African Nova Scotians call on premier and chief medical officer for an apology

Dr. OmiSoore Dryden

HALIFAX – African Nova Scotians are calling on the province’s premier and chief medical officer to apologize for comments about communities breaking public health rules during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In a  briefing on April 7 last, Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang named the predominantly African Nova Scotian communities of North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook and Lake Loon as places of concern.

They noted that some members of these communities are “not following the requirements to minimize social gatherings, to stop unnecessary social interaction.”

” While we are using resources, doubling down on testing, and trying to keep people healthy, the reckless and selfish few in some of these communities are still having parties,” McNeil said.

“I can’t even believe that after everything we’ve been talking about, some of you think its okay to have a gathering or a party.”

The remarks sparked angry criticism from African Nova Scotians and in an open letter, they demanded an apology.

The letter pointed out that both the Premier and the Chief Medical Officer engaged in behaviour and the use of language that ” both exacerbated longstanding anti-Black racial tensions in the province, and stigmatized members of these communities as vectors and carriers of disease.

“Diseases don’t discriminate, but people do. Despite the widespread discussions of the report on street checks, and the release of the Wortley Report; the International Decade for People of African descent and the province’s subsequent Count Us In Action Plan, the Premier speaks as though he’s never heard of racism in present-day Nova Scotia.”

It noted that the history of medical racism in Canada, along with the importance of the social determinants of health “cannot be set aside during this pandemic.

” We are all concerned with the vulnerability of people with comorbidities (the presence of two or more illnesses or chronic diseases). In addition, taking into consideration the social determinants of health, we must also consider racism, poverty, incarceration, limited literacy, over-crowded living conditions, lack of social supports and limited access to health services as simultaneously present chronic conditions in need of consideration. ”

In addition to an apology, the letter called for ” the immediate collection  of disaggregated race-based data ” and the development of a provincial plan for addressing COVID-19 in African Nova Scotian communities.

Jamaica-born Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, the James R. Johnson Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University who took part in writing the letter, said governments must address the lack of representation in decision-making, specific health risks among black communities and racial discrimination.

To address health risks among black communities, Dr. Dryden said governments need to collect health data specific to people of African descent, she said.

“Collecting such data allows us to document how racism impacts health disparity,” she explained.

“So if  we are truly committed to addressing  health disparity, then we must have this data,”‘she pointed out.

To date no fewer than 300 persons had signed the open letter.