police are not an accurate reflection of what people have experienced.

Earlier this year, Korean Montrealer Kyungseo Min compiled testimonies from Asian Québécois of racist incidents since January. In the span of about a month and a half, Ms. Min collected more than 20.

She said some of her findings match those from the advocacy groups. For example, female Asians reported more harassment or violence than men, and the majority of the racism was verbal.

In Alberta, the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee has been running the StopHateAB.ca portal since 2017 to encourage people to report incidents and talk about what happened to them. The portal’s reports include four incidents reported this year of an East Asian Canadian being verbally assaulted in a public space in a tirade related to COVID-19.

Since it began collecting data, the portal has logged 74 incidents of hate in Edmonton, 69 in Calgary and 31 in Lethbridge. There are a handful of reports from other areas of the province. The data were last updated in July.

The groups are calling on the federal government to include an anti-racism strategy in its postpandemic recovery plan.

Mr. Kong said as the pandemic has posed more challenges to racialized communities, he hopes that the government could also come up with policies aimed at helping migrant workers and low-income immigrant workers.

The House of Commons’ standing committee on justice and human rights issued a report just more than a year ago with recommendations for battling online hate. They include recommendations for more funding for police, judges and Crown prosecutors to enable them to better respond to hate complaints as well as better data collection on hate incidents.

The report, submitted in June, 2019, noted a 50-per-cent jump in hate crimes targeting Black people in 2017 relative to the year earlier. However, the report does not refer to hate crimes against those of East Asian descent.

In a response this month, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Toronto-based foundation, provided several recommendations to the Justice Minister’s office, including placing online hate crimes under federal jurisdiction and developing a more clear and comprehensive definition of illegal hate activities.

Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, the foundation’s director of policy, said it is the responsibility of the justice system to recognize hatred as the poison that it is and confront hate crimes.

“We want to see all hate crimes aggressively investigated by police, regardless of what community is being targeted and what form these crimes take, so that perpetrators are brought to justice.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/british-columbia/article-data-shows-an-increase-in-anti-asian-hate-incidents-in-canada-since/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Morning%20Update&utm_content=2020-9-14_6&utm_term=Morning%20Update:%20Isolation%20and%20loneliness%20take%20a%20toll%20on%20mental%20health%20during%20pandemic%20&utm_campaign=newsletter&cu_id=%2BTx9qGuxCF9REU6kNldjGJtpVUGIVB3Y

Kay: Exploiting a Woman’s Deadly Fall to Smear Toronto’s Police

An interesting account of police training, the social work side of policing,  and an equally important discussion of the rush to apply a simple race lens rather than a more comprehensive look at the evidence and issues involved.

While it is necessary and legitimate to question police practices, both systemic and particular, and while any death related to policing is a human tragedy, one should neither assume that all incidents involving the police are racist or that none of them are:

A few years ago, when I did ride-alongs with Toronto-area police officers, I saw how much of their job involves dealing with mental-health and addiction issues. Most of the incidents these officers responded to were rooted in a troubled household, and the protagonists typically were well-known to the arriving officers: an autistic adult son whose outbursts overwhelmed aging parents, a wife fearful of an alcoholic husband, an agitated elderly man who’d become convinced his neighbours were spying on him through his devices. Most of these incidents required therapists as much as (or more than) police officers. But since the threat of violence hovered over all of them, at least in theory, it was the police who got the call. As I wrote at the time, the officers mostly played the role of social workers with a badge.

The stereotype of police as violent, poorly trained hotheads is sometimes borne out on YouTube, which now functions as a highlight reel for every bad apple wearing a uniform. But the reality—at least in Canada, where I live—is that new officers are typically post-secondary graduates who spend a lot of their time in training sessions. In 2016, I sat in on one such session at a police headquarters facility west of Toronto, where officers attend seminars conducted by experts from within the community, and then go through elaborate small-group role-playing scenarios led by a trained corps of actors who specialize in mimicking various crisis states. As I reported in a magazine article, the facility features a mock-up house with different rooms, so officers can perform their exercises in realistic domestic environments. When each role-playing scenario was completed, the officers were critiqued and interviewed in front of the entire group. Then the actor herself would give her impressions about how the officers’ behaviour made her feel.

I thought about all this following the real-life case of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, the 29-year-old black woman who fell to her death from a Toronto apartment balcony in May while seeking to evade police officers. During one role-playing session I observed four years ago, an actor seeking to evade officers under similar circumstances ran into a bathroom and locked the door. For five minutes, the officers awkwardly tried to coax her out, meeting with eventual success. In the analysis segment that followed, the supervising officer explained that it once was common practice for officers in such situations to simply bash open the door. But this kind of technique fell out of fashion years ago, since it led to unnecessary trauma and risk (for the officers as much as the bathroom occupant).

Some of the other acted exercises I observed included a paranoid schizophrenic crouching under a kitchen table, babbling fearfully as officers tried to soothe him, and a homeless woman who threatened to hurt herself with a knife if officers approached. While holding them at bay from her perch on a living-room sofa, the actress recited a backstory: She had nothing to live for because child services had taken away her kid, her only reason for hope. When she finally put away the knife, the officers walked forward to escort her away—at which point the supervisor ended the exercise and admonished them: “Yes, she put away that knife,” he said. “But how do you know that’s the only weapon she’s got? When you focus on the object, you forget about the person.”

There was also a memorable exercise involving a male actor who was threatening to jump from a window—which presents another grim point of analogy to the Korchinski-Paquet case. It is a mark of this man’s acting skill that, years after I watched his morbid star turn, I still remember the details of his narrative: He was a musician, suffering from depression, who was stuck pursuing a dead-end part-time position with a local orchestra.

Critically, he wasn’t the only actor who was part of this particular exercise. An older woman played the role of his mother, who was screaming non-stop as the officers arrived. Two pairs of officers did the exercise in succession, and their approaches were very different. The first pair—two men who’d recently joined the force—both approached the man and took turns imploring him to step down from the window. But they could barely make themselves heard over the screaming of the actor playing the mother role. Then came the second pair of officers, middle-aged women who’d apparently worked together on the beat. One of the women spoke to the man, while the other officer gently guided the mother off into another room. This was correct practice, the instructor said: You can’t make any progress if you’re just going to become bystanders to an ongoing drama. In many cases, you need to separate the family members before you can help them.

It’s the same principle I saw (and wrote about) when I observed two veteran officers show up at the (very real) home of a young couple who’d been fighting. The man, plainly troubled in all sorts of ways, had punched a hole in the wall, and the woman was frightened. One of the first things that happened upon our arrival was that the female officer—Constable Jaime Peach, who still serves on the Peel Police—took the man downstairs and interviewed him in the lobby. The other officer, Winston Fullinfaw (who was promoted to Staff Sergeant around the time I rode with him), interviewed the woman and learned about her complicated family situation. Had there been more adults in the household, it’s possible that more officers would have been dispatched: When it comes to complicated domestic disputes, sometimes there is no substitute for manpower. A beleaguered lone officer sometimes may become more prone to violence, since he is more likely to lose control of a situation and feel threatened.

This is something we should think about amid claims that society would be more peaceful if we simply got rid of the police, or starved it of funding. We should also think about how such police forces would respond to funding cuts. Training programs would be one of the first things to face the chopping block. Would that make anyone safer?

On May 27, the last day of Korchinski-Paquet’s life, a half-dozen Toronto Police Service officers and an EMS worker responded to a call from her family members, who’d told a 911 operator that there was a fight in their 24th-storey apartment. Because Ontario’s independent Special Investigations Unit (SIU) now has released its report on Korchinski-Paquet’s death, based on camera footage and numerous interviews, we know what happened next. As the Toronto Sun accurately reportedback in early June, Korchinski-Paquet asked to take a bathroom break before accompanying the officers downtown for mental-health treatment. She then barricaded a door, went onto her balcony, and slipped while trying to step onto another balcony, falling 24 floors to her death. Initial reports from family—which suggested that officers had murdered the woman by deliberately pushing her off the balcony—were completely false.

To state the obvious, the death of Korchinski-Paquet is a tragedy. And it would have compounded the tragedy to learn that her death was a racist act of homicide. One might therefore imagine that it would provide Torontonians with at least some meager solace to learn that their police force had acquitted itself without fault, and in a way that reflected the progressive, non-violent methods that are taught in training programs. But in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd and the riots that followed, it has become a common claim among progressive media and politicians that Canada is every bit as racist as the United States. And in the absence of actual recent Canadian scenes of horror on par with the killing of Floyd, the case of Korchinski-Paquet has been cited as a substitute.

The Toronto Star, which never misses a chance to hustle racism claims to its readers, has run features with titles such as “Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death and anti-Black violence in policing,” informing us “how systemic racism and anti-Black violence continues to play a huge role in Canada.” In a Star op-ed published in early June, opinion writer Noa Mendelsohn Aviv explicitly rejected the proposition that “in order to comment on Regis’s death, we must wait for the result of the Special Investigation Unit’s investigation because we do not yet have the facts and need to ascertain the truth.” (Even when the SIU report came out, the Star could not bear to abandon its anti-police posture, and so now is impugning the credibility of the SIU.) A Maclean’s writer described Korchinski-Paquet’s death as evidence that “Black lives” are “expendable.” The SIU investigation shows nothing of the kind, even if I doubt we will see any retractions.

Perhaps the most appalling response—because it comes from someone who purports to be seeking the job of Canadian prime minister—was from Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s progressive New Democratic Party (NDP). On August 26, after the SIU released its report, Singh blithely claimed that Regis Korchinski-Paquet “died because of police intervention. She needed help and her life was taken instead. The SIU’s decision brings no justice to the family and it won’t prevent this from happening again.” Singh offered no theory as to why the SIU report was wrong, but simply delivered a flat-out blood libel against the officers who’d tried to help Korchinski-Paquet on May 27 (and who are likely traumatized by what happened, as any normal person would be). To repeat: This isn’t some college activist or aggrieved family member. It is the leader of a national Canadian political party who holds the balance of power in Canada’s minority Parliament.

Singh is in some ways a special case, because his NDP, having strayed so far from the unionized blue-collar base on which it was founded, now has been reduced to little more than a social-media outpost catering to college hashtaggers. For weeks, in 2017, he spouted conspiracist nonsense about the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182, the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history. More recently, he casually denounced the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a gang of bigots, and then was ejected from Parliament when he accused a fellow Parliamentarian of being racist because he didn’t go along with Singh’s slur. But though comprising an extreme example, Singh is hardly alone. Indeed, the presumption that all police are, by their nature, contaminated by racist malignancy, has become a casually recited starting point in debates about crime and policing.

In regard to the actual goal of reforming police methods—which is the thing that Singh and everyone else pretends to care about—it’s worth taking stock of the damage wrought by this irresponsible approach. About one Torontonian dies every year during encounters with police, this in a city of three-million people. That’s about one tenth the average annual tally for Minneapolis, a city that is one seventh the size of Toronto. One might think that a 70-fold difference in per-capita police-involved deaths might be seen as statistically significant, and be reasonably attributed to the massive investments in training and professionalism that I have personally witnessed in Canadian constabularies. If best practices in Toronto spread to American cities, lives truly could be saved. But instead, progressives such as Singh are far more interested in polluting Twitter with lazy lies and protest applause lines that erase any distinction between policing methods.

Information about the death of Korchinski-Paquet may be found on the web site of Ontario’s SIU. And if there are lessons to be gleaned about how to better respond to potentially violent family crises, our leaders should implement them. But so far, police critics seem far more interested in exploiting this poor woman’s death to advance their own ideological bona fides and defame innocent police officers than with preventing future tragedies.

Source: Exploiting a Woman’s Deadly Fall to Smear Toronto’s Police

East Asians have Toronto’s lowest coronavirus infection rate. But other Asian groups are suffering badly

Good article and analysis of the Toronto race-based COVID-19 data

  • Toronto’s ethnic Chinese are weathering the epidemic well – yet it’s a much different story for Filipinos, South Asians and all other non-whites

  • Wide disparities are also reflected according to income, with experts suggesting socio-economic factors like racism and poverty are likely at play, not genetics

North American Covid-19 statistics that group Asian communities together have suggested they are experiencing relatively low infection rates – but new data out of Toronto indicates sharp differences among Chinese, Filipino and other Asian groups in the city.

Toronto’s large East Asian population, which overwhelmingly consists of ethnic Chinese, has the lowest rate of infection among all ethnicities.

But all other Asian groups have been hit hard. Southeast Asians, consisting mostly of ethnic Filipinos, have an infection rate more than eight times higher than that of East Asians; the rate for South Asian Torontonians is more than five times East Asians’.

In fact, all other non-white groups have infection rates that exceed the East Asian rate by huge margins.

This chart shows the wide disparities in Covid-19 infection rates in Toronto, according to ethnicity, with East Asians experiencing the lowest rate and Latin Americans the highest. Graphic: Toronto Public Health
This chart shows the wide disparities in Covid-19 infection rates in Toronto, according to ethnicity, with East Asians experiencing the lowest rate and Latin Americans the highest. Graphic: Toronto Public Health

White Torontonians, meanwhile, have an infection rate that is a more modest 25 per cent higher than East Asians’ – still much lower than the rate for the whole of this diverse city.

Experts suspect that a combination of racism, behaviour and circumstance explains the stark differences among various ethnicities. The fact that wide disparities are also reflected in income-based infection rates suggests that socio-economic reasons are at play, not genetics, they say.

Widespread and early mask usage among East Asians could be a factor, said Dr Jason Kindrachuk, a University of Manitoba virologist who is studying Covid-19.
Covid-19 rate in Canada’s most Chinese city isn’t what racists might expect

But teasing apart causality would take time. “Is it as straightforward as income? Could this relate back to earlier community acceptance of things like masks or social distancing?” he asked.

Either way, the data is crucial to identifying communities that bear the greatest burden in the pandemic, said Kindrachuk.

“In Canada we talk about being a multi-ethnicity community, but we’re starting to identify just how different our communities are, how different the vulnerabilities are … so we need to think about how we provide services to those most in need.”

The Toronto data likely reflected the higher risks of certain jobs, those that relied heavily on non-white employees and were ill-suited to social distancing, Kindrachuk said.

Canada’s care industry has high numbers of Filipino workers, for example, while its meat processing and seasonal agricultural sectors employ many foreign workers from Mexico.

As well as suggesting communities most at risk, the ethnic data also stood in sharp contrast to what Kindrachuk called “shocking” racist rhetoric about “the ‘China virus’ [and the] implicit targeting of the East Asian, the Chinese communities, as being to blame for the virus”.

Poverty, racism and risk in Toronto

Previous data from New York and Los Angeles suggested that Asian residents of those cities had the lowest infection rates among various racial groups. But those US statistics lumped all Asians together, disguising any disparities within the group.

The Toronto data, presented by the city’s Medical Officer of Health Dr Eileen de Villa last Thursday and current to July 16, split up East Asians, Southeast Asians and South Asians. West Asians were grouped with Arab and Middle East people.

Separate census figures show that Toronto’s East Asian population is 84 per cent Chinese; ethnic Filipinos similarly dominate the Southeast Asian category, representing 79 per cent of the grouping.

East Asians had a Covid-19 rate of 40 infections per 100,000, far below the citywide rate of 145. They make up 13 per cent of the City of Toronto’s population of about 2.7 million – but less than 4 per cent of all infections.

This chart shows the wide disparities in Covid-19 infection rates in Toronto according to ethnicity, illustrated as percentages of total population and total infections. Graphic: Toronto Public Health
This chart shows the wide disparities in Covid-19 infection rates in Toronto according to ethnicity, illustrated as percentages of total population and total infections. Graphic: Toronto Public Health

The second-lowest infection rate (50 per 100,000) was among whites, who make up 48 per cent of the city’s population, and 17 per cent of infections.

Every other ethnic group has fared much worse.

The highest rates are among Latin Americans (481 per 100,000) and Arab/Middle Eastern/West Asians (454 per 100,000). Those communities are relatively small, at less than 3 and 4 per cent of the city respectively – but they suffered 10 per cent and 11 per cent of all Covid cases.

The larger populations of black Torontonians and Southeast Asians had identical infection rates of 334 per 100,000 people. Blacks make up about 9 per cent of the city, and Southeast Asians about 7 per cent, but experienced 21 and 17 per cent of all infections respectively.

South Asians (grouped with Indo-Caribbeans), had an infection rate of about 224 per 100,000. They make up about 13 per cent of Toronto, but have suffered 20 per cent of infections.

Canada has not been releasing race-based Covid-19 data on a national level, something critics call a blind spot.

But the Toronto data echoes previous geographical data from British Columbia, where the rate of Covid-19 infection in Richmond – the most ethnically Chinese city in the world outside Asia – has been the lowest in the metro Vancouver region.

In her presentation last week, Dr de Villa said there was “growing evidence … that racialised people and people living in lower-income households are more likely to be affected by COVID-19“.

“While the exact reasons for this have yet to be fully understood, we believe it is related to both poverty and racism,” she said.

She noted that 83 per cent of reported COVID-19 cases in Toronto involved a patient who identified as a member of a racialised group, compared to 52 per cent among the general population.

The race-based data from Toronto showed that “risk distribution was very unequal”, said Dr David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto. But this could be an overlapping function of wealth and income, he said.

There were dramatic differences between infection rates depending on income, with the rate steeply declining as incomes rose. The infection rate among residents of households earning C$150,000 (US$113,000) or more was 24 per 100,000 – less than one-sixth the rate suffered by the lowest earners, on less than C$30,000 per year, at 160 infections per 100,000.

The risk of Covid-19 in Toronto declines steeply as income increases, this chart shows. Graphic: Toronto Public Health
The risk of Covid-19 in Toronto declines steeply as income increases, this chart shows. Graphic: Toronto Public Health

“We were seeing this anecdotally in hospitals; the lockdown extinguished spread [of Covid-19] in higher-income areas, as a lot of professionals with service jobs got to go online,” he said.

“Lower-income folks are more likely to be people of colour and more likely to be in essential in-person work,” such as jobs in factories, food processing or care facilities, Fisman said.

“We can see that the epidemic split off in Toronto into two epidemics: one for wealthier Torontonians, and another, more prolonged, epidemic for those of lesser economic means.”

Kindrachuk agreed – the income divide was “eye-opening”, he said. “If you have a high income, you likely are going to be able to weather the storm … there is a complete disparity between how the burden of this disease looks between high and low income brackets.”

As for genetics, Kindrachuk said he doubted that it explained the stark disparities among ethnicities. “I haven’t seen evidence that there is a difference” on a genetic basis, he said.

ICYMI: Toronto’s marginalized communities disproportionately affected by coronavirus, data suggest

Better data on what we have seen worldwide:

COVID-19 has infected racialized and low-income people in Toronto at far higher rates than the general population outside of long-term care homes, data released by the city suggest.

Doctors, community organizations and public-health workers have long suspected that racialized people – especially those who are Black – have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The findings released Thursday by Toronto Public Health showed that despite making up 52 per cent of the population, racialized people accounted for 83 per cent of COVID-19 cases between mid-May and mid-July.

The data reveal health inequities that existed long before the pandemic and will continue to if governments don’t look to address the upstream causes, experts say.

“Racism essentially sets up whether you’re able to have a life in which you can protect yourself from risk for any disease, including COVID, or whether you are forced into exposing yourself to risk,” said Arjumand Siddiqi, the Canada Research Chair in population health equity.

According to the data, Black people had the highest share of COVID-19 cases (21 per cent), followed by South Asian or Indo-Caribbean (20 per cent), Southeast Asian (17 per cent), white (17 per cent), Arab, Middle Eastern or West Asian (11 per cent), Latin American (10 per cent) and East Asian (4 per cent). All groups except white and East Asian were overrepresented based on the size of their overall population. Black people had six times the rate of COVID-19 cases compared with white people, while Latin American as well as Arab, Middle Eastern or West Asian populations had nine times the rate.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/chartprod/HuLhs5wv7Pvi3ckkP/thumbnail.png

The data from Toronto Public Health do not include long-term care and retirement home residents, as these people are not asked about their race or their income. The data also did not include Indigenous identities. The data were collected by public-health officials between May 20 and July 16 and provided voluntarily.

Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said targeted testing, improved communication and access to social supports – such as voluntary isolation sites for those infected with or exposed to COVID-19 – could address these stark inequities in the short term. But she emphasized the city must work to address the root causes.

“We need to focus on the social determinants of health, like affordable housing opportunities, access to employment and income supports and educational opportunities. And yes, we need to address systemic racism,” Dr. de Villa said.

Mayor John Tory said community organizations will be a key partner in identifying solutions.

“This includes engaging with local community groups to better understand risks and the concerns that residents in these areas have, so that we can work together with them to address those concerns,” Mr. Tory said.

Floydeen Charles-Fridal, the executive director of Caribbean African Canadian Social Services, said her organization, based in the northwest part of the city that’s home to one of its largest Black populations, does the sort of front-line work that has been chronically underfunded for years.

CAFCAN usually spends about $10,000 to $15,000 annually on food-related programming but instead spent nearly $40,000 in the first month of the pandemic on hot meals, food hampers and staff to prepare and deliver them. Food insecurity was already an issue in the neighbourhood but grew worse after lockdown-related job losses, Ms. Charles-Fridal said. A University of Toronto study published last fall found Black Canadians experience food insecurity at nearly twice the rate of white Canadians, even after adjusting for factors such as education, income and home ownership.

“It took COVID-19 and the murder of Black folks here and across the border for people to really understand how anti-Black racism is working,” Ms. Charles-Fridal said.

Studies have repeatedly shown that South Asians and Black people have much higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure than the general population. For people with one of these underlying conditions who become infected with COVID-19, there is an elevated risk for more severe outcomes, including death.

Michelle Westin, a senior analyst at Black Creek Community Health Centre, which serves neighbourhoods with some of the highest rates of poverty, said she was not at all surprised by the data.

“We know that we have community members that are living in crowded apartment buildings, people who are working in the service and factory industries, people who are underemployed so they don’t have paid sick days,” Ms. Westin said. “So they’re working in positions that are putting them at greater risk for catching COVID.”

In a report published after the Black Experiences in Healthcare Symposium held earlier this year in Toronto, organizers noted there were “disparities and inequities in health care access and delivery for racialized Canadians.”

Tracey Thompson, 52, experienced this first-hand. Ms. Thompson, who is Black, contracted COVID-19 in mid-March and still lives with serious long-term effects from the virus. She said she was turned away from the emergency room twice, and has not been able to see a doctor to get medication to relieve her symptoms, which are still present.

“I just haven’t been able to access health care in a reasonable fashion,” Ms. Thompson said. “I think that being Black and being a woman didn’t do me any favours in that.”

Toronto Public Health also reported Thursday that having a low income and living in crowded spaces were major risk factors for COVID-19: 27 per cent of cases were among those living in households of five or more, and 51 per cent of cases were among those living in low-income households.

The two are closely connected, Ms. Charles-Fridal said. “When people have low income what that also suggests is they may very well be in [public] housing and living in places where they cannot practice physical distancing.”

Earlier this month, a group of homeless people and activist organizations filed an application with the Superior Court calling a bylaw that bans tents and camping in city parks unconstitutional. Evicting people from parks, they said, would then push them into crowded communal spaces where they faced an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19.