December 2021 / Toronto
We enter this last month of the calendar year with increasing alarm and some frustration as new variants of the COVID-19 are detected here at home and throughout the world. Frustration- or at least mine, comes from the knee jerk response of the Canadian and other high income countries quickly moving to shut their borders primarily to travellers from countries in the Global South, in this case countries in southern Africa including South Africa (not considered a global south country).
The lens through which we view the world is important. This was brought home forcefully in these early days of December. When I heard the news about what has now been named the omicron variant my first thought was thank Goddess that South Africa has the scientific expertise to detect, sequence and alert the world to this new mutation. But as I perused news story that morning, I realized that the white western gaze had a very different take. ‘detection’ became ‘originated’ and the loud cries to shut down our borders to countries in southern Africa was loud and coming from media, politicians like Ontario’s premier and the conservative opposition in Ottawa. Not that the federal Liberals needed much urging – very quickly five or so southern African countries were put on the no entry list.
No surprise, within hours we knew that the variant was already in Canada and in many countries in Europe, Africa and I’ll bet the US.
It is truly unfortunate that not only do we have to lift our voices against the vaccine inequity across the globe- only 6% of people in low-income countries have received a first vaccine- we now must combat the anti-Africa responses we so often see in situations like this pandemic.
We have much work to do. Exhaling!
I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about all that our sector has accomplished in these almost two years of a pandemic. How the workers in the sector stepped forward with no roadmaps to ensure that individuals, families and communities – refugees, migrants, immigrants and those made vulnerable due to systems and policies of exclusion and oppression- had their needs met.
Frontline workers working with women experiencing intimate partner violence created hand signals for women to use if they needed immediate interventions. I pause here to acknowledge the incredible work of the Canadian Women’s Foundation who took this to a global level and as we know through media reports have saved at least one girl from imminent danger. Their message remains ‘the hand signals work only when bystanders act’. We are thankful for their vision and investments in ensuring women, girls and non-binary persons are kept safe from violence.
I commend the leadership of organizations who strengthened their connectivity so that clients without internet connection – a resource that is often too expensive for low waged workers - could access it from the agency’s parking lot, in order to attend language classes and other programs while in-person services remained suspended. Although these options too are not fully accessible to everyone.
Our colleagues working with newcomer children and their families have been invaluable in ensuring that children have access to the technology so that they’re able to attend online school.
Our refugee houses and programs have stepped up to support the resettlement of Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban regime, and are calling on the federal government to do more to ensure the safety of those left in Afghanistan and those facing great uncertainty in neighbouring countries. They have poured staffing and other resources into supporting the almost four thousand refugees who have arrived here,leveraging the networks they’ve developed over the years to find affordable and adequate housing- quite the feat in Ontario where we face a housing crisis from Kenora to Windsor.
I pay homage to the frontline workers on the streets, who tirelessly worked to ensure that our residents who are unhoused, were safe and had access to what they need to survive living outside, even as municipal governments called in police and other security forces to oust them from the communities they created in tents on public land. This is a shame that stains southern Ontario cities and towns. And should renew our calls for significant reductions in police budgets and the abolition of policing in most spheres of our lives.
The outreach workers who are often called to ‘pull dead bodies from tents’ due to opioid overdose as one worker stated in a recent media report on the deteriorating mental health of outreach street workers who are often paid low wages without sick days or benefits. We see you.
I see you, the advocates and activists working to ensure that migrant workers- from Ontario to BC, where the massive floods have endangered the lives of migrant workers and is causing great worries about their social and economic well-being as the federal government remains silent on what is to become of them during this climate emergency- have their rights recognized.
We see and thank you, for bringing a little light each day into the lives of the many who are often faced with great barriers to living their best lives.
I leave you with this excerpt from the poem Reveille by Lola Ridge (1873-1941)
It is not yet light
But I beat upon your doors.
You say you await the Dawn
But I say you are the Dawn.
Come, in your irresistible unspent force
And make new light upon the