racism public health crisis

Toronto officially declares anti-Black racism a public health crisis

The Toronto Board of Health voted uninimously today to recognize anti-Black racism as a public health crisis in the city, something Black health leaders called on the province to do last week as a way to address the ways in which Black people are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to issues of health and safety.

The motion was introduced by the chair of the board, councillor Joe Cressy, on June 8 and was adopted without amendment.

In a letter to board of health members, Cressy wrote that anti-Black racism is a "historic, pervasive, and systemic issue in our city."

"The intersection of race, income, housing, and other social determinants of health have placed Black Torontonians at great risk, as we are seeing through the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities with higher percentages of visible minorities," he said. 

"This is tragic, it is unacceptable, and it needs to change."

In an effort to list some of the many ways the Black communities are disadvantaged in Toronto, Cressy wrote that Black Toronto residents are more than twice as likely to be living in low-income households than residents who are not a visible minority, and 44 per cent of Black children live in poverty, compared to 15 per cent of non-racialized children.

He also said Black women in Ontario earn 57 cents for every dollar that a non-racialized man earns.

"Black people in our city experience racial profiling and anti-Black discrimination within our institutions, along with higher rates of precarious employment and unemployment, significant poverty, and overrepresentation in the criminal justice, mental health, and child welfare systems," he added.

He then put forth five recommendations, one of which is to recognize anti-Black racism as a public health crisis.

The second recommendation is that the board "affirm its commitment to continuing to address the social determinants of health by supporting policies and programs that address the inequities that marginalized groups continue to face, with a focus on Black communities and residents, including in the following areas: employment; education; housing; child care; policing and law enforcement; the criminal justice system; and access to health and mental health services."

Cressy also recommended that the city's Medical Officer of Health make recommendations to the Board of Health on reprioritizing resources to address the social determinants of health, with a specific focus on anti-Black racism.

Additionally, Cressy recommended that the Medical Officer of Health reschedule a three-hour training session for the board titled "Anti-Black Racism, Understanding Equity from Africentric Values and Principles, and Embedding Equity and AntiBlack Racism in Governance and Leadership" from the TAIBU Community Health Centre and its partners, in order to help them build capacity to provide "equitable space for racialized and marginalized representation."

This training session was originally cancelled due to the pandemic. 

Finally, Cressy recommended that he write to the Chair of the Civic Appointment Committee in order to express the need for its membership to reflect the diversity of Toronto, with particular attention to voices from Black communities, during recruitment and when filling any vacant positions.

"The intersection of race, income, housing and other social determinants of health have put Black Torontonians at great risk – risks we cannot allow to continue," tweeted Cressy following the uninimous vote.

"We need to prioritize resources for programs that target social determinants of health and impact on Black residents."

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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