Dear Premier Jason Kenney,
We write to express our concerns with and suggest solutions regarding two matters: first, your comments suggesting that South Asian persons and communities are the reason for the spread of COVID-19 within the community, and second, the Alberta government’s failure to collect and act on data on the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on racialized Albertans. As members of racialized communities and future public health practitioners, we believe our voices need to be considered and conciliatory approaches must be taken to make amends.
In November, you stated that “We know that it’s a tradition to have big family gatherings at home and we think that this is one of the reasons why we have seen a much higher level spread in the community than other parts of the population.”
This statement undervalues the considerable contributions made by this community in the face of the pandemic. We see our South Asian family members, neighbours and community leaders working tirelessly on the frontlines, and they do not have the choice to stay home. Comments like these not only impact the health of minority communities in Alberta, but also lead to a rising number of hate crimes targeting these communities by validating racist rhetoric.
At the beginning of the pandemic, North America saw an increase in anti-Asian hate crime due to the “China virus” rhetoric being used by influential leaders. We must work towards combating this pandemic through a unified approach, rather than a stratified one.
COVID-19 disproportionately impacts racialized peoples. Stats Canada found that the COVID-19 mortality rate was 10 times higher in neighbourhoods with a higher population of racialized individuals. To support racialized communities, we need to consistently collect race-based data, especially now. Race-based data provides the information needed to understand the nature of systemic inequalities, an essential component of our healthcare system. Public access to race-based data is needed to progress towards an anti-racist society, thereby advancing Alberta’s growth and prosperity. It is important to note that this data should be used in a manner that uplifts racialized communities. This means that the data should be shared with members of the community, and we need to work with them and support their needs. Every community seeks to support their members, and it is essential that they have the tools to do so.
To address our concerns, we hope that you will take the following conciliatory actions into consideration:
1. Issue an apology to the South Asian community for the comments made with regards to the spread of COVID-19.
2. Publicly release the Alberta Anti-Racism Advisory Council report on race-based health data and share it with racialized community members.
3. Set up consultation sessions with racialized community members to understand their perspective, and to find the tools to support them during COVID-19.
We all want the same thing, and that is to make sure that all Albertans grow and prosper. However, we cannot do that when people in our society disproportionately experience stigma, discrimination and racism. We are here to support our communities, and we are going to continue to do so. We would be highly interested in working with you to address the concerns and ensure that Alberta works towards becoming an equitable province for all Albertans, including people from racialized communities. It is more important now than ever to come together as a community to stand against racism and support everyone in this pandemic. We appreciate your time and urge you to consider our proposed conciliatory actions.
University of Alberta School of Public Health Students for Advocacy and Rights (SPHAR)
*This letter has been edited for length and clarity