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Anti-Black racism is a public health emergency in Canada

June 11, 2020 — The brutal, race-based violence leading to the very public killing of George Floyd in the United States on May 25 has aroused rage and disrupted complacency around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people of different backgrounds across dozens of countries have gathered, even in the face of the COVID-19 virus threat, to speak loudly against anti-Black racism and the abuse of power by state actors against Black people.

“The world is crying out that ‘Black lives matter,’ and enough is enough,” said Michael Villeneuve, chief executive officer of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA). “CNA condemns all forms of racism and discrimination. The CNA Code of Ethics demands that we uphold principles of justice by safeguarding human rights, equity, and fairness. We have rested too comfortably for too long on a myth that anti-Black racism is not systemic in Canada, but the reality has been harshly exposed.”

“Anti-Black racism is a public health emergency in Canada,” added Claire Betker, CNA’s president. “We cannot sugar-coat the language. Anti-Black racism exists in social structures across Canada. Longstanding, negative impacts of these structural determinants of health have created and continue to reinforce serious health and social inequities for Black people in Canada.” She went on to say, “Due to their uneven and unfair nature, systemic inequities and oppression impose themselves on some people more than others. Like all sectors of society in Canada, the nursing profession has taken part in this centuries-old injustice, even if unintentionally, helping to reinforce and maintain it. CNA is committed to joining a global movement to dismantle these practices.”

The absence of race and ethnicity health-related data in Canada prevents identification of further gaps in care and health outcomes. But where these statistics are collected, the COVID-19 pandemic has exploited age-old disparities and led to a stark over-representation of Black people among its victims. CNA supports the call for enhanced collection and analysis of race and ethnicity data in collaboration with racialized communities, and for collaborative structures to ensure identified health disparities are addressed. “And we need the same data around our health care workforces so we can plan effectively to recruit and retain health-care workers representative of the populations we serve,” Betker said.

CNA believes that eliminating systemic racism, inequity and oppression demands a pan-Canadian response. CNA’s advocacy work has supported social policies to equip communities with tools to eliminate racism, stigma and inequity in employment, housing and more. “At CNA, we are committed to listening and learning from our members, partners, patients and communities about ways we can work to overcome anti-Black racism. Within the association, we will double down our efforts to overhaul our own governance policies, procedures, hiring practices and training to ensure they are anti-racist and anti-oppressive,” Villeneuve said, “We have already started that journey by aiming to achieve the eight characteristics of a Top 100 Employer, and to those, adding our commitments to diversity and to our Truth and Reconciliation journey.”

“At CNA we may take some lessons from the early steps in our journey of reckoning with our history with Indigenous people,” said Tim Guest, the association’s incoming president. “We have already begun staff education and have established an Indigenous Leaders Series where visiting Indigenous leaders will spend time working with our board, staff, and members to increase our understanding and then dismantle colonizing structures that have created barriers and inequities for Indigenous people. We are committed to taking on similar work over the long term to tackle anti-Black racism across professional nursing, health care at large, and certainly within our own hiring and membership structures.”

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About the Canadian Nurses Association
The Canadian Nurses Association is a powerful, unified voice for the Canadian nursing profession. We represent regulated and retired nurses in all 13 provinces and territories. We advance the practice and profession of nursing to improve health outcomes and strengthen health care for all people in Canada.

For more information please contact:

Eve Johnston
Media and Communications Coordinator
Canadian Nurses Association
Cell: 613-282-7859
Email: ejohnston@cna-aiic.ca