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Alliance for Healthier Communities

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Dear Executive Leaders,

 Below you’ll find the text of a statement the Alliance released today addressing equity in protesting, which grew out of discussions at the Alliance Board meeting earlier this week.

 The statement is posted here in English and French on the Alliance’s website for you to share via your e-bulletins and social channels.

 Systemic Racism Impacts Who Gets to Demonstrate Safely: Our Statement On Protesting Through An Equity Lens

“Everyone has the … freedom of peaceful assembly” in Canada, as enshrined in section 2, part c, of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Combined with the freedoms guaranteed under section 2 (b), freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, this means that everyone in Canada is entitled to gather with like-minded people to voice their opinions — a right to demonstrate and to protest. But these are not rights that in practice are afforded and defended equitably for all people in Canada, as is now on full display with the self-named “freedom convoy” protests in Ottawa and elsewhere.

In recent days and weeks, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, as well as many media commentators in health care, have commented about the need for a considered, responsible and thoughtful national conversation about next steps in Canada’s pandemic response. What’s also become clear in the last several weeks, however, is that Canada’s institutions, police, political leaders and mainstream culture still work to uphold a status quo of inequitable discourse and inequitable access to the ability to protest safely and without fear.

The events and actions of demonstrations in Ottawa, Toronto and near border crossings in Alberta and now Windsor, reveal to all Canadians the white supremacy, violence and entitled privilege that underpin so-called rallying cries to “freedom”. The tactics employed by these groups – including disrupting, harassing and intimidating communities and health providers — are enabled by institutions, laws and law enforcement agencies that address demonstrations and the citizens involved in them by different sets of rules, depending on who the protestors are.

This double-standard was laid bare when the police chief in Ottawa said last week: “There may not be a police solution to this demonstration.” It was also made obvious in the initial messaging of the police force to people attending demonstrations the last weekend in January, with social media posts that assured people that their rights to assemble publicly and speak out would be respected, and even guidance on avoiding gridlock to attend the events. Feeling welcomed to public areas to protest and raise their voices isn’t a privilege afforded to racialized, Indigenous and other marginalized protestors in this way.

This double-standard for protestors isn’t isolated to recent events. Indigenous land defenders and activists are met with violence and arrest, for example, and Indigenous land defenders face charges for engaging in peaceful protest. Meanwhile, police aren’t doing enough when the third-largest city in Ontario is brought to a standstill, with community members subjected to harassment for more than a week. This double-standard is a blatant example of systemic racism upholding white supremacy.

 Toleration of these demonstrations and their associated bursts of racism and violence will lead to the further silencing of voices of people marginalized by the pandemic and racism itself. Ensuring that differing views can be expressed transparently and safely, without fear of violence from others or the government, is a fundamental principle of healthy democracy. It’s a principle that Canada’s institutions and leaders must make available in practice to all – not just those who can block our streets, honk the loudest, and co-opt our laws and law enforcement agencies into preferred treatment.

 Wednesday, February 9, 2022

 Thanks,

Sarah

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