Hamilton anti-racism advocates concerned about how stay-at-home order will be enforced

Anti-racism advocates are concerned about how the city, police and the province will enforce its 28-day stay-at-home order.

Hamilton Public Health Services is reporting 103 new cases and 3 new deaths on Thursday

An expert on critical race theory and a Black community leader in Hamilton say enforcement of the stay-at-home order could disproportionately impact the city's people of colour. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

Hamilton anti-racism advocates are concerned about how the city, police and the province will enforce its 28-day stay-at-home order.

Sarah Jama, who leads local defund police demonstrations in the city, said it will lead to further criminalization of people in poverty and people of colour.

"Black people and poor people will face the brunt of what it means to be stopped during the pandemic," she said in a phone call on Thursday morning.

"I'm not sure what that's going to look like, but it's something we're going to keep an eye on."

But the city and police both say there won't be arbitrary stops.

Until late Wednesday, there was confusion about how the order would be enforced.

The order says residents are required to stay at home except for the following reasons:

  • Work, school and child care.
  • Obtaining goods and services that the government deems necessary. Goods include groceries while services include health care and financial services. This section also includes doing curbside pickup.
  • Assisting others.
  • Health, safety and legal purposes, including exercise.
  • Travelling to another residence or moving.
  • Travel to an airport, bus or train station for the purpose of travelling outside of Ontario.
  • Gathering for a wedding, funeral or religious service, rite or ceremony allowed under the Stage 1 framework.
  • Obtaining goods and services necessary for the health and safety of animals.

The order doesn't apply to people who are homeless.

The province also announced Thursday roughly 50 ministry inspectors, as well as local bylaw and police officers, will visit big-box stores in Toronto, Hamilton, Peel, York and Durham starting this weekend to ensure people are wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and following other health and safety measures.

"If these conditions are not met, I will not hesitate to shut down any big-box store anywhere in this province," labour minister Monte McNaughton said.

Inspectors also have the power to temporarily close locations and disperse groups of more than five people, he said.

Public health stopped collecting race-based data

Ameil Joseph, a McMaster University associate professor who studies critical race theory, said he remains concerned because public health recently stopped collecting data to show who is most affected by COVID-19.

Public health said it couldn't continue to keep up as infections persist. Previous data revealed the most likely person to get COVID-19 in Hamilton is a health-care worker or a woman of colour who lives with between two and five people in low-income housing. Another report showed lower income residents and a disproportionately larger number of people of colour work unstable jobs with low wages or face discrimination.

"We're deciding that we shouldn't or are no longer collecting data on how COVID is affecting groups based on social demographics, who they are, identity, income, geographic location ... some of that is still being collected. To decide that one is unnecessary is an example of systemic discrimination, specifically systemic racism when we're not collecting race-based data."

When public health released its last report, it recommended advocating for basic income principles and public policy to protect seniors and low-wage frontline workers.

He, like Jama, also believes the enforcement will disproportionately affect people of colour.

The city of Hamilton and local police do not track race-based data for bylaw charges or provincial offence notices. 

City spokesperson Michelle Williams said the municipal law enforcement team and its officers use discretion when they investigate and the primary focus is to make sure provincial regulations and city bylaw are being followed.

Jackie Penman, a spokesperson for Hamilton Police Service, said police are working with bylaw where necessary and are collaborating.

"Please note, there are provisions under the legislation to prevent arbitrary stops by law enforcement. Notwithstanding, police have been encouraged to make reasonable inquiries to determine if individuals are in compliance with the orders," she wrote in an email.

Joseph said the province should have included benefits like paid sick leave and other services or fight disinformation and try other public health campaigns, instead of adding more enforcement.

Slight signs of improvement in Hamilton

Hamilton Public Health Services is reporting 103 new cases and three new deaths as the province starts its stay-at-home order, which included an emergency alert on Thursday morning.

"Only leave home for essential purposes such as food, healthcare, exercise or work. It's the law. Stay home, stay safe, save lives," the alert, sent shortly after 10 a.m. ET, read.

The solicitor general's office said the alert was sent to all cell networks in the province, as well as broadcast on television and radio.

The province issued an emergency alert about its stay-at-home order. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton has seen a total of 7,823 cases of COVID-19 (confirmed and probable), according to the city website. Of those, 1,038 are active. The data shows two people who died were in their 70s, and one person was 80 or older.

Exposure data from the last 10 days shows almost half of cases have come from close contact with others. More than one in three cases are community acquired and just over one in six cases are linked to outbreaks. Hamilton hospitals say they are caring for 108 COVID-19 patients. There are 35 outbreaks, with the latest being at Alexander Place long-term care home and Christian Horizons, a faith-based non-profit.

But the city is showing some signs of improvement.

The last two days have seen the number of active cases fall as the number of resolved cases, now at 6,307, climbs. The weekly rate of new cases per 100,000 people also dropped from 148 cases to 143.

There's no word on how many more people received the COVID-19 vaccine.

54 vaccinations administered in Brant

The county of Brant has had 54 people receive the COVID-19 vaccine according to the Brant County Public Health Unit.

The data also shows there were 34 new cases of the virus, bringing the total to 1,216. To put that into perspective, almost a month ago, on Dec. 16, Brant had eight new cases and 681 total cases.

There are 157 active cases, two people in hospital and 1,053 resolved cases.

Six people have died.

More hospital outbreaks in Niagara

Niagara Health declared COVID-19 outbreaks on the sixth floor unit at the Welland Site and Unit 2A at the St. Catharines site.

The outbreaks were declared after three patients on St. Catharines Unit 2A and 11 patients on the Welland Sixth Floor Unit tested positive for COVID-19. All of the cases are healthcare associated.

Meanwhile, the facility-wide outbreak at the Niagara Falls site is over.

The Niagara region has had 142 people vaccinated so far, according to Niagara Region Public Health.

There were 136 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 6,110 since the start of the pandemic. Of those 1,538 are active and 4,364 are resolved. There were three more deaths bringing the total to 208,

The data shows it will take 19 days for the case count to double at their current rate.

13 new cases in Haldimand-Norfolk

There are 13 new known COVID-19 cases in Haldimand and Norfolk counties.

There have been 1,151 confirmed cases since March, including 163 that are active and 947 that are resolved.

Thirty-six people who had COVID-19 have died.

1 new death in Halton

Halton public health saw 65 new cases and one new death on Wednesday. There are 557 active cases and have been 7,284 cumulative cases. There have also been 6,590 resolved cases and 137 deaths.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.