Nearly 8,000 Ontarians have died from COVID-19 since January 2020. Adults are being admitted to Children’s hospitals as ICUs are overloaded and all but essential services have been put on hold.
“There’s no other way to put it other than to say that the virus is trying to bring Ontario’s hospitals to their knees,” said Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association.
The ‘third-wave’ of this pandemic has hit Ontario hard but it was preventable.
Back in February, during the previous stay-at-home order, modelling from Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory suggested that lifting public health measures could lead to a drastic increase in hospitalizations and ICU admissions.
A key finding of the modelling was that “sticking with the stay-at-home order will help avoid a third wave and a third lockdown.”
However, encouraged by the lower case numbers at the time, the Ontario government lifted restrictions and as result, Ontario’s COVID cases began to climb again. By the end of March, the number of COVID patients in Ontario was 21 per cent higher than at the start of the last province-wide lockdown in December.
The beginning of disaster
Ontario Premier Doug Ford came under fire for failing to heed warnings that predicted such a scenario but his response was less than favourable.
On April 16th, Ford hastily announced a new lockdown that would grant Ontario Police powers to arbitrarily stop and question anyone who left their home. The order received intense criticism as many argued it would disproportionally impact racialized Ontarians and recent immigrants—many of which are essential workers.
The concern was not unfounded as a 2020 StatCan study showed that over 40 per cent of immigrant workers in Ontario are nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates. Of those workers, 30 per cent are Black, 30 per cent are Filipino and another 25 per cent identify as a visible minority.
As outrage grew, Ford quickly rolled back the order. However, the province still extended police powers to a significant degree.
The new order now permits police to stop and question someone if they have reason to suspect they are participating in an organized public event or social gathering.
“It’s much less than originally proposed,” says Abby Deshman, the director of the criminal justice program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “But the new regulation…still allows police to demand a range of information from people, beyond just their name and address, simply on grounds of suspecting that the person is in violation of the COVID orders.”
Criminologists also note that ticketing people for failing to comply to stay-at-home orders will not greatly reduce the spread of the virus.
Alex Luscombe, a PhD student in the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto, says he is not aware of any criminological research suggesting ticketing is an effective way to deter certain behaviours.
“You only have to look at speeding as one example where ticketing is used as the main form of social control by police,” said Luscombe in a recent interview, “but we don’t necessarily see an end to speeding, do we?”
An alternative solution
Rather than increasing police powers, many health experts question why Ford does not use other more reliable methods to reduce the spread of the virus.
“There are so many things he could have done that would have been helpful for curbing the spread of COVID-19 without being harmful to the racialized Ontarians hit hardest by this pandemic,” said Ontario Liberal Party leader, Steven Del Duca in a statement.
One of those things would be to provide paid sick days to essential workers, many of which are from racialized communities.
Last year alone, there were roughly 2,000 documented instances of workers in Peel Region going to work while knowingly sick and at least 80 worked for one or more days after a positive COVID-19 test result, according to Peel’s public health unit.
Paid sick days would not only incentivize essential workers to stay at home when ill but also reduce the spread of COVID in large enclosed spaces like food-processing plants, factories and warehouses where the virus has been shown to spread.
Last Thursday, Ford tearfully apologized saying, “simply put, we got it wrong. We made a mistake.” He also hinted at possible sick pay for Ontarians but offered no details.
If Ford continues to make ‘mistakes’ going forward, one can only wonder how our province and essential workers will suffer for it.