Although federal, provincial and territorial governments have announced various initiatives to help Canadians during the spread of COVID-19; not all measures include a human rights and equity lens. More needs to be done to address the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized populations of the country.
Women, racialized persons, Black people, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ2+ community continue to face barriers due to systemic discrimination. The pandemic has only exacerbated this discrimination and shined the light on the systemic inequalities that persist:
- Women continue to experience a gender wage gap and are most likely to be working part-time and/or precarious jobs. This is further compounded for those women of other equity seeking groups, including racialized women, immigrant women, Indigenous women, women with disabilities, trans women and non-binary people.
- Research demonstrates that disaster situations often lead to increased gender-based violence. With the COVID-19 outbreak, advice from public health officials is to practice social distancing. However, staying at home may not be the safest option for many survivors.
- Public health officials have been persistent on advising on proper hygiene and ensuring regular hand washing is performed to protect oneself from the virus. However, such advisement is difficult to adhere to when many Indigenous communities are unable to access clean water to begin with.
- Many essential workers come from equity groups, including in the healthcare profession, social services, retail and agriculture industry. Often these workers are in precarious, temporary, low-wage positions where asserting their health and safety rights is not realistic. Migrant workers are tied to their employer and can be deported by that employer if they raise issues.
- As the federal, provincial and territorial governments apply measures to close businesses and schools and restrict movement of people, this should not result in increased racial profiling, over policing and/or microaggressions towards racialized individuals, Black people and Indigenous communities.
- Equity seeking groups continue to face higher rates of precarious work, homelessness, poverty, under-employment, unemployment and social isolation and therefore “staying home” may not be an option, nor may they have the financial resources to pay for basic necessities such as rent, food, and medicine.
- COVID-19 and the subsequent measures taken by governments has led to significant strain on the mental health of many of our most vulnerable populations. The Trans community is concerned about access to essential hormone treatments. People with disabilities may not be able to access the health care services they require because the priority is given to addressing the pandemic and they are more at risk to COVID-19.
PSAC calls on the federal, provincial and territorial governments to ensure that every person in Canada has the economic and social supports they need, regardless of employment or immigration status. They should:
- Ensure that testing, treatment and life-saving care for COVID-19 is available and accessible on a non-discriminatory basis to all individuals that require it. This includes addressing the barriers that exist to accessing healthcare across the country for all marginalized groups.
- Provide affordable and accessible alternatives for those seeking mental health services.
- Expand the availability of safe, licensed, emergency child care to parents of preschool and/or school-age children who are required to work through the pandemic, free of charge.
- Build federal support for the child care sector into the government’s pandemic response plan to ensure licensed child care programs will be available when the health crisis ends.
- Provide increased resources to shelters across the country to ensure they can help with those facing gender-based violence.
- Ensure the accommodation needs of employees are free from discrimination and are respected by employers regardless of whether they’re “working from home”.
- Implement measures to closely monitor the health and safety of essential and critical workers during this crisis.
- Apply an intersectional gender-based analysis lens to all measures implemented in providing support to Canadians.
PSAC will continue to support our members from equity-seeking groups to prevent them from being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay tuned for a list of resources available to members to address human rights issues during this time.