Public health, not policing
By Jill Andrews
We cannot police our way out of this pandemic. And while the government claims to have ‘dialed back’ the extraordinary powers they granted police across Ontario recently, the sad truth is they have not banned carding in its entirety. Police are still able to stop and essentially card anyone they ‘suspect’ might be socially gathering, traveling to socially gather or due to any other ‘suspicion’ of inappropriate behaviour said officer might have.
It is the inherent subjectivity of ‘suspicion’ that continues to place members of our community in compromising and potentially dangerous circumstances. Rhetorically speaking, how do police discern who to ‘suspect’ or who is ‘most suspicious?’ While several police forces have publicly denounced these Ford-granted powers, we cannot rely on the ‘good intentions’ of an individual officer or even a force. Ford should not have legislated this in the first place, especially when many essential workers traveling at all hours of the day and night are the same BIPOC folks routinely racially profiled and carded for merely walking while Black. The Ontario NDP has demanded the unconstitutional act of racial profiling, carding, and the collection of identifying data during these interactions be eliminated in their entirety. That is still to be achieved here in Ontario.
Ontario is neck-high in a third wave of COVID-19 in a formidable battle with COVID variants that some health care experts have publicly described as a ‘new disease’ because of the sheer aggressive spread of the variants, how quickly they accelerate and the markedly younger relatively healthy individuals without ‘pre-existing conditions’ who are ending up on ventilators in ICU with even worse and more exacerbated symptoms and complications.
Many of the community members who are showing up in emergency rooms are people who do not have the luxury of working from home and many who are travelling to and from work on overcrowded public transit. As in the first and second COVID-19 wave, Black and racialized community members continue to be disproportionately fighting for their lives in hospitals across the province and many are having to make tough decision between going to work sick – possibly with COVID-19 – and putting food on their table or covering housing expenses. It never had to be this way.
Premier Doug Ford has told the public that COVID-19 modelling he received months ago was ‘new information’ but it is not. The Ontario Science table, ICU doctors and experts, including people within his own advisory camp, have confirmed multiple times that we were on the brink of this third wave months ago and he ignored the warning. They assured him that to deny Ontarians paid sick days and paid sick leave would cost lives and in fact it has. He turned his back on our communities battling COVID-19 and its variants – on BIPOC communities, on the overrepresentation of Black and racialized women frontline healthcare workers who have served our city, our province and have lost their lives to COVID-19 while doing so.
Instead of stepping up for you and me, the Ford government 2021 budget, released last month, leaves women and racialized communities to fend for themselves. In fact, Premier Ford and his government have slashed $4.8 billion from program spending. In other words, while we are facing some of the scariest times of this pandemic, Doug Ford has decided to pull back supports.
The government must legislate public health solutions proposed by not only the Ontario NDP Official Opposition but demanded by the Ontario Science Table, public health, unions, and countless experts. Premier Ford must legislate paid sick days by passing immediately Bill 239 ‘Stay Home if You’re Sick Act’ – our NDP bill put forth in 2020 by MPP Peggy Sattler (London West). The Conservative government must provide paid time off for workers to get their vaccinations as that is vital. They must shut down all non-essential workplaces so workers can work from home.
Where lockdowns are necessary, the government must commit real financial supports to the businesses, families and workers affected by the closures, especially our BIPOC and women-led businesses that have historically had more difficult times securing financial supports due to systemic discrimination, racism, and sexism. We need a ban on all small and medium size business and residential evictions throughout the pandemic and as we recover.
We need more vaccines in hot spots and a vaccine rollout that is not politically charged where Conservative ridings without high numbers of cases of COVID ‘conveniently’ end up listed as hot spot postal codes while higher-risk communities in the GTA and otherwise in ridings held by Official Opposition politicians are not identified as hot spots in need of more vaccine clinics, including permanent and mobile vaccinations. To hold the government to account for their postal code selections, the Ontario NDP Official Opposition has called for the province’s Auditor General of Ontario, Bonnie Lysyk, to investigate how the Conservatives selected the ‘hot spot’ postal codes.
We need stronger travel restrictions, and we must accept additional resources from the Red Cross and others who can help us address the disastrous staff shortages in our hospitals courtesy of Ford government’s callous cuts to healthcare and long-term care prior to and during the pandemic.
Ontario has a near 15 million population. That’s almost 15 million ‘employers’ or ‘angry customers’ according to how businessman Premier Ford, who routinely puts profit over people rationalizes his egregious behaviour characterized by lack of accountability and leadership. Ontario deserves better. We deserve to live.
Dr. Jill Andrew is the Ontario NDP MPP for Toronto-St.Paul’s. She is also the Official Opposition’s Women’s Issues, Heritage and Culture critic and is also a founding member of the Ontario NDP Black Caucus.