“Racism and racial health inequities are a hidden and serious concern with detrimental consequences for all people in Canada.”
This is the position of the initiators of the 8th annual Dalla Lana student-led conference “Racial Justice Matters: Advocating for Racial Health Equity”. The conference will take place on October 23 and October 24, 2015, at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
“In the last two years we’ve been hearing a lot about racial issues in the U.S. and Canada,” says co chair of the student-led conference Anjum Sultana, “and there has been quite a lot of research showing that there is racism and it affects people’s health.”
Some of the recently released high profile reports that support this statement include: “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Recommendations”, “First Peoples, Second Class Treatment” and “Colour Coded Healthcare” by Wellesley Institute and “Racialization and Health Inequities in Toronto” by Toronto Public Health.
Sultana explains that many people of colour have lower incomes because there is racial bias in the Canadian job market, which results in lower employment and lower wages.
“There are many different pathways that lead to negative health outcomes due to racism,” Sultana says. “One of them is poor access or lack of access to health-care services in Canada due to living in remote locations or the inability to pay – although we have a publically funded health-care system, not everything is covered.”
Medications, eye exams, dental care and physiotherapy, for example, are not covered by the provincial insurance plans and people with low income often can’t afford them. Sultana explains that many people of colour have lower incomes because there is racial bias in the Canadian job market, which results in lower employment and lower wages.
Impacts on immigrants of colour, refugees
The same tendency exists among new immigrants from many countries. Even though they might come to Canada with high education and qualifications, their credentials might not be recognized.
Also, they often face barriers like lack of Canadian experience, lack of trust and others. As a result new immigrants can be underemployed, do low paid and health hazard jobs to cover their basic expenses and cannot afford medication and other paid health care services.
“As for the ‘healthy immigrant effect,’” Sultana explains, “the tendency that new immigrants are generally healthier than Canadian-born people, but their health declines as their years in Canada increase, research shows that the health of the immigrants of colour declines faster and gets worse than the health of the Europeans and Americans.”
“[R]esearch shows that the health of the immigrants of colour declines faster and gets worse than the health of the Europeans and Americans.”
Even more critical is the situation of the refugees in Canada. “In the [recent] years there were a lot of cuts in refugee health care,” Sultana says. “And now refugees, many of whom are of colour and racialized, are receiving less and lower quality of health care.”
“Not only [is] the poor access to health care affecting the people of colour and racialized patients,” Sultana says. “It is also the quality of treatment they get in the health-care institutions. There is lot of bias there, especially against the indigenous people.”
Sultana cites Brian Sinclair as an example. Sinclair, an indigenous person, went to an emergency department in Winnipeg with a treatable infection. After waiting in his wheelchair for 34 hours, he died without receiving medical help.
“Because of his [indigenous] background, he was thought to be drunk and not really sick and this resulted in his death,” Sultana explains. “This is just one case, but there are many other cases where institutions don’t provide the same quality of health care to everybody.”
Urgent need for action
“Considering this growing evidence of the presence and role of racism in our health-care system,” Sultana says, “we at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health think that there is an urgent need of actions – because these issues are impacting the lives of so many people. We have to be proactive in our efforts to put an end to racism, especially now, when Canada is becoming more and more diverse.”
“We have to be proactive in our efforts to put an end to racism, especially now, when Canada is becoming more and more diverse.”
The conference at The University of Toronto aims to raise awareness about the findings of the newest research and to facilitate knowledge exchange between organizations, researchers and individuals working on the issues of racism and health.
Also, the Dalla Lana School of Public Health strives to create opportunities for developing innovation collaborations locally and to empower participants to apply the learned knowledge into future projects on reducing the negative impact of racism in all forms.
Two initiatives Sultana strongly supports are including anti-racism training in the curriculum of medical schools in Canada and organizing anti-racism training at health-care institutions.
“Mount Sinai Hospital and a couple of other hospitals are looking at such training,” she says. “We all have stereotypes that we may not even be aware of, and one way to uncover them is to go to training and start talking about them. Discussions would help health-care professionals become aware of their stereotypes and help them stop acting according to them.”