September 2020 / Toronto - About ten years ago, the OCASI staff had a heated argument during one of our monthly all staff meetings about shifting most of our offerings to the membership online. We were split into two fractious camps. The in-person is always better crowd and the get with the program, technology is the way forward crowd. Luckily we had a few thoughtful souls in the middle who didn’t get what the argument was about since they held a vision where mixed modes of information transfer, training and professional development, policy and advocacy and public education exist.
They won the day. Since then the Council began offering a mix of online and in-person courses on a myriad of topics, holding regional meetings online or via teleconference and in-person annually, and has invested heavily over the past five years in technology.
During those discussions I was called a luddite. I had to look up its meaning then and for a while (sometimes still) wear the badge proudly.
And then the COVID pandemic hit. All business stopped and within a two-day period we had pivoted completely to remote work with all programming moving online. Because we had invested in hardware and software over the years we were in good shape to accommodate most staff although we had to and are still purchasing laptops, etc to ensure that staff have all the tools they need to continue to deliver quality work. This allowed us to put our attention to the needs of the membership and the sector as whole.
Our government relations and advocacy work became front and centre as we worked with sector leaders across the country to ensure that funders were onside in providing all supports required by service agencies to continue to meet the increasing needs of their clients during this emergency. We worked to ensure that the various government income supports were reaching the most marginalized and those made most vulnerable by their economic situations and/or their identities. We were able to raise over a quarter of a million dollars to redistribute to Ontario residents who due to their precarious immigration status or who are undocumented could not access government supports and whose work in the underground labour market had come to a standstill.
The pandemic brought into sharp relief the deep inequities that exist for Black, Indigenous and racialized persons, for women and those who live with disabilities. For immigrants and refugees and those who are undocumented. For seniors and working poor people.
The pandemic also showed us that we as a society through our governments in this very rich country of ours are able to quickly respond so that no one needs to go hungry or lose their shelter. We know that the financial resources are there and what it comes down to is priorities and political will.
The evidence from the data collected over these months of the emergency is clear. Now it is time for governments to address structural inequities as they turn their attention to ‘the recovery’.
There is one clear message emanating from every community, advocate, and activist group from coast to coast to coast. We cannot continue with the status quo. We must address the deep chasms of inequalities that exist in Canada. To that end, a number of coalitions to which the Council belongs have put forward a number of recommendations – to the City of Toronto, the province of Ontario and to the federal government. Some are included below.
From: Reconstruction and Reset: A Plan for Canada by Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change, September 8, 2020:
- Mandate the collection of data disaggregated by race and other sociodemographic identities to better measure and understand the racial impact of government policies, programs, and practices in the labour market, economic inequality, and poverty; policing, the criminal justice system and access to justice; child welfare; environment; health and mental health; housing; social and cultural benefits; education; refugee protection, interdiction, immigration and citizenship; and media, social media, and mass communication.
- Implement a regularization program to provide a pathway to permanent residence status for all people with precarious immigration status, including all migrant workers.
From: 50+ non-profits call for an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic through submission to TORR, August 4, 2020
- Extend the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and provide continued financial support for individuals until they are able to get back to work, including people with precarious immigration status that are typically excluded from most government benefits.
- Address barriers to accessing emergency income support and advocate for additional labour market planning and supports (including childcare for people who cannot work from home).
From: Statement and Demands on Policing and Anti-Black Racism by Black Legal Action Centre, June 25, 2020
- A clear and public commitment to zero deaths by police services across the province;
- The immediate elimination of racial disparities in school suspensions and expulsions and the enactment of de-streaming pilot projects across the province;
- Develop and implement a national corrections strategy to address and correct the disproportionately high rates of African Canadians in the correctional system and ensure anti-discriminatory and culturally specific services for African Canadian offenders.
My colleagues, within two weeks the federal government will be releasing its policy platform through a new throne speech. Let’s pay attention. Let’s ensure that those elected to represent us are hearing the messages loud and clear: the status quo is not working. It must be dismantled.
As Canadians we want bold policies that will begin to bridge the economic divide. We want concrete actions and policies to address anti-Black and other racisms, and the legacies of settler colonialism. We want immigration policies that open up borders for people as much as it is open for capital. We want policies and programs that will rebuild the feminist infrastructure in this country ensuring that women – all women- have the means and organizations to move forward the liberation agenda.
This is the time for you as people of conscience to speak up, to call your MPs, MPPs and Councillors and let them know that you will be parking your next vote with those who have demonstrated care and support for our most marginalized residents. This is the time to educate our families and neighbours and communities about what it takes to build a true social democracy where all are included and no one is left behind.