Toronto’s COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Demonstrates Racism is Alive and Well in Canada, Expert Says

May 23, 2021

If you’re among the one in three Canadians who still don’t believe racism is a serious problem in our country, you don’t have to look further than our response to the COVID-19 pandemic for proof that inequity remains deeply rooted here.

Dr Frances Henry, professor emerita at York University and co-author of The Equity Myth, a landmark study on racism in Canadian universities, will address what she calls the denial of racism in Canada. Pointing to research that shows racialized and marginalized groups continue to make up a disproportionate share of Canada’s COVID-19 cases as one example, she’ll shed light on different forms of racism that still exist here and why change is needed.

“Not only does Canada have a racist history, but it’s very often thought that Canadian society is racist-free and that all of the issues occur south of our border,” Henry said. “We simply need to look at Toronto postal codes and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to see that inequity persists in Canada. It clearly shows that if you live in a good area, you’ve been vaccinated and if you live in a poor, neglected immigrant area, you have not.”

Recent events such as the global Black Lives Matter protests and the George Floyd murder have propelled racism to the foreground of Canada’s public agenda, resulting in far greater recognition of what racism is and how it expresses itself in Canadian society, she added, but “there are still huge areas where strong action is needed if we truly want to conform to our democratic values and our belief in equality and equity for all of our population.”

Canada has made some progress – the corporate world is paying increasing attention to representation and top Canadian universities are stepping up to take action against racism, starting with the collection of race-based data – but Henry would argue none of it is transformative change.

“There can be enormous frustration associated with the quest for equity because it seems you work and you work and you hardly get anywhere,” she said. “It’s a very convoluted and frustrating problem to solve, that will require us to take an honest look at wealth inequality and immigration policies to really understand where we go from here.”