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Ontario’s Health Care System needs to improve

By: Humera Inam

The people of Ontario do not have equitable access to proper health care. Long-term care beds are not always available for patients who need urgent services. Public funding is not being spent in a way that improves the overall physical health, mental health, and well-being of Ontarians. 

Everyday thousands of people receive high-quality medical services in Ontario. Unfortunately, at the same time, many Ontarians do not have proper, timely and appropriate access to clinically essential health care.

According to the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario, almost all health care program areas have seen increased funding in the last five year. The most significant increase in funding have been for Ontario drug programs, hospitals, long-term care homes and community programs”.

Despite these increases in funding, Ontario’s Health System is facing several challenges. One of the biggest problems is overcrowding in emergency rooms. According to Hallway Health care report, 41% of Ontarians who visited an emergency room, and 93% who went to a walk-in clinic, were seen for conditions that could have been treated by their family doctor.

There are problems with wait times: patients who are admitted to emergency rooms wait an average of 16 hours in the ER before getting a hospital bed. Patients’ conditions become worse while waiting for a bed.

  • Lack of access to proper health services, supervision and follow-up causes enormous stress to patients and their caregivers.
  • Patients with mental health and addiction services are often denied support when it is urgently required. 
  • Overcrowding in emergency rooms increases during flu season. However, about 3,000 beds are used by patients who are discharged from the hospitals but still wait for an alternative level of care, such as a long-term care space, or arrangements for home care. But home care and community-based health care currently doesn’t meet the health needs of the Ontarians.  

To overcome these challenges, the government should more focus on digital health and virtual appointment system. Patients who visit their family physicians in-person for a routine check-up or follow-up should be encouraged to use a virtual platform instead. The government should hire more doctors, nurses and staff, and provide more beds in those hospitals where the capacity challenges are greatest.  The government should update the rules over access to long-term care beds to ensure these beds are available for patients who are in urgent need of services.  Ontarians must be engaged in the planning and decision-making processes.

The government should also include private payers as a major stakeholder in an ongoing discussion about health care issues to improve the quality of the health care system.

A World with no Hunger

By Salma Bangash

Imagine a world exclusive of hunger, without anyone having to worry about starvation. How would that have affected your life choices and your situations?

Have you ever stayed hungry all day and went to sleep with no food in your belly?

According to a report published by the Daily Bread Food Bank , 20% of residents of Toronto, the most populated city in Canada, do that often. One out of three children has to deal with hunger almost every day, affecting their growth, study, behavior, and future.  Famine is no joke, and amidst a pandemic, it’s even more severe of an issue.

On top of everything, the pandemic has made lives much harder for the food insecure population. In early March, Covid-19 hit, and no one was prepared for this situation, so everyone dealt with it in their way in every country. Governments worldwide had to shut down businesses and impose strict lockdowns to contain the virus, resulting in lost jobs and layoffs.

Uncertainty created panic among ordinary people, and most started stocking up on necessities in fear of never-ending lockdowns. And while some people were stocking up on toilet paper, others didn’t know where their next meal would come from. Additionally, as has been widely documented across the country, food hoarding left low-income families who could not afford to buy in bulk at an extreme disadvantage when they found empty shelves at grocery stores.

The closure of businesses, lost jobs, and Covid-19 related sickness has overwhelmed Canada’s food banks. In April, the food bank reported a surge in new clients at the start of the pandemic, with weekly food deliveries increasing by 121 percent. In Waterloo Region alone, between March 16 – June 26, there was a 30 percent increase in the number of new households accessing food assistance compared to last year.  

Canada’s government has responded with 100 million dollars to food banks and other community services to eradicate poverty. Additionally, the Canada Emergency Response benefit was provided for people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Canada Emergency Student Benefit was another support for University students who could not look for or find a job due to Covid-19 and closed businesses. Other benefits included the Canada recovery plan, Canada The Canada recovery sickness benefit, and The Canada recovery caregiving benefit.

Canada had a comprehensive response to the pandemic as it implemented many diverse and timely plans for many different demographics, which helped during the pandemic. The programs implemented were also continuously improved and updated and had a much smaller margin of error.

It’s a fact that our government has offered many benefits to people in various situations; however, it hasn’t proven enough.

A recent survey conducted by Dalhousie University has indicated that food insecurity among Canadians is becoming alarming. The survey also suggests that 55% of Canadians are concerned about food security and must choose between paying rent or buying groceries.

The emergency support response to COVID-19 seems insufficient to feed the starving Canadians in this challenging time. We all know that hunger deteriorates the immune system, and the COVID-19 virus can forage freely on weak immune systems.

To meet the UNs goal of ‘zero hunger’, its essential to meet the other goal of ‘no poverty’. And the bridge between the two goals is a strong welfare system. However, the welfare system currently in place in Canada is a minimal effort to treat poor people like human beings. And even though many organizations in Canada are continually working to eliminate poverty, and the government is pitching in regularly, many people question if these efforts are enough or dignified?  Is a Universal pay or insurance a logical solution?

In the end, all this funding is essential and encouraging; however, keep in mind this will not be the world’s last global pandemic, and there are always other shocks to manage. To better prepare for future crises, governments should take this as a learning opportunity to invest in structural changes to reduce persistent inequities in food access due to poverty, health outcomes, decent work, and overall wellbeing

Emergency Response should be a routine response for every country. Only then can we imagine a world with no hunger.

Bill 21: Quebec’s Totalitarian Law Against Religious Freedom

By: Sabaahat Iqbal

Is Quebec’s Bill 21 really about neutralizing religious symbols in a workplace or is it taking away the human rights of Quebecers?

On June 16, 2019, Quebec passed Bill No. 21, which prohibits the display of religious symbols by public-sector workers in the workplace. This means; Muslim women cannot wear hijabs or niqabs, Jewish men cannot wear kippahs, Sikhs cannot wear turbans, and Christians cannot wear crosses, at work. 

This bill was the government’s fourth attempt in ten years to introduce religious neutrality to the province. Bill 21 is based on four principles:

1. the separation of state and religions,

2. religious neutrality of the state,

3. equality of all citizens, and

4. freedom of conscience and religion.

Though the government tried to put the bill in place as a positive outcome to the citizens of Quebec, many believe it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom

Is it a Violation of the Charter?

The bill has been criticized as religious discrimination among many people in the province of Quebec and Canada as a whole. It violates Canada’s Freedom of Religion under section 2(a) in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

This bill not only targets religious women, but it is legislating gender discrimination against these women. Not allowing women to dress in accordance with their religious beliefs directly conflicts with the assurances of Freedom of Religion in the Charter. 

Taking Away Their Rights to Express Themselves

Religious minorities already face obstacles on a daily basis when looking for stable employment.  This bill takes away their right to express their religious beliefs. I understand the reasoning in neutralizing religious symbols in the workplaces of the provincial government, but this bill makes people choose between their religious views and their career. 

Quebecer Nour Farhat, who wears a hijab, summed up the situation: “It really shut all my doors. Five months ago, I would have told you ‘I’m a future Crown attorney.’ I was so sure of my path. And now I’m like, OK maybe I’ll become an expert in insurance law?”

Many people are considering moving out of the province and starting fresh in a place where they can freely express their religious beliefs.

Covid-19 Face Coverings vs. Religious Face Coverings

Many believe that this bill is targeting Muslim women specifically. Particularly because of the rules related to face coverings, which bars a niqab-wearing woman from accessing public services. However, this begs a bigger question: what is the difference between Covid-19 face coverings vs. religious face coverings?

With the rise of COVID, face masks are mandatory in work environments for public authorities.

Canada’s Chief Public Health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, suggested people to wear non-medical face mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Yet wearing a niqab, because it represents a religious symbol, is prohibited under the bill. For instance, upon arrival at a hospital, COVID-19 patients entering the emergency department are given a face mask and asked to keep it on. A woman wearing a niqab entering the emergency department, will be required by law to remove it before receiving any health-care services.

On April 9 of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected an appeal filed by civil rights groups to suspend parts of Bill 21. The Premier of Quebec, François Legault praised the decision not to move forward with the appeal.  At the same time, public health persistently compels people to wear face masks for health and safety reasons. This has raised serious concerns about the arguments and motives behind Bill 21.

What’s Next?

Many people across the province are struggling to figure out what they should do next. Quebec is home to many people. It is where they grew up or came for fresh beginnings. But now, they are frustrated and confused because they have to choose between their religious practices and their career paths.