Canada’s Human Rights Failures on COVID-19

  • October 28, 2020
  • Errol Mendes

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March, everyone was saying that we are all in it together. Six months in, it is clear that we are not. We have seen huge disparities in terms of the impacts of this virus on the elderly, the unemployed and underemployed, women, the disabled, Indigenous peoples and racialized minorities. In other words, pretty much the majority of our population.

Let’s start with the elderly. Across the country, between 77 and 80 percent of COVID-related deaths have come from long-term care facilities. It is stunning that this is still going on and it is reinforced by the failures of government to even acknowledge the role that they have played in it. According to the Globe and Mail, the Ontario government is not guaranteeing the health and safety of residents in these facilities and that the responsibility lies with those who actually run and operate them. Keep in mind that the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care regulates, licenses and inspects the province’s 623 long-term care homes. They are now being sued for $500 million dollars for their role in these deaths and this suffering.

I was pleased to see the beginning of an acknowledgment of these issues in the Speech from the Throne. We may see an attempt to impose national standards on long-term care homes or even consideration of criminal prosecutions against those who actively cause deaths and severe suffering of the elderly. What remains to be discussed there is how is that going to be imposed on the already overburdened personal support workers, nurses and other employees in those facilities, or will it be the actual organizations? That has not yet been determined. 

If we turn to unemployment, we again see incredible disparities. Let’s first consider women, the majority of this country’s population. While those who have high-paying jobs have, to a large extent, not suffered as much as women with lower incomes, especially those with children. The aggregate hours worked by mothers of children under six is down 17 percent compared to just 4 percent of men with children under six. Women who are paid less have also suffered more unemployment. There are potentially large issues of the duty of employers to accommodate the burdens put on parents, whether male or female and where disabled workers or those with co-morbidities are concerned, the duty to accommodate could be even larger given that they may be even more susceptible to the virus.

If we turn to race, there are some stunning unemployment figures coming out of Statistics Canada, which only started conducting race-based analysis of the labor market in July. All non-white racial groups are experiencing much higher levels of unemployment than their white counterparts. South Asians and off-reserve Indigenous workers were at the greatest disadvantage, with unemployment rates at 17.8 percent compared to 9.3 percent overall. The picture for Indigenous disabled and gig workers is even worse.