Racism is a public health issue in Canada—it’s time to speak out
The Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), in collaboration with seven Provincial/Territorial Public Health Associations, are speaking out against racism in Canada.
Unfortunately Canada remains a nation where a person’s colour, religion, culture or ethnic origin are determinants of health that result in inequities in social inclusion, economic outcomes, personal health, and access to and quality of health and social services.
Racism is insidious and affects all aspects of life. Those who experience racism exhibit poorer health outcomes including negative mental health outcomes, negative physical health outcomes, and negative health-related behaviours.
A strikingly egregious example of racist laws, regulations and policies in Canada, however, is our treatment of Indigenous peoples, where the results of racism, colonization, cultural genocide and structural violence include dislocation of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples from their land, culture, spirituality, languages, traditional economies and governance systems, resulting in the erosion of family and social structures.
Enough is enough. CPHA and supporting P/T public health associations are committed to eliminating their own racist processes and to advocating for the elimination of racist and oppressive systems, laws, regulations and policies in Canada’s public institutions and society in general.
We have developed a set of recommendations for all levels of government and governmental agencies as well as for agencies and organizations involved in education, research and the provision of health and social services to address systemic racism in Canada.
Canada should be a country where every person has the ability to reach their full health potential regardless of their colour, religion, culture or ethnic origin. Steps are required by all levels of government, organizations and citizens to identify and take corrective action to eliminate racist behaviours. These actions are neither simple nor easy, but they are essential if Canada is to become the inclusive nation that is embodied in its Constitution.
- Racism is a social construct that has been embedded in institutions for generations, and currently is defined as:
- a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race;
- a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principle or a political or social system founded on racism (structural violence); or
- racial prejudice or discrimination.
- Those who experience racism exhibit poorer health outcomes including negative mental health outcomes, negative physical health outcomes (hypertension, low birth weight, heart disease and diabetes), and negative health-related behaviours (cigarette smoking, alcohol use and substance use).
- There is a significant association between self-assessed poor or fair health and the experience of racism.
- Stigma is a dynamic process of devaluation that significantly discredits an individual in the eyes of others. When stigma is acted upon, the result is discrimination that may take the form of actions and omissions.
“The Canadian Public Health Association recognizes that we are all either overtly or inadvertently racist and that the influence of this racism affects the health of individuals and populations. We must take corrective actions to eliminate racism in all facets of society. With support from seven Provincial/Territorial Public Health Associations, we are taking a first step in this direction through the critical examination of our own policies and practices as well as advocating for change by others.”
Executive Director, Canadian Public Health Association
“The Alberta Public Health Association is pleased to join our public health colleagues across the country in speaking with a unified voice about the need to recognize and eliminate racism, due to its significant – but avoidable – implications for social justice, health and well-being.”
President, Alberta Public Health Association
“Colonization and racism continue to impact the health of Indigenous Peoples in Manitoba, not only from a historical perspective, but in the current, lived experiences of Indigenous Peoples. The Manitoba Public Health Association recognizes the importance of responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 18 beginning with the acknowledgment that the current health status of Indigenous Peoples is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies. Along with the CPHA and other Provincial/Territorial Public Health Associations, we are committed to examining and eliminating our own racist processes, and to advocating for the recognition and elimination of structural racism in Manitoba.”
President, Manitoba Public Health Association
“The Public Health Association of British Columbia is committed to building safe and inclusive communities. We welcome this acknowledgement by CPHA and will work in partnership with all Provincial/Territorial Public Health Associations to create a more equal and just Canada.”
President, Public Health Association of British Columbia
“PHANS believes that public health is the product of a healthy community, a healthy environment, and a healthy economy. We are working towards a society that supports a broad vision of health for Nova Scotians by advocating for health equity and social justice. In order to advance health equity, public health needs to build capacity to understand and challenge racism within public health practice and society, which is why we support the CPHA in this position statement.”
Co-Chair, Public Health Association of Nova Scotia
“Working in public health, we see on a daily basis how strong and resilient First Nations and Métis people are, and how many Indigenous Peoples have been harmed by racism. We are committed to addressing racism, and are in the process of examining how we can best contribute to identifying and eliminating racism, in any form, while working towards reconciliation.”
President, Saskatchewan Public Health Association
The following seven provincial/territorial Public Health Associations support the position statement:
- Alberta Public Health Association
- Manitoba Public Health Association
- Northwest Territories and Nunavut Public Health Association
- Public Health Association of British Columbia
- Public Health Association of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island
- Public Health Association of Nova Scotia
- Saskatchewan Public Health Association