Health providers support #SafeSeptember demands

As Ontario begins slowly re-opening and we recover from COVID-19, safety is at the forefront of our minds. Yet the current plan from the Ontario government to re-open schools does not adequately address safety and once again will not support low-income and racialized students, families and workers, who were already disproportionally affected by the first wave of COVID-19. Health Providers Against Poverty supports the #SafeSeptember demands issued by the Ontario Parent Action Network and Ontario Education Workers United ( HPAP with the Decent Work and Health Network have created an open letter to demand that the safety of our students, families, and workers is prioritized. Please read the letter below and consider signing on if you are a health provider in Ontario!

To: Premier Doug Ford, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and your government

Health providers support #SafeSeptember demands

With people across Ontario barely recovering from the first wave of COVID-19, your government wants to dangerously reopen schools in the lead up to flu season. Your government has promised to “do anything to keep our kids safe,” but nowhere in the Ontario guide to reopening Ontario’s schools is there a single mention of paid sick days, funded childcare, job protection or income supports for parents who keep their children at home, anti-racism demands and other equity concerns, or food and housing security. These are all crucial social determinants of health and failing to address them is an invitation for a second wave of COVID-19, which like the first will disproportionately affect low-income and racialized students, families and workers. 

As health providers we support all #SafeSeptember demands issued by the Ontario Parent Action Network and Ontario Education Workers United. They provide crucial policies to address the acute and ongoing public health threat of COVID-19, and chronic public health problems that need to be addressed at the same time. The #SafeSeptember demands offer a prescription for healthy classes, healthy schools and homes, healthy workers and healthy students.

The first wave of COVID-19 has taught the importance of physical distancing, which is not just a behavioural issue but depends on effective policies. A return to overcrowded class sizes threatens to bring a second wave, as many schools around the world have experienced. A #SafeSeptember requires small class sizes, income supports for parents who keep their children at home, and funding for before- and after-school childcare.

COVID-19 has taught the importance of clean buildings, and the need to “stay home” when sick. But too many students–disproportionately low income, Indigenous, Black and racialized–experience housing insecurity and underfunded schools. Increased COVID-19 infection rates has been linked to overcrowded housing, which also occurs in areas with high concentrations of poverty and racialized communities. Despite this, your government has made no new commitments to address the systemic barriers faced by racialized communities that increase their risk of contracting COVID-19. A return to “normal”, including the lack of safe and affordable housing, evictions and unsafe schools, threatens to worsen the pandemic. A #SafeSeptember requires healthy schools and homes, including funding for housing security, school infrastructure, custodians and PPE.

Local outbreaks of COVID-19, from personal support workers to migrant farm workers, have taught the deadly consequences of denying paid sick days for all. As the updated Sick Kids Guidance for School Reopening states, “Employers and the government play a critical role in supporting parents/caregivers who need to stay at home with their child because their child is sick or in isolation due to SARS-CoV-2 infection or exposure…Parents and caregivers need to be empowered by their employers to be able to take paid sick days and/or work remotely if their children/youth are not able to attend school.” Parents with adequate paid sick days are also less likely to send sick children to school reducing the risk of children spreading infectious disease, which is especially important for people with chronic medical conditions, immunocompromised states, or disabilities. A #SafeSeptember requires healthy workers, with 21 emergency paid sick days and full status for all workers including parents and caregivers.

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racialized communities has taught the importance of health equity, and that anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism are public health crises. There should be no return to the normalization of dramatically unequal educational opportunities, curricula, nutrition or health outcomes dictated by systemic oppression. A #SafeSeptember requires healthy students—including learning supports, food programs and public health nurses, anti-racist and equity initiatives, and a decolonized curriculum.

From Alberta to Ontario, parents, teachers and health providers are uniting to demand safe school reopening. This requires your government to provide funding that will ensure basic public health protections, and to address broader social determinants of health that have been neglected for far too long and that are key to addressing the pandemic. 

As health providers we will be dealing with the consequences of dangerous school reopenings and know that prevention is better than cure. To stop a second wave of COVID-19, your government first needs to learn the lessons of the first wave, and follow the teachings of parents and education workers who know best how to keep their children and themselves safe. We fully support all #SafeSeptember demands and urge the government to implement them immediately, before a second wave. 

Health providers should click here to sign on. This statement was prepared by members of the Decent Work and Health Network and Health Providers Against Poverty. All health providers across Ontario are invited to sign on to show their support for a #SafeSeptember.

Nearly 400 Healthcare and Social Service Providers Sign Open Letter Demanding Toronto City Council Defund Police by 50%

Nearly 400 healthcare and social service professionals have signed onto an open letter demanding a commitment from Toronto City Council to endorse all demands from Black Lives Matter Toronto to defund, demilitarize, disarm, and dismantle the police. In the lead up to City Council’s next meeting on June 29, where a motion has been introduced to reduce next year’s police budget by 10%, healthcare and social service providers are demanding a commitment from city council to reduce the $1.1 billion police budget by a minimum of fifty percent. This demand to defund the police comes at a time when the city faces a looming budgetary shortfall of $1.5 to $2.8 billion that threatens the sustainability of vital community services, such as subsidized housing, libraries, and public transit, and Black and Indigenous communities continue to experience deeply unjust levels of police violence and poverty.

Since April of this year, four racialized people in Ontario – D’Andre Campbell, Caleb Njoko, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, and Ejaz Ahmed Choudry – have all lost their lives after experiencing mental health crises and having police arrive to their homes.

The letter makes the following demands of city council:

  1. Reallocate, at a minimum, 50% of the Toronto Police Service’s $1.1 billion budget to protect and invest in vital community services,
  2. Endorse the creation of police-free, community-led, and trauma-informed alternatives to the police, and
  3. Commit to all demands from Black Lives Matters Toronto to defund, demilitarize, disarm, and dismantle the police.

Read the full letter

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Call to Address Anti-Black and Anti-Indigenous Racism in Response to the Death of Ms. Regis Korchinski-Paquet

Health Providers Against Poverty join in expressing our deep anger and sadness over the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

As health providers, we practice in predominantly white institutions and acknowledge our complacency in perpetuating these experiences of racism and discrimination. As such, we urge the Ministry of the Attorney General, SIU, and Ministry of the Solicitor General to proceed with diligent reflection and corrective action to limit and reverse the ways in which our current institutions, legal or otherwise, protect, promote, and perpetuate white supremacy.

Please read our letter to Ministry of the Attorney General, SIU, and Ministry of the Solicitor General below and consider sending your own letter to ensure this horrific event and future events do not continue to be swept under the rug with no action.