The City of Toronto‘s board of health has voted unanimously to recognize anti-Black racism as a public health crisis.
“Anti-Black racism is a public health crisis. Black Torontonians are twice as likely to live in poverty than non-visible minorities, that’s a crisis,” Coun. Joe Cressy, who chairs the board, said during a board meeting Monday afternoon.
“Forty-four per cent of Black children live in poverty compared to 15 per cent of non-racialized children, that’s a public health crisis. Black women earn 57 cents for every dollar that non-racialized men earn, that’s a public health crisis.”
The recognition comes a week after a coalition of Black health leaders called on the Ontario government to formally declare a public health crisis in the province.
The motion also comes as protests continue to be held across North America after the May 25 death of George Floyd in the United States.
“We cannot be silent in the face of the ongoing horror Black people are experiencing in Ontario, across Canada, and in the United States. We stand in solidarity with Black people everywhere in calling for justice,” read a joint statement issued by the Alliance for Healthier Communities, the Black Health Committee, the Black Health Alliance and the Network for Advancement of Black Communities on June 1.
Cressy brought forward a motion to the board on Monday. It called for the recognition, affirming a commitment to support policies affecting marginalized and racialized communities, a request for Toronto’s medical officer of health to reprioritize resources to address anti-Black racism and addressing inequities, rescheduling a training session for the board on anti-Black racism and other equity-related measures, and for the City’s civic appointments committee to diversify the filling of positions on City boards and committees.
Kate Mulligan, a member of Toronto’s board of health and an assistant profession with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said she was asked to read a statement on behalf of TAIBU Community Health Centre.
The centre works primarily with Toronto’s Black community and offers a wide range of services.
The letter, written by TAIBU executive director Liben Gebremikael, noted there are no Black members currently serving on the board of health. While he praised the City for some initiatives such as moving to get race-based COVID-19 data to help illustrate how the community was being affected by coronavirus, Gebremikael called for a 10-year anti-Black racism action plan and continued engagement on anti-Black racism initiatives.
“This is a systemic, deep-seated and long-established injustice and will not go away and dissipate because of, as important as they are, a few resolutions and actions,” he wrote.
Meeting ends w unanimous support for actions on anti-Black racism as a public health crisis. Thank you Liben Gebremikael @TAIBU_CHC for your written remarks & allowing me to read them to the board. Much more work to do – see you all in 3 weeks at next Board of Health mtg.
— Dr Kate Mulligan (@KateMMulligan) June 8, 2020
“We are witnessing through media the death of members of the Black community and it’s not even the tip of the iceberg. People are dying due to disproportionate chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, mental illness, and the list of examples is too long to name them all.”
Gebremikael said he and others are waiting for systems and institutions to respond to the “cries and screams” of the community.
“We can’t breathe. We are dying. We are Torontonians. We are a proud and resilient population. We deserve better. We deserve much better. It can be better,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Cressy said he hoped recent protests and stories from those who lived experiences will result in an “awakening.”
“We see movements come and go. My hope that this is an awakening that will provoke not only changes to behaviour but changes to the policies that contribute to systemic racism,” he said.
Cressy went on to say that system racism can’t be tackled without addressing housing inequities and employment or making reforms in justice and policing.
“This is not and cannot be a discussion in the wake of protest, but rather a prolonged agenda item so that we can tackle systemic inequality and racism once and for all,” he said.
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