Toronto Board of Health declares anti-Black racism a public health crisis

Joe Cressy

The Toronto Board of Health voted unanimously on Monday to declare anti-Black racism a public health crisis.

The move calls for a “reprioritizing” of city resources to address anti-Black racism during COVID-19 recovery planning and in the city’s next annual budget.

It also comes with a commitment to support policies and programs that reduce inequality, with an emphasis on Black Torontonians.

The motion lists policing, the criminal justice system, housing, employment and education as some of the areas contributing to inequality.

Board of Health Chair Joe Cressy, who tabled the motion, remarked on “the pain, the hurt, the racism felt by so many Black Canadians and people of colour,” during his remarks at Monday’s meeting.

“This is not and cannot be a discussion in the wake of protests, but rather a prolonged agenda item, so that we can tackle systemic inequality and racism once and for all,” Cressy said.

Cressy made reference to the wave of protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality that have swept the globe since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.

In Toronto, there have been calls for improved mental health services and increased police accountability and transparency following the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her high-rise balcony after police were called to her home.

Data collected by the city shows that Black people in Toronto are more than twice as likely to live in low-income households compared to residents who are not visible minorities. Meanwhile, 44 per cent of Black children live in poverty, compared to 15 per cent of non-racialized children.

“These facts of life are unacceptable and need to change,” said Mayor John Tory, who endorsed the declaration Monday afternoon.

Growing outrage over the treatment of Black residents has also led to calls for an overhaul of Toronto’s police department.

On Monday, city councillors Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam released a motion calling for a 10-per-cent reduction of the city’s $1.22-billion annual policing budget at the next council meeting.

Opioids, COVID-19 represent ‘dual public health crises’

The Board of Health also approved a range of recommendations around the city’s overdose prevention plan, including one that would effectively decriminalize drug possession.

The recommendation says the city must urge Ottawa “to permit the possession of all drugs for personal use for all Canadians, at least for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The report, prepared by Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa, also calls for the provincial government to increase funding for harm reduction services and lift the cap on safe injection sites, among several other measures.

De Villa’s report says the novel coronavirus pandemic has had an outsize effect on people who use drugs, since many services they typically rely on have been closed.

“These dual public health crises are having significant impacts on people who use drugs in our community as well as their families, friends and loved ones,” the report states.

In April, Toronto paramedics responded to 25 suspected opioid overdose deaths, the city’s highest figure since September 2017.ofd Health – Anti-Black racism