COVID has amplified existing disparities — but can it also play a role in addressing them?


In the nearly-six months since COVID has been declared a pandemic, one thing has been made clear: we are not all in this together.

Since June, we’ve been interviewing advocates, community leaders, and experts to shine a spotlight on how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting marginalized groups, from Indigenous communities and Black communities, to people living with disabilities. Even with as broad a lens as gender, the disparities are apparent and unsurprising; on every measure, women are faring worse than men.

The common thread in these conversations? The disparities existed already, COVID has just made them worse. 

It has also made them impossible to ignore — and that in itself could provide an opportunity for positive change. 

As Sané Dube pointed out in our conversation on the two health crises facing Black people in Canada — COVID and Racism — the devastating and unequal effect of the pandemic helped build the case for race-based data collection in health, which advocates had long been lobbying for. 

We’ve asked nine experts to share their thoughts on how the pandemic might be used to move us forward towards equality, rather than push us back. It’s not meant to be an exercise in chasing silver linings, but instead a starting point for change.

Highlighting the systems failing people  and where we need investment.

Maya Roy

CEO, YWCA Canada

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on what was broken in our society. It showed us what parts of the social safety net are fraying, what systems are failing the people we serve, and how the social contract isn’t working for our most essential workers. This work is often done by Black, Indigenous, racialized and migrant women. 

This moment has politicized many and pushed them to think about what we need to prioritize as a country. It has highlighted exactly what we need to invest in as a society: the social determinants of health. Public health measures advise us to wash our hands, and stay at home, especially if we’re sick. If that’s the case, we need bold investments and systemic change to ensure everyone has access to clean water, a safe and affordable place to live and paid sick leave. There is no turning back now. We’ve seen what the lack of investment in these public goods means for all of us. Now is the time to act. 

We are also seeing a diverse range of employers finally embrace flexible work options. Gender equity and disability justice movements have been advocating for more just work arrangements for decades. Work shouldn’t make you sick and it should cater to your diverse needs, including flexibility to address the multiple roles you play in your life. That may mean accommodating your care responsibilities such as child care and elder care. It also means being an active member of your community. The increased civic engagement and interest in how our government works and for whom has been one of the most humbling aspects of this crisis. 

Exposing systemic racism in the corporate world  and the need to move from diversity to human equity.

Karlyn Percil

CEO, KDPM Consulting

I believe that COVID showed us or exposed three things:

Leadership Complacency: The various ways leaders in all industries have been complacent and complicit in anti-Black racism. Inaction, reading off carefully crafted messages, and lack of accountability exposed the multiple ways organizations and leaders uphold systems of racism (many still believe that having an ERG or doing unconscious bias training is the answer). The lack of accountability on what it means to be an equitable and inclusive leader is evident through ‘one workshop’ requests or a rush to do something.

Dehumanization of Black lives at work: The lack of empathy extended to Black lives (several organizations I’ve spoken to have not created or prioritized psychological safety for Black employees or Indigenous or POC ). The dehumanization of Black lives in the workplace continues silently because many leaders have not registered or thought of the impact of racial trauma on the lives of Black employees. What will it take to humanize Black lives?

Emotional Fragility: Many organizations and leaders are on the lower spectrum of the Emotional Fragility – Resilience Continuum. White fragility shows explicitly up as fear of not saying something wrong has taken priority over doing the right thing (i.e. taking action) 

We need organizations and leaders to shift to understanding that to create a workplace culture where Black and other racialized lives really matter — we need to move from diversity to human equity.

Human equity is a term coined by my friend and mentor, equity strategist Trevor Wilson. In his book, The Human Equity Advantage, Trevor defines Human Equity as: ‘talent differentiation and maximizing on the unique talents of every employee’s innate strength, unique abilities, personality, attitude, life experiences and virtues.’

Unfortunately, many organizations for decades have been creating policies and procedures rooted in inequitable systems that generally benefit or favour whiteness.

If we are to do the moral and ethical thing, leaders must upgrade not only the behavioural economics of their leadership competencies,; they must also do the work through action to understand what it means to be an equitable and inclusive leader. 

Systems don’t dismantle themselves, people do. So to build back better, we need leaders who understand that a considerable part of building better, means that the power — be it position power, pay power or privilege power — must be shared with those who have not been seen, heard or given a decision making seat in the organization. It means that the dominant group’s culture — white culture and whiteness — must be examined, and the systems, processes, policies and procedures need to be dismantled and rebuilt through the lens of human equity.

Making space for new conversations  that don’t always get the coverage they deserve.

Photo Credit: George Joseph

Faiza Amin

Faiza Amin, Journalist with CityNews

COVID-19 has touched everyone, but this is still very much an unequal pandemic. For decades, Black health leaders and advocates had been calling for the collection of race-based data, to better understand the experiences of Black people and racialized communities who are and aren’t navigating the healthcare system. Prior to COVID, many raised the alarm over how social determinants of health were impacting these communities, but during the pandemic, there were fears that those same factors would put marginalized groups at greater risk. That fear was confirmed when Public Health Units slowly began releasing data that showed Black and racialized communities were disproportionately impacted by the virus. Not that we needed the data to tell us the obvious, but now, the numbers show the scary realities of systemic racism in a way that can’t be ignored.

This is what health leaders and advocates spent months fighting for during the pandemic. But what if we listened to these voices right away? And we collected the data at the start of the pandemic? These questions are important, and they shed light on the need to make space for these conversations, that don’t always get the coverage they deserve.

It is my hope that this will change how we speak about systemic racism. It’s a reminder for all of us to take a step back, and continue to reassess the conversations we’re having surrounding issues and communities. Who has a seat at the table? Who aren’t we giving a voice to? Does this represent the community we serve? Whose stories are we not telling?

And what gives me hope, is the relentless work of leaders and advocates in our communities, who continue to push for what’s right and despite being told ‘no’ time and time again. They help to fuel much needed conversations in a way that creates the changes our communities need.

Showing men the importance of flexible work  and the value of equity and inclusion.

Ludo Gabriele

Senior Director, MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) Branding, Catalyst and Founder, Woke Daddy

I think a positive change is that the superficial line that exists between professional lives and personal lives is going to disappear — because right now, everything lives together. I think the pandemic is blurring this imaginary line, and when you personalize each second of your work, this is where inclusion and psychological safety are very critical. We won’t be able to completely go back, because I think so many people have made very meaningful connections with one another. 

I also think that men are witnessing the importance of flexible work and flexible workplaces. Men who are living with a woman at home, they’re seeing how much they’re handling during the pandemic, especially if they’re working at the same time. I think many men, especially those who go out to work, may not have the awareness of what is involved in running a household when they’re away. The fact that many of us have had an immersion in what it takes, this is something that won’t necessarily go back to normal, because we cannot unsee what we have been witnessing for the past few months.

We’re also being shown the importance of embedding flexibility, equity and inclusion as a culture, because what we see is that the more robust and sustainable organizations that have equity, inclusion, and flexibility are the ones that are navigating the pandemic the best. They’re embedding those values along with psychological safety, instead of just checking a box. Having this cultural shift, this new cultural mindset, is something that will hopefully live on. 

Creating new opportunities with remote work  especially for those living with disabilities.

Darby Young

Founder and Principal Accessibility Strategist, Level Playing Field

The biggest lesson we’ve all learned is that people can work remotely — and that does give people with disabilities the ability to work. It overcomes what always seems to be the biggest issue, which is that the majority of workplaces aren’t accessible. It can also help with prejudice. A lot of the time, when people see persons with disabilities, they don’t give us a chance. 

That’s not to say it’s without issues. In stakeholder discussions we’ve conducted, we’ve seen how remote work presents challenges for individuals with hearing loss or vision loss. Organizations still need to figure out how to manage remote work well, to address these and other issues.

But they will have to find a way to adapt. With COVID, companies are learning how to shift — because they’ve been forced to do it. 

Making innovation necessary,  which could lead to greater inclusion.

Sarah Kaplan

Founder and Director, Institute for Gender and the Economy

A few things give me hope, including this broader conversation about care work. We’ve known for 30 years that childcare is the secret to women’s advancement in their jobs, and now we’re talking about how the secret to economic recovery is going to be childcare — it gives me some hope that we might actually get a universal child care solution. That would be great. 

The second thing that gives me hope is that we all got thrown into a period of experimentation. We had been talking for years and years at the Rotman School about doing some online education, and there was resistance to that change — and then from March 13 to March 16, we transferred the entire in-person experience to online. We’re seeing similar things in all sorts of companies; between experiments with collaborative work, and different tools, we may come up with a better way of working. 

We’re also able to include so many more people at work than we were ever able to include before. For example, people in smaller communities — for example in the Canadian north — can now get a remote job at a big corporate in Toronto, get the advantage of that salary, and the advantage of staying in their communities. And many of the things that we have ended up doing because of the pandemic have been things that people with disabilities have been requesting for years. We can still do a better job of including people with disabilities — virtual meetings can be harder for people who have a vision impairment, or people who have a hearing impairment if they can’t read people’s lips — so it’s not perfect, but I see all kinds of experimentation leading us to think about ways of work that could actually be much more inclusive, and that gives me hope.

Opening up the lines of communication  and including more voices.

Candies Kotchapaw

Founder & Executive Director, Developing Young Leaders of Tomorrow, Today (DYLOTT)

Even in all this horribleness, all the terrible, tragic impact that COVID has brought with it, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that COVID has brought many opportunities for people who are Black and for people to collaborate. I think the biggest positive that I can take from COVID is that it has opened up the lines of communication, where I think they were locked or non-existent before. Even through social media, there’s access to people that I think before as a Black person I would have never had the opportunity to engage with.

The other major thing that gives me hope is that people are recognizing the value of contribution from Black communities. They are recognizing that there is capacity for agency within Black communities. And they are recognizing that there are a plethora of experiences that are valuable. 

Now, the spotlight is being shone on our communities, and we’re saying, ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity for self-governance. There’s an opportunity for economic independence. There’s an opportunity for collaboration on a level that there has never been.’ I’m certainly very happy for that.

Connecting more authentically  and growing empathy for others.

Mayaan Ziv

Founder and CEO, AccessNow

I honestly think that it boils down to empathy. I think when there is a sense of empathy we react differently, and we’re kinder to each other, and we are more thoughtful about our actions. I think we’ve been given the opportunity to empathize with another person’s fear, another person’s reality. People start meetings with a meaningful ‘how are you?’ — it is not necessarily something we would have seen in the past, but is a chance to connect with another person, authentically.

Having that kind of human element, we have a unique opportunity to now grow from this experience, and I hope that we do. Human tendency is to get these new paths and then eventually forget about them and go back to the old ways. I hope that that’s not going to be the case. I think we have an opportunity to learn from this, and to invest in a future that is welcoming and inclusive.

Showing Canadians Indigenous strength, resilience, and leadership and an added call to support sovereignty

Pam Palmater

Mi'kmaq Lawyer, Professor, and Activist

The hope that I see is the ways in which specifically First Nations and Indigenous women have addressed murdered and missing women and girls, land-based protests and land-based defense, and even this pandemic — by asserting their own sovereignty. And we may be doing so in an underfunded capacity, in a marginalized, oppressed capacity, in a context of ongoing genocide and pandemic risk — but we continue to show our strength, and our resilience, and our leadership, and our commitment to our sovereignty as nations, to continue to do this for our people. 

There are literally a thousand stories of Indigenous women and girls serving their communities. They’re the most underserved, but they’re out there volunteering for elders, they’re cleaning, they’re bringing supplies, they’re advocating. They’re literally on the front line. And there are still women out there on the front lines of land defense and that’s where I find my hope. In the assertion and defense of our sovereignty and our territory, despite the overwhelming and monumental barriers, and the risk to our lives.

It’s really important that we get these stories out, and show Canadians that this is where hope is, supporting Native people in asserting and defending their sovereignty and territory, and the right to make decisions for themselves, that’s what will get us out of this. Canadians are starting to see that the things that we were advocating for and protesting against were the very same things that were going to benefit Canadians. So when we’re trying to defend clean water for First Nations, that’s actually a benefit to all Canadians, because we’re not going to live very long without clean water or farmable land. And similarly, when we’re defending human rights and civil liberties, that’s for everybody. And it’s a very slippery slope to say it’s okay to breach those rights for Native people, now it’s okay to breach those rights for Black people, now it’s okay to breach those rights for immigrants, now it’s okay to breach those rights for poor people — it never ends, and so we have to have an absolute stop against the breach of human rights, and that benefits all Canadians.

What do all these opportunities have in common? That they are no more than opportunities, which can be wasted without determined action. Unless we are willing to address systemic inequality, and innovate and rebuild with inclusion in mind, our ‘new normal’ won’t be any better — and possibly far worse — than where we started six months ago.  

What will it take? A commitment that goes beyond public statements or check-the-box inclusion practices. Working with marginalized communities to address systemic issues, rather than prescribing band aid solutions to mitigate the effects of inequality. There needs to be listening and learning, and we must overcome the fear — and eradicate the backlash — of uncomfortable conversations. We must approach this with all the effort, resources, thought, and care that building a new system demands.   

It will be hard to do it right, and easy to get discouraged. So we cannot forget this: we’ve never before had so many opportunities presented that can help us on the road ahead. Let’s not waste our chance for change.

A conversation with Sané Dube on the two health crises facing Black people in Canada: COVID and Racism

By early April, just a few weeks after COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic, the headlines started appearing: Black people were experiencing an increased risk of infection, hospitalization, and death from the virus. 

The stats were coming from the US and the UK, because we weren’t collecting race-based COVID data in Canada — despite awareness of the risks for Black communities, community members sounding the alarm, and supporting evidence by way of overlapping COVID and census data. 

As Black Lives Matter protests erupted globally at the end of May in response to the killing of George Floyd, accelerating calls from Black community health leaders in Canada to have anti-Black racism declared a health crisis — mainstream discussions were still asking, “Is Canada racist?” 

Sané Dube has been advocating for greater visibility and action with respect to the connection between race and health. Currently the Policy and Government Relations Lead, with a focus on Black health, at the Alliance for Healthier Communities, she has worked in community development, health promotion, research, and strategic policy development. 

I spoke with Sané about the link between anti-Blackness and the severity of COVID among Black people in Canada, the distinctly Canadian blind spot that serves to halt progress on the issue, and what we could be doing differently to dismantle systemic racism in healthcare. 

This interview has been edited for length. 


Statistics are showing that Black people are more likely to die from COVID — but while the numbers are making the headlines, not everyone is gaining an understanding of
why this is happening. Can we start there? 

Health is about a lot more than being able to walk into a doctor’s office or being able to walk into a healthcare facility. Health is really influenced by a range of factors and the environments we live in. Social determinants of health can be understood as the conditions that you live, work, and play in — it’s really a combination of the social and economic factors that impact your health.

Housing, for example, impacts health in very significant ways in terms of stability. We know that people who are unhoused or are experiencing homelessness tend to have worse health outcomes than people who have stability and don’t have to worry about housing. These social determinants of health are really looking at health with a much broader view than just through the ability to see a doctor, nurse or healthcare provider. They’re looking at the everyday things in someone’s life that can either help their health or lead to deterioration of their health.

 

Early on in the pandemic, when first called upon to collect race-based data with respect to COVID, Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario, responded that statistics based on race aren’t collected in Canada unless certain groups are found to have risk factors — which seems to completely ignore the existence of social determinants of health. 

That moment was really shocking. At the same time that Ontario was saying we won’t collect the data, we were seeing really striking statistics coming out of the United States and also the United Kingdom. We now know that in the US, Black people are five times more likely to be hospitalized and more than twice as likely to face fatal outcomes from COVID, compared to white Americans. 

We know that in Ontario it’s the same story. At the time when Dr.Williams made this comment, we were already seeing the impact of COVID on some communities. It was really disappointing to hear.

There was a lot of rallying, there was a lot of mobilization — I think people were pushing back against this thing that often happens in Canada, where we try and make invisible the way that systemic racism and structural inequality impact the most marginalized and vulnerable in our communities. We often get, ‘We’re not the same as the US,’ which invisibilizes the harm that Black, racialized and Indigenous people experience in this country. 


The efforts made by advocacy groups eventually led to the Ontario government changing course on the collection of race-based data for COVID, which is certainly a win. But to put that in perspective — this can’t be the first time this conversation was happening, right? 

You’re right. This is not new. People have been calling for this for literally decades. I was looking at something today — someone showed me a committee that had been put together in 1998, asking for the collection of this data. I think that this happened to be a window of opportunity because of the devastation that we have seen with COVID.

Data is collected in Ontario for other sectors. Education collects data by race. Justice also does. And there was a discussion, around 2017, to collect the data for health, but at the time the ministry said that there are lots of privacy concerns. I don’t think in calling for more data collection now, people are saying we should not be mindful of privacy. It’s also important to say that the collection of the data is not the end goal — but having the data means we have better tools to dismantle what causes harm.

 

This call was partly pushback saying, no, things are really awful, and this is not an issue just in the US. Even in Canada, Black people are dying, Indigenous people are dying, because of what happens with policing, because there isn’t a recognition of the ways that racism leads to death, or racism leads to us getting less services than other people, or getting care that just isn’t good enough.

 

You were a signatory on the joint statement calling for anti-Black racism to be declared a public health crisis. Can you share what led to its release on June 1, and what were the main goals of this joint effort?

You’ll remember that in the same week in the US, we had just seen the killing of George Floyd and Tony McDade, and we were talking about the killing of Breonna Taylor. Then in Canada, that same week, we had seen Regis Korchinski-Paquet, an Afro-Indigenous woman, fall to her death in police presence. There have been two other deaths in Ontario under similar circumstances. In New Brunswick, we had just seen Rodney Levi, an Indigenous man, killed by an RCMP officer, and Chantel Moore, who was also Indigenous, killed by police who were called in to respond to a mental health and wellness check.

All these things were happening in Canada, and our Premier was asked about systemic racism, and his response at that time was that ‘we’re not as bad as the US’ — the premier did later reverse this, but in that moment it had the effect of minimizing the violence Black and Indigenous communities were facing.  

This call was partly pushback saying, no, things are really awful, and this is not an issue just in the US. Even in Canada, Black people are dying, Indigenous people are dying, because of what happens with policing, because there isn’t a recognition of the ways that racism leads to death, or racism leads to us getting less services than other people, or getting care that just isn’t good enough. Racism leads to our communities being underfunded, so that in the social sector, the health sector, our communities receive less. That ends up influencing our health.

With the declaration of anti-Black racism as a public health crisis, we were calling for it to be seen that racism was impacting people’s lives. It was a push to make things visible, and to then have the system be accountable for the ways that people are harmed. Declaring something a public health crisis shows urgency, that this is a critical issue that demands a response. It ensures health resources are designated, and there’s planning for the appropriate resources to be put in place, as well as accountability, infrastructure, and mechanisms for the system. 


A lot of the mainstream media stories have focused on the mortality rate of COVID being higher for Black people. What’s not making the headlines that should be, with respect to Black communities and health? What about mental health? 

When that question comes up, my first thought is always, how do you talk about this in a way that doesn’t pathologize Black people? Anti-Black racism, anti-Indigeneity has done so much harm and continues to do so much harm. White supremacy does so much harm to our people, and yet we often talk about mental health in a way that somehow again places the harms of these huge, unrelenting systems at the feet of Black people, without holding the system accountable for the distress that it causes to our people. What I would really like us to ask is, ‘What does this system do to Black people and in what way is it not accountable?’ 

I’ll give the example of healthcare workers who are dying in Ontario. Most have been personal support workers, many of them Black and racialized. It’s caused tremendous distress to their families, especially the circumstances under which they have died. I think that even the system has not held itself accountable for the way that it’s contributed to those deaths.

Earlier on in the pandemic, Chief Medical Officer of Health, David Williams, was asked about personal protective equipment for personal support workers. He initially did not name them as essential workers, or prioritize access to equipment for them. Then personal support workers started dying, and there’s no apology for the way that they have been treated, there is no acknowledgement of the way that the system has failed them. Instead, when you read about their death, it’s almost framed like they are responsible for what systemic and structural issues have done to them.

 

Is there a way we can tell these stories differently, so that they are contributing to positive change?

We need to be able to tell these stories in a way that also holds the system and these structures accountable for the harm that they do to people.

With Regis Korchinski-Paquet, for example, I think we have to ask, as a 29-year-old young woman, what other support had she received to that point? Had she been able to find care that was culturally appropriate and that understood her very specific cultural issues that she was bringing? If she hadn’t, then why isn’t there more of an effort, even as we discuss her case, to talk about funding for mental health programs that are designed by and for marginalized communities, so that people can get the care that they need?

Even with Chantel Moore, I think that there just hasn’t been as much useful conversation talking about the way that policing continues to be part of the colonial project in Canada. It again goes back to that accountability. So much of the media coverage in Canada has been focused on the question, is there systemic racism? — which is just a distraction, and it takes away from what people are going through. 

And while we’re wasting time asking if there’s systemic racism, people’s lives are still being negatively impacted. People are still not getting the care that they need in Toronto’s  North West to deal with a deadly pandemic. While we’re asking, ‘Is there systemic racism in prisons?’, people who are Black and Indigenous — who are also overrepresented in prison populations — are not getting all the supplies that they need to deal with COVID, even though they are at some of the highest risk because of the condition that people in prisons live under.


Has the conversation around racism and health evolved at all, as a result of the pandemic?

I think that we are having conversations right now in 2020 under COVID that we weren’t having in 2018, which is great. But it would be naive not to look at the ways that already white supremacy is mutating and working to keep the status quo in place. I think there’s a lot of words that are being put out, but I don’t know that most of them are turning into actual work.

 

You have written about how anti-Blackness is a health crisis that deserves more than lip-service. Is there anything that gives you hope for change in what’s happening now? 

This is a question that we also see a lot in Canadian media. I think that hope is a critical part of resistance; hope is a critical part of being able to remake a world where we can live better. I think that often what happens when people are asked to be hopeful, is minimization of the very real pain that people are in and the difficulty of this moment. So I don’t usually answer that question, ‘what gives you hope?’ But what I do say is that I recognize hope is a critical part of resistance.

 

A conversation with Sarah Kaplan on COVID’s greater impact on women — and how we can rebuild equitably

At this point in the pandemic, we should no longer be asking if COVID is affecting women to a greater degree than men.  

The evidence shows it is, and in many ways; a primer on the gendered impacts of COVID-19 released in April by the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) pointed to higher participation in risky front-line work, greater susceptibility to economic uncertainty, increased domestic and caregiving responsibilities, increased vulnerability to domestic violence, and barriers to sexual and reproductive healthcare — with Indigenous, racialized, low-income, LGBTQ+ and other vulnerable groups worse affected.

Even as social distancing rules are relaxing, the situation has not improved. The latest statistics show women suffered a greater loss of jobs and are experiencing a slower recovery, have higher reported mental health issues, and a higher COVID mortality rate in Canada — and relatively speaking, this is still just the immediate impact. We don’t have a clear view of the long-term effects of the pandemic for women. 

I spoke with Sarah Kaplan, Founder and Director of GATE, to get her take on why it’s important to look at COVID with an intersectional gendered lens, where we are headed with respect to gender equality, and what we can be doing to build a more inclusive future. 

The interview has been edited for length. 

 

From the very beginning, you’ve been looking at the pandemic with an intersectional gender lens. Why is this so important? 

When we first put out our primer on the gendered impacts of COVID, I had a colleague reach out to me irate that at a time when people were getting sick and dying, and the economy is in the tank, that I would dare be talking about gender issues — as if gender were something on the side, a nice-to-have, but it has nothing to do with the core economic or health impacts. 

And of course, when you actually do look with a gender lens, you see how much it does have to do with gender, and you see the very unequal economic and health impacts. Gender, or women’s issues, or issues of masculinity, are not just something you focus on when times are stable — this moment of crisis is when we should be spending the most time looking at these kinds of issues. 

 

Some people might argue we should take a ‘neutral’ approach to these issues, rather than a gendered approach. Is that even possible? What do you think could be the impact of that kind of thinking? 

There is evidence from previous economic downturns and previous corporate layoffs that often diversity suffers, because if you approach it with rules like ‘we’ll furlough all the part-time workers’ or ‘we’ll furlough the people with the lowest evaluations’ or ‘we’ll furlough the people who are most recently hired’ — all of those are gendered. Women are more likely to be part-time, we know that performance evaluations are often gender-biased, and because companies have historically been bad at diversity, women are less likely to have seniority. 

These supposedly gender-neutral rules have really gendered outcomes. We need to have an explicit diversity lens on these decisions, or you’re going to kill off whatever diversity we’ve been fighting to get in the last decade or so, including in corporate Canada. 

 

That’s a very bleak thought — but not unsurprising, considering how many ways women are being affected from an economic standpoint. Are there any repercussions that you are particularly concerned about? What’s the worst case scenario here? 

I think we could end up quite far back. Take a situation like yours, with young kids at home — if there has historically been a gender division of labor in the household, then it’s much more likely that the woman is going to drop out of the labour force, because it’s too hard for her to manage small children and perform in her job. 

Among heterosexual couples, we know that we don’t have equal sharing of responsibilities in Canadian households — there is an incredibly gendered division of labour. The likelihood that we are going to see a whole generation of women with pre-teen children dropping out of the workforce is extremely high. It’s just not manageable. And until we get a vaccine, I think we’re going to see a whole slew of people leaving the workforce, and that will undo a lot of the progress. 

 

“We’ve known for 30 years that childcare is the secret to women’s advancement in their jobs, and now we’re talking about how the secret to economic recovery is going to be childcare — it gives me some hope that we might actually get a universal child care solution.”

 

What about the argument that men are now seeing how much work is involved in care responsibilities?

Yes, on the positive side, and again talking about heterosexual couples, there are situations where the male partner is seeing exactly how much care work is required at home, and actually participating more and becoming more committed to getting corporate policies adjusted to adapt. 

This may be a wake up call for many male leaders about what exactly has been happening behind the curtains. Some people predict that maybe we’ll get a wave of more equal households going forward, but I’m not sure about that. I think it remains to be seen exactly what social changes are going to be wrought from this. 

I think one thing is true: we are never going to go back to everyone always working in their offices, now that people are set up to work from home. The future of work is going to change because of this, or accelerate at least, and I don’t think we have a good way to predict which way it’s going to pull — whether it’s going towards more gender equality because men have gotten more involved in care work, or it’s going to uphold inequality because women will have to give up their work in order to deal with the additional care work. 

 

In the face of losing ground in the push for gender equality, what gives you the most hope? 

A few things give me hope, including this broader conversation about care work. We’ve known for 30 years that childcare is the secret to women’s advancement in their jobs, and now we’re talking about how the secret to economic recovery is going to be childcare — it gives me some hope that we might actually get a universal child care solution. That would be great. 

The second thing that gives me hope is that we all got thrown into a period of experimentation. We had been talking for years and years at the Rotman School about doing some online education, and there was resistance to that change — and then from March 13 to March 16, the entire in-person experience got transferred to online. We’re seeing similar things in all sorts of companies; between experiments with collaborative work, and different tools, we may come up with a better way of working. 

We’re also able to include so many more people at work than we were ever able to include before. For example, people in smaller communities can now get a remote job at a big corporate in Toronto, get the advantage of that salary, and the advantage of staying in their communities. And many of the things that we have ended up doing because of the pandemic have been things that people with disabilities have been asking for for years. We can still do a better job of including people with disabilities — virtual meetings can be harder for people who have a vision impairment, or people who have a hearing impairment if they can’t read people’s lips — so it’s not perfect, but I see all kinds of experimentation leading us to think about ways of work that could actually be much more inclusive, and that gives me hope.  

 

These are all examples of positive side effects of the pandemic, which are great, but what do you think we could be doing to intentionally rebuild in an equitable way

GATE has actually partnered with the YWCA to develop a feminist recovery plan — because we definitely need to be intentional about what is included. From a more narrow focus, corporate recovery plan, to a broader focus, like where governments should invest in infrastructure. These kinds of big projects have major feminist dimensions to them. 

As an example, investing in caregiving pays huge dividends — it basically pays for itself in a very short period of time — but it seems really expensive and so people don’t want to do it because it’s just caregiving, it’s not a highway. Investing in social infrastructure as opposed to physical infrastructure is a way of reconceptualizing the major government spending that will happen to help recover the economy.  

It would be very different from how countries typically spend to recover the economy, and without some more very serious conversations, it’s unclear we’re going to get the feminist solution that we need.

A conversation with Maayan Ziv on COVID and people living with disabilities

Maayan Ziv is an award-winning tech entrepreneur and disability advocate. Frustrated by the barriers she was experiencing living with muscular dystrophy, nearly five years ago she founded AccessNow — an app that uses crowdsourcing to pin-point the accessibility status of locations on an interactive map. 

A few days before our conversation, the federal government announced new funding: $15 million to enable community organizations to help Canadians with disabilities adapt to the realities of COVID-19, and up to $600 for individuals who qualify for the Disability Tax Credit (DTC). 

While that measure would have reached about 1.2 million eligible Canadians, one study estimates it would only cover roughly 40% of working-aged adults with a severe disability. What’s worse, on June 11 the bill that included these benefits failed to pass, as opposition parties withheld support. Party leaders blamed one another for the impasse, and so far, no new initiatives have been announced.

Maayan Ziv spoke candidly on the challenges COVID presents for people with disabilities — and the opportunities.

 

I’d like to start by asking, how are you doing?

I’ve been okay. At first there was a lot of fear that I was experiencing — especially being someone who fits into the category of being immunocompromised. Whenever I listen to stories about how this is really, really dire for people who fit my criteria, there’s a lot of fear around that. And that is a shared experience. Pretty much everyone that is in a similar situation as me, we have had to take a lot of precautions. 

It was difficult at first. Before there was even a lockdown, I was starting to self-isolate. I used to live in Toronto and I just moved out to the country to be in a less dense population. I’m not going to the grocery store or anywhere really, and basically everyone who’s living in the same house is in the same boat. It’s pretty extreme. 

It can be frustrating or difficult, especially now when things are starting to open — it’s really not the case for me. I’ve gone through cycles, from fear, to a sense of grieving for what life was like pre-COVID. Now, I’m in a state of acceptance and really working on leveraging the silver lining that comes along with this new reality. I think that there’s a lot of change and it’s not all bad.

 

One of those silver linings, from what I’ve been reading, is that some of the ways we’ve adapted because of COVID are actually beneficial to people living with disabilities. Would you agree with that?

A lot of the things that we were seeing in the very beginning — like people writing about what it means to work from home, to access services online or remotely, and people having this panic of, how do I do life if I haven’t done this before? — that was general across the board, every person we talked to said the same thing. 

And for our community of people with disabilities, it was a very interesting experience, because the things that people started realizing that they needed are things that people with disabilities have been advocating for years. The flexibility, working from home or having different work hours, the ability to use online tools as opposed to meeting in person.

Specifically, if you just look at employment, it’s been a huge conversation that has been happening within the disability community for a very long time. Part of it has actually resulted in barriers where people don’t get the job, or they’re not given a fair chance to pursue an opportunity because people will say, ‘Well, if you can’t come into the office every day or if you can’t work in this way, you can’t work for us at all.’

Now, there’s a bigger sense of advocacy for the disability community, that’s been demanding these types of accommodations, you might call it, for years — from home delivery to telehealth. There are so many different aspects of how we’re revolutionizing the world to be post-COVID that have been part of the DNA of how people with disabilities have been wanting to live their lives, and not always been granted access to.

There’s a sense of, welcome to my world, and a real opportunity to develop a sense of empathy and work towards a greater understanding of inclusion because things that were considered accommodations, or things that are accessible specifically for people with disabilities, are now things that every person needs. That is a really unique opportunity to capitalize on and keep working towards inclusive progress.

We’re in a really important moment in time where we hope that things will continue in this direction. We hope that restaurants will continue to offer options, and that offices will continue to embrace a remote work style, and that we won’t just go back to a one-size-fits-all model without the flexibility to be there for every person. That’s something we’re advocating for within the disability community.

 

“There’s a sense of, welcome to my world, and a real opportunity to develop a sense of empathy and work towards a greater understanding of inclusion because things that were considered accommodations, or things that are accessible specifically for people with disabilities, are now things that every person needs.”

 

Is there a degree of frustration that you’ve been advocating for this for years and people have been saying, ‘We can’t do it’ — and now all of a sudden, en masse, the world has started doing it?

It’s a good question. For sure, I think that there is some frustration there, but the frustration has always been there. The fact that people with disabilities haven’t been given the same rights and opportunities, that’s a systemic issue, and it’s global. 

That’s why the largest minority group in the world has been advocating for that for so long. But rather than just leaning on that anger and that frustration, having the opportunity to then use that frustration as fuel to capitalize on this chance for change, I think is really the approach that I’m taking personally and I see a lot of people in the community doing as well. 

So knowledge-sharing, improving access with our Access From Home product, and we’ve launched a campaign that’s focused on storytelling, so that people with disabilities can share their own lived experiences about what access from home looks like, so that it becomes more personal and it becomes real for people, rather than this blob of immunocompromised people. 

 

You mention your Access From Home product — which seems to be the opposite of what you were offering with AccessNow. How did that come about?

At AccessNow we were originally focused on connecting people to the physical world, the built environment, and encouraging and empowering people to get out and do things and be independent. With COVID, we had to quickly start thinking about what our role is now, in a world where people can’t really go out. 

That’s really where Access From Home became part of the solution. We’ve been hearing a lot of people in our community saying, ‘I’m having a difficult time finding access to groceries,’ or ‘What opportunities do I have for online employment? What tools can I use?’ or ‘What sources of education or entertainment do I have access to from home?’

We started building this directory of different companies and services, where people can look for the things that they need in their life, and so have that sense of accessibility and empowerment at home. So we’re contributing in the same way that we’ve always done, connecting people to an accessible world — even if our world is now digital, and accessed through devices at home.

And we continue to invest in our main platform, the AccessNow app. We know that accessibility in the built environment is still, and will always be, critical to achieving independence and equity

 

What about other supports — like group programs and at-home care? I’ve read they’ve had to change how they’re delivered, or they’ve just gone away. How is this being managed?

Many people are really struggling. I’ve heard nightmare stories from people who are without enough support, because their caregivers have had to pick only one place of employment or don’t feel safe coming to work. I’ve heard from people who have had to isolate from loved ones in order to limit the risk of exposure, or those unable to get basic needs met due to new financial constraints or gaps in care. It’s just hard, it’s hard on everyone, with or without the disability. 

But for those with disabilities, it can be really trying right now and that story is not widely known. We still have a lot of people hanging out in big groups or not practicing proper social distancing or not wearing masks. Many people I feel are not thinking about how those actions, although they might not actually hurt them personally, are hurting other people. 

 

Do you feel like, as we’re all figuring out this new normal, that your voice is being heard?

Early on Minister Qualtrough put together an advisory committee of people that were focused on disability and COVID-19, and that now there is also a new effort from Stats Canada to collect survey data on the impact of COVID on Canadians with disabilities.

But is it too little too late? I think the $15 million for programs, that’s a significant number but when we talk about funding on the personal level, there’s a lot of people who fall through the cracks. The important thing to realize, and I don’t think people do, is that people with disabilities have a lot of expenses, especially now, and many are without the support they need.

Here’s one tiny example: a caregiver that’s coming and going daily — you need PPE not just for you, but for all the people who come in and out of your life every day to support you. There are all these microtransactions that people don’t really think about, and there’s a whole body of work that talks about the cost of disability — and during this time, it’s even more significant. I’m glad that some funding is there, but I’m not sure it will be enough.

 

Is there a lesson you hope that we learn out of this? If there was one thing you wish we could hold on to that will lead us towards a better future, what would that be?

I honestly think that it boils down to empathy. I think when there is a sense of empathy we react differently, and we’re kinder to each other, and we are more thoughtful about our actions. I think we’ve been given the opportunity to empathize with another person’s fear, another person’s reality. People start meetings with a meaningful ‘how are you?’ — it is not necessarily something we would have seen in the past, but is a chance to connect with another person, authentically.

Having that kind of human element, we have a unique opportunity to now grow from this experience, and I hope that we do. Human tendency is to get these new paths and then eventually forget about them and go back to the old ways. I hope that that’s not going to be the case. I think we have an opportunity to learn from this, and to invest in a future that is welcoming and inclusive.

A conversation with Candies Kotchapaw on COVID, Inequality, and Black communities

I first met Candies Kotchapaw at the Top 25 Women of Influence celebration on March 3, where we presented her with an award for the work she’s been doing as the founder of Developing Young Leaders for Tomorrow, Today (DYLOTT), a leadership incubator focused on Black youth.

The inspiration for DYLOTT came from Candies’ own experience with systemic racism in academia — she holds Master and Bachelor degrees in Social Work, and a diploma in Child and Youth Work — and an understanding of the need to make spaces of influence more accessible for Black communities, from education to corporations to the public sector. She’s now at home with her 7-year-old and 17-month-old, figuring out how to pivot DYLOTT to best serve Black communities in need, and how to raise the funds needed to do it

Much like with Indigenous communities, a conversation about the impact of COVID on Black communities extends much further than health. While Candies sees an opportunity for positive change, it’s clearly a challenging road ahead. 

 The interview has been edited for length. 

 

Let me start by asking, how are you doing?

I was having a conversation with another BIWOC person today, about how Black community members are sharing their experiences, and people are in shock that this actually happens in Canada. And I said to her, I don’t think I’ve ever been as triggered as much as I am triggered now. And it’s because of the spotlight — all of the sudden, all these things are being put out in the open, and discussions are raw, and conversations are really hitting the core of what we’ve been experiencing for such a long time. So how I’m doing is, I’m not sure. 

There are times that I have media trauma. With social media and mainstream media, everything comes home with you. It’s in your living room, it’s in your bedroom, it’s in your kitchen — wherever we have a screen, it’s there with you. And Black community members have been put on the stage, and now we are expected to perform, in a way that we’ve never been conditioned to perform, nor have we been given the opportunity to prepare. I’ve never been invited to speak this much in all the years that I’ve been active in program development. The best term that I can use is just truly overwhelmed by it all.    

 

And through all of this, you’re figuring out how to keep DYLOTT moving forward. How has that journey been?

Before COVID-19 hit, we had just come off our closing activities for 2019. After having experienced a tremendous amount of success for our pilot year in different programs, we were ready to bring them to other Black communities across Ontario and then nationally. Over October, November, and December we were building our strategic direction — operationally, financially, and in terms of the personnel that we’re going to bring on board — and had started conversations about going after an Ontario Trillium Foundation Grow Grant. That would have been multi-year funding, so we wouldn’t have to be in the precarious position of looking for funding every single year.

In January, we started to write the grant and were communicating with potential partners to come on board and support the program. By February, COVID started to take root and our steering committee and our board members began to talk about what we should do. By March, everything was shut down. Fortunately, we were already doing virtual conferencing — everybody who is in DYLOTT works full-time, or has part-time work or school work — so we were doing conference calls at 9:30 at night when our children went to bed. 

 

And what about that strategic growth plan? Are you continuing in the direction you were discussing, or has COVID changed things? 

The work really has shifted from ‘How do we prepare to roll out our current programs?’ to ‘Is there an opportunity to prepare Black youth for the transition into the future of the work?’ Because we know that the digital age is already here and our communities are already left behind.

When COVID hit and we had to adjust to learning at home, there were pockets of information coming out saying that Black communities don’t have access to reliable Internet, we don’t have access to reliable technology. We already knew those things were happening — but it was an opportunity for us to say we need to create access to those technologies that are going to be mandatory in the digital age, during the recovery period and beyond. 

That’s a mountain of a job, because how do we reach out to these people using the virtual space when they don’t have the access to the virtual space? That’s a road-map that we need to create to make sure that we don’t leave anybody behind, but we recognize that is going to be slow, it’s going to be long, and I’m sure it’s going to be treacherous. 

 

Looking at the issue of learning from home, the Ontario government made big announcements about distributing laptops and tablets to disadvantaged students — but it’s community organizations like DYLOTT that are recognizing the gaps in the program. Should the government be working with you more closely on efforts like distributing learning devices? 

I absolutely think we should take the lead here, because we know those communities that we’re working with, and have an understanding of the needs of the people who participate in our programs. We can provide training, and help families to adjust to the new demands and technological requirements that they’re being presented with. The assumption is that we just provide them with the technology and they will figure it out. That’s not always the case.

I can draw on the example of my seven-year-old daughter. She had a Google Meet meeting every Wednesday with her teacher and her classmates for an hour. The only thing I got from her teacher and from the TDSB [Toronto District School Board] is: ‘Here is the link to the Google Meet, and the time. Log on when it’s time.’ I could figure it out, but what about those families who are technologically illiterate? What about those families that have children with a learning disability, with autism, with all the other challenges that come, the exceptionalities that children have? What do you do to support those families? 

I think the assumption is that people will just get by and figure it out, but you can’t have those assumptions when you’re dealing with a population of people that have already been marginalized within society. COVID really has rolled back the curtain on all the inequities that exist.

 

“I think the biggest positive that I can take from COVID is that it has opened up the lines of communication, where I think they were locked or non-existent before. Even through social media, there’s access to people that I think before as a Black person I would have never had the opportunity to engage with.”

 

For DYLOTT to provide these services, you need funding. You’ve set up a GoFundMe page, but that’s far from the multi-year support you were hoping to secure at the beginning of the year. What does the financial part of this equation look like? 

At the end of April, the federal government announced $350 million of support for the nonprofit sector and community. That generated a lot of interest of course from community organizations. We had several different workshops on how to apply for this grant and how to gain visibility. But the thing that I realized about this whole process, is that if you’re not a well-established organization, if you haven’t been around for a long time, or if you don’t have a mechanism that you’re connected to other organizations that have visibility, you get passed over, always.

While at DYLOTT we were talking about, ‘How do we put an application together?’,  other organizations were already out there doing that work, they were already planning their response, and how they would access the funding that was out there. We could not get a hold of anyone. No one was listening to us. We were floundering in a way, because we didn’t have visibility.

That day when I decided to put that tweet out and I tagged Jan [Frolic, SVP at Women of Influence], I tagged her because I knew that in order for us to get a support team, someone else who knew about us had to pick it up. That’s the only way that an organization like DYLOTT can get any support.  And when we got visibility, now all of a sudden a lot of people are calling and they’re all saying, “Hey, what are you guys doing?”

It’s not that organizations aren’t doing the work, they do the work and they’re doing very important and impactful work, but if someone else doesn’t recognize the value that the organization is providing, that work gets unnoticed and they end up falling by the wayside. 

 

And what about at the community level, the individuals that you work within your programs? Or other organizations in this space? What are you hearing from them? 

What we’re hearing is the things that we already knew existed, the challenges that we already knew existed — like mental health, which was never a priority area for social determinants of health for Black communities. All of a sudden, it’s a priority. If all of a sudden it’s a priority — we never got a chance to sit down and deconstruct what mental health looks like within that community, and we’re expected to have solutions for all those challenges, we’re expected to have the people who can address those challenges.

For me as a social worker, I know for a fact that there aren’t enough Black mental health workers to support our community, because there has never been that focus put on the need to provide Black mental health services. 

Also, of course, the challenge with technology and the barriers that presents. One of the questions that we’re discussing with organizations like ours is ‘What training do we need to provide?’

But what agency do we have to answer that expert question? I don’t feel like I’m an expert right now. That’s the reality. I think it certainly is an opportunity to address something, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect that we have all the answers, especially right upfront, right now. We need the space to figure out strategies to address all the different social determinants that are happening all at one time.

 

What in all this gives you hope? Is there anything that is happening because of COVID that you believe can help us build a better future? 

Yes. Definitely. Even in all this horribleness, all the terrible, tragic impact that COVID has brought with it, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that COVID has brought many opportunities for people who are Black and for people to collaborate. I think the biggest positive that I can take from COVID is that it has opened up the lines of communication, where I think they were locked or non-existent before. Even through social media, there’s access to people that I think before as a Black person I would have never had the opportunity to engage with.

The major thing that gives me hope is that people are recognizing the value of contribution from Black communities. They are recognizing that there is capacity for agency within Black communities. And they are recognizing that there are a plethora of experiences that are valuable. 

Now, the spotlight is being shone on our communities, and we’re saying, ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity for self-governance. There’s an opportunity for economic independence. There’s an opportunity for collaboration on a level that there has never been.’ I’m certainly very happy for that.

A conversation with Pam Palmater on COVID, racism, and Indigenous communities

Within the first few minutes of the conversation, one thing is clear: it is impossible to understand the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous people living in Canada without knowledge of the centuries of struggle that came before it, and the racism, oppression, and genocide that they were experiencing already.  

On these topics, Dr. Pamela Palmater is an authority — a result of more than 25 years of focus on First Nations issues, studying, volunteering, advocating, and working as a lawyer, Associate Professor, and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. A Mi’kmaw citizen and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick, Pam has spoken internationally on Indigenous issues and authored three books on the subject; her latest, Warrior Life: Indigenous Resistance and Resurgence, just became available for preorder. 

I spoke with Pam on June 3, the one-year anniversary of the release of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. On the same day, Pam published an article that shows through statistics that Canada has a racism problem, and Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check. 

And so our conversation started not on COVID, but on injustice.  

The interview has been edited for length, but you can listen to the complete discussion below.

 

Do you think the pandemic has been shining a bigger spotlight on the issues that Indigenous people in Canada face, or has it been a distraction? 

To me, COVID-19 has been used sadly as an excuse to deflect from the multiple crisis Canada was in prior to the pandemic. For months, we were in Wet’suwet’en Strong protests, that were anti-police violence, anti-police racism, anti-state oppression and breach of Indigenous rights — but even prior to that, Canada was already in the worst human rights crisis that it has ever faced. 

The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls found as a matter of fact and law — not theory or academic research, but fact and law — that Canada is guilty of historic and ongoing genocide, that Canada’s laws, policies, practices, actions and omissions are a direct cause of the crisis level rates of exploitation, disappearance and murders of Indigenous women and girls, and that Canada demonstrates it has a manifest pattern of intention to destroy Indigenous people — and that hasn’t changed, despite using different policy names. Everything is still about accessing our lands and resources and essentially assimilating Indigenous people, and they ignore all of the violence and premature death and ill health and poverty conditions as part of that. 

And so we should all be very concerned about COVID, but every pandemic in history has always disproportionately impacted Indigenous people, and in particular, Indigenous women. Indigenous people were overrepresented in H1N1, in terms of hospitalizations, intensive care, and death, and pregnant Indigenous women were also overrepresented in hospitalizations during that time.

 

Considering H1N1 disproportionately impacted indigenous communities in Canada, is anyone looking at those stats right now with respect to COVID?

Indian Affairs, which is so-called Indigenous Services Canada,[1] has been very criticized for not collecting enough data. They were reporting exceptionally low numbers, and so First Nations, knowing that this data was wrong and presenting the worst picture possible reported their own data to Ryerson University’s Yellowhead Institute — not all First Nations in Canada, but they got a large group to submit their numbers — and the numbers were almost three times higher than what Indian Affairs was reporting.

And that doesn’t even include all of the First Nations. If you don’t know where COVID is, who is infected, how can you contact trace that? How can you prevent it? First Nations for the last few months have been complaining that they haven’t been sent tests. There’s been no concerted, purposeful, intentional focus on the most at-risk, health-compromised population in this country, which is First Nations people.
 

Knowing that, do you think there has been an appropriate response?

The COVID pandemic should have resulted in a doubling of the effort to make sure that Indigenous women and girls are taken care of. That simply hasn’t been the case. There have been outbreaks in prisons, and Indigenous women are the fastest-growing population and already overrepresented in prisons — they represent 42 percent in federal corrections alone. Indigenous girls represent as high as 98 percent of the youth corrections population. 

So if you think about institutions and how they’re natural fermentors of the pandemic because of the overcrowding, lack of hygiene, lack of access to health care, then we know that Indigenous women and girls are at the highest risk because they are overrepresented in all these institutions. It’s just beyond belief that Canada didn’t immediately act on Indigenous women and girls with the report, but didn’t also immediately have a gendered pandemic plan for Indigenous women and girls, to target them first and foremost for protection. 

 

What gives you hope in all this?

I think the hope that I see is the ways in which specifically First Nations and Indigenous women have addressed murdered and missing women and girls, land-based protests and land-based defense, and even this pandemic — by asserting their own sovereignty. And we may be doing so in an underfunded capacity, in a marginalized, oppressed capacity, in a context of ongoing genocide and pandemic risk — but we continue to show our strength, and our resilience, and our leadership, and our commitment to our sovereignty as nations, to continue to do this for our people. 

There are literally a thousand stories of Indigenous women and girls serving their communities. They’re the most underserved, but they’re out there volunteering for elders, they’re cleaning, they’re bringing supplies, they’re advocating. They’re literally on the front line. And there are still women out there on the front lines of land defense and that’s where I find my hope. In the assertion and defense of our sovereignty and our territory, despite the overwhelming and monumental barriers, and the risk to our lives.

It’s really important that we get these stories out, and show Canadians that this is where hope is, supporting Native people in asserting and defending their sovereignty and territory, and the right to make decisions for themselves, that’s what will get us out of this. Canadians are starting to see that the things that we were advocating for and protesting against were the very same things that were going to benefit Canadians. So when we’re trying to defend clean water for First Nations, that’s actually a benefit to all Canadians, because we’re not going to live very long without clean water or farmable land. And similarly, when we’re defending human rights and civil liberties, that’s for everybody. And it’s a very slippery slope to say it’s okay to breach those rights for Native people, now it’s okay to breach those rights for Black people, now it’s okay to breach those rights for immigrants, now it’s okay to breach those rights for poor people — it never ends, and so we have to have an absolute stop against the breach of human rights, and that benefits all Canadians.

 

And what can all Canadians be doing to be better allies?

You don’t have to be working in a social justice advocacy organization to advocate loudly and strenuously and continuously. If you look at the Wet’suwet’en Strong solidarity action, again for most of the large marches and protests and rallies, the majority of them were Canadians, and again politicians took notice of that. So every letter, protest, large behind-the-scenes influence or donation — all of that makes a difference. But the thing is, it has to be vocal. It has to be aggressive. And when I say aggressive, I don’t mean violent — but it has to be pushy, and it has to be continuous, because that’s the only way it’s going to work.

 

 

[1] The Harper government replaced the minister of Indian Affairs with a minister of Aboriginal Affairs in 2011; the Trudeau government changed it to minister of Indigenous affairs in 2015, and then split the department in two — to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, and Indigenous Services in 2017. It wasn’t until July 15, 2019, however, that the Department of Indian Affairs Canada was legally replaced. Many Indigenous activists, including Pam, saw the change as “more superficiality than substance.”