Addressing COVID-19 needs in diverse communities

Learn more about how the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat is engaging across government and directly with equity‑seeking groups - including racialized, religious minority and Indigenous communities - to ensure the federal response to the pandemic is informed by diverse community needs.

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New interdepartmental COVID-19 Taskforce tackles pandemic inequities

To respond to systemic racism and racial discrimination exacerbated by the pandemic, the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat established the Equity-Seeking Communities COVID-19 Taskforce with Women and Gender Equality Canada in March 2020. The Taskforce involves at least 24 federal organizations meeting bi-weekly and helps to ensure the federal response to COVID-19 is informed by diverse community needs, providing opportunities for communities to engage directly with policymakers. Discussion areas have included:

Over the next few months, the Taskforce will continue engaging with communities across the country and different sectors of society to seek input on the federal response and recovery.

Virtual COVID-19 town hall series

To inform the work of the Equity-Seeking Communities and COVID-19 Taskforce, the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat held a series of online town halls with communities directly affected by racism. There, community leaders discussed how the pandemic has affected them and presented recommendations on what the Government can do to ensure that its response is effective. Between May and September 2020, these town halls provided a safe space for communities to raise their unique concerns and offered a gateway to the federal government.

The Secretariat will be continuing the dialogue with those who attended over the next months, to track the impact of the pandemic, provide access to government resources and assess measures necessary to address specific community needs. It will also engage communities on post-pandemic recovery measures.

Closing Asian Heritage Month with an important virtual town hall — May 31, 2020

Asian Heritage Month ended with an important online town hall where the impact of COVID-19 on East Asian Communities was discussed. Convening over 90 community members from across Canada, the event was chaired by the Honourable Minister Bardish Chagger, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, with support from the Secretariat.

Recommendations from several participants identified critical areas for government action against anti-Asian racism. For example, they touched on community members’ mistrust of institutional authorities, when targeted by hate crimes. They also discussed the need to boost support for organizations combating anti-Asian racism and for people with a precarious immigration status.

COVID-19 Taskforce talks anti-Black racism with community — June 29, 2020

A special session of the Equity-Seeking Communities COVID-19 Taskforce was organized to discuss COVID-19-related anti-Black racism and implications for federal recovery measures. It gathered 340 attendees made up of Black community leaders, members of the Taskforce, as well as senior representatives of the Red Cross, Community Foundations of Canada, and United Way Centraide Canada.

Federal public servants heard the creative solutions presented by the participants. Recommendations included increased support for Black-owned businesses and for marginalized communities adjusting to the quickened transition toward the digital and remote work economy. Another recommendation outlined ways that anti-racist content can be used to improve health regulation, professional training, and community-focused data collection methodologies.

The Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat committed to working with diverse Black communities to see its counterparts across the federal family ensure federal recovery measures are more equitable and address the specific challenges faced by people of African descent in Canada.

Virtual town hall with Muslim communities addresses the pandemic — July 7, 2020

A virtual discussion gathered over 75 Muslim community leaders. They weighed in on the impact of COVID-19 and recommended pathways to recovery.

Community leaders emphasized that students and youth were some of the hardest hit community members during the pandemic. This was particularly true for refugee and newcomer children and teens, whose parents often lack the necessary support to navigate Canadian education systems. Many Muslim post-secondary students face barriers in accessing funding, resulting in increased issues of food insecurity and homelessness.

Several people raised the lack of mental health support and stressed the need for resources and services tailored particularly for youth, students, and families facing challenges at home. Community leaders also raised concerns about employment challenges faced by newcomers and refugees. Others urged the federal government to take into account and address the intersectional identities of Muslim communities. Participants proposed providing incentives for businesses to hire newcomers who could then gain critical Canadian work experience and more easily enter the job market.

Virtual town hall with Jewish communities focuses on COVID-19 — July 16, 2020

In another rich discussion, over 60 Jewish community leaders gathered to address how COVID-19 has exacerbated issues in their communities and to share recommendations for recovery measures.

Leaders spoke to various examples of heightened antisemitism experienced regularly across the country, amid COVID-19 conspiracy theories targeting Jewish communities. They also raised concern about the ways online hate has become a gateway to violence offline. Several community leaders raised the need for integrating education on the Holocaust and antisemitism as part of regular curricula. Participants called for an action plan on antisemitism as well as a strategy and more robust legislation on hate. There was also consensus that the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat has a role to play in building bridges among different communities directly impacted by multiple forms of racism. Participants also requested funding to protect religious institutions from acts of hate-based vandalism.

South Asian communities discuss emergency response during virtual town hall — July 30, 2020

South Asian community members from across the country came together virtually to discuss how COVID-19 has affected their communities. Inadequate housing, food insecurity, particularly for students and those with low income, and mental health impacts related to social isolation were addressed.

Leaders noted that language and cultural barriers have impeded newcomers from effectively navigating complex healthcare and immigration service systems, many of which were closed or offering reduced services. Many immigrant women working in precarious employment are struggling from working and caregiving, often for multiple generations in the home. Increased domestic issues due to quarantine requirements are bringing conflicts into the home; and international students, especially female students, are at increased risk of exploitation by human traffickers. A conflict between faith and the use of personal protective equipment was raised as Sikh men, who keep facial hair for religious practices, are unable to safely use N95 masks, because they do not form a seal around the beards. Federal and provincial governments have not given religiously inclusive alternatives, thus creating additional barriers to employment.

Leaders also recognized the importance of inter-community solidarity and support as no one is immune to racism. Calls were also made for specialized funding for tailored services specific to racialized communities as well as core funding for non-profits.

Indigenous leaders tackle barriers to recovery in virtual town hall — August 20, 2020

A virtual gathering was held with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit leaders to hear about their communities’ COVID-19 experiences.

Many noted having insufficient access to health, child, and security services. Speakers shared how COVID-19 has highlighted their communities’ vulnerabilities, as so many are elderly (putting them at higher risk), or a very young population. Culture is protection was a key idea, as participants articulated how some government pandemic measures were undermining traditional community and land-based ways of mutual care. Many homes are multi-generational. As such, some pointed out, children being told to go back to school or people back to work puts the elders, the sacred and foundational knowledge and language keepers, at risk. As some communities have tried to minimize this risk and control the traffic through their communities, they have experienced racism from non-Indigenous communities.

For Indigenous people in urban and/or remote centers, appropriate supports are either unavailable or insufficient, including services for individuals being released from jail and those in the north having to travel south for health care. Sixties Scoop survivors have seen post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues magnified by social isolation and COVID-19 health protocols. Elders, the traditional mental health support are not accessible given the health risks associated with engaging them, and other culturally appropriate counselling supports are unavailable. Rural, reserve, and northern Indigenous communities have mostly been unable to use Internet for business or schooling, because telecommunications infrastructure is unreliable or too costly. Concerns are emerging about the prolonged impact on youth’s education given this dire situation.

With these complicated network of challenges, it was suggested that increased in-person, wraparound services are needed for each community so that no one is left behind.

Government response

Since the Taskforce launched, the Government has recognized that COVID-19 disproportionately affects equity-seeking communities.

Funding opportunities

Organizations can access a variety of funding options for equity-seeking communities, including:

Other support measures

The COVID-19 Response Measures Act

A new economic recovery package to support workers in Canada who cannot work due to COVID-19 reestablishes Employment Insurance (EI) and adds three new temporary Recovery Benefits to provide income support to Canadian workers. The Government of Canada includes new services for people in Canada who do not qualify for EI but are still impacted by the financial hardships generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These supports include:

Individuals eligible for the package include immigrants, foreign workers, and international students who now may benefit from support and directives in their province of residence.

Asylum seekers

The Government of Canada is offering a pathway to permanent residency for asylum claimants working in the health-care sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under this measure, asylum claimants across the country who are working on the front lines providing direct care to patients in health-care institutions are able to apply for permanent residency if they meet the criteria.

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