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Asian community group accuses Toronto vaccine clinic of racism

Asian community group Friends of Chinatown (FOCT) are accusing health agencies who ran two vaccine pop-up clinics at the Cecil Community Centre last weekend of negligence and racism. 

The clinic organized by Kensington Health, Midwest Toronto Ontario Health, and the University Health Network (UHN), was the site of a recent standoff between members of the public who refused to leave the site and community members lining up for doses of the vaccine. 

FOCT claimed in a statement posted on their social media pages that members witnessed lack of language support, organization, as well as racism and prejudice toward the Chinatown community. 

"Language support for non-English speakers at the clinic was lacking to the point of negligence, creating potentially dangerous medical situations," the statement read. 

FOCT said they witnessed registration staff skipping over consent questions with vaccine recipients due to language barriers, as well as speaking loudly to non-English speakers without the help from an interpreter or volunteer even if they were available.

Although Mid-West Toronto Ontario Health had previously announced there would be interpreters available, FOCT said that were points at which the clinic line-up was filled with over 90 per cent non-English speaking people, and no professional interpreters were present. 

In addition, FOCT said official signage from the clinic was not translated, and hand-made translated signs had to be made on the first day of the clinic being open.  

"The clinic instead relied on untrained volunteer labour to communicate critical medical information to non-English speaking vaccine recipients," their statement read.

FOCT members reported that registration and medical staff insisted on seeing OHIP and identification cards from people with precarious immigration status, even when these staff members were told by the community group that this could frighten people who could not provide that information. 

FOCT also alleged that clinic staff did not enforce social distancing, and that they were even reprimanded by Kensington Health staff for trying to organize a line-up in a way as to not overwhelm capacity in clinic rooms.

FOCT also claimed that there were no clear stations for registration, checking out or line control.  

"All of us within FOCT had experiences where clinic staff treated us in condescending and derisive ways at the same time we were being relied upon to get community members vaccinated," they said. 

As part of the Downtown West Cluster, a vaccine outreach and engagement initiative organized by the City of Toronto, FOCT said they were asked to join the program in order to help assist with vaccine confidence and outreach in the community. 

"Any hospital in the city encounters situations that require a translation in one of 125 languages, it's something that happens in the hospital that we work with all the time,"says Gillian Howard, UHN's vice-president of public affairs and communications.

"We have translation services available in hospitals. When you go into a community setting, those resources may not be available to you."  

As of the 2016 census, the most common languages spoken at home in Toronto other than English and French were Cantonese and Mandarin.

"Obviously racism, or making people feel badly, or not doing the things we need to do to run a clinic well, is not something we want to do," Howard says. "If there are problems, we need to sit down with the group who identified the problem and work through it."

Kensington Health, and Mid-West Toronto Ontario Health have not responded to requests for comment.

Lead photo by

Cecil Community Centre

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