Toronto doctor vows to keep speaking out for paid sick days after racist backlash online

Dr. Amanpreet Brar has been an outspoken advocate of paid sick leave for essential workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. After recalling her own experience working in a factory as a newcomer to Canada on CBC News Network, she received a flurry of racist messages online.

Dr. Amanpreet Brar was a target of online hate after appearing on CBC News Network

Dr. Amanpreet received a series of racist messages online following an interview on CBC News Network this week in which she pushed for paid sick days for essential workers. (CBC News Network)

A Toronto doctor says she will continue to advocate for paid sick days for essential workers and an end to what she calls "inequitable policies impacting low-income workers, immigrants, and racialized groups," despite receiving a stream of racist comments after a CBC News Network appearance.

On Monday, Dr. Amanpreet Brar, 30, a general surgery resident at the University of Toronto, spoke on the CBC's national all-news TV network about her time as a temporary worker in factories starting in 2008. She did not have access to paid sick leave at the time.

"As a new immigrant in Canada, I really had no job security," she explained to host Natasha Fatah. 

"I had no paid sick leave," she said, adding she was reluctant to be in the company's "bad books" by calling in sick, "particularly while struggling financially."  

Brar is one of many advocates calling on Ontario to bring in paid sick days so essential workers can stay home when they're ill and limit the spread of COVID-19. It's something the government of Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly refused to implement — including this week when it declared a state of emergency and issued another stay-at-home order in the face of surging cases and increasingly crowded intensive care units.

Racist comments 'scary,' but not 'too shocking,' Brar says

Within 24 hours of her CBC interview, Brar says she received a stream of racist comments on her social media accounts, including her private Facebook account. She shared them on Twitter.

"Brampton Toronto being flooded by you people, this use(d) to be a great country but you made sure to ruin that," one post reads.

"I didn't know they allowed ISIS on [CBC] for screen time, now I know what station not to watch," reads another.

"It's scary when it happens to you personally, especially when you feel personally targeted," Brar told CBC Toronto about her reaction to seeing the comments.

"But at the same time it wasn't too shocking because I had heard it was happening to other physicians, and other persons of colour, perhaps other community advocates as well," she added.

"I wanted to take that moment and shed light on this," Brar said, adding that she's hoping it will prevent others from facing something similar. 

Brar shared on Twitter this week some of the racist comments she received after giving an interview calling for paid sick days for essential workers - many of whom are newcomers and are part of racialized communities. (Twitter)

'Significant increase' in online attacks on physicians

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) calls the remarks inexcusable.

"Physicians are working the front line between the population and COVID-19," said Dr. Samantha Hill, the OMA president.

"To be bullied and the subject of racially discriminatory remarks like that ...  frankly, I thought Ontarians are better than that," Hill told CBC Toronto.

The association said it has seen a "significant increase" in online bullying and discriminatory remarks against physicians over the last year.

"It's a real slap in the face, not just for the years of training and expertise physicians bring to the table, but also what has been for the most part, very selfless dedication to their patients over the course of the last year," Hill said.

Hill said the OMA stands behind Brar and others like her.

"It's essential for physicians to continue to speak out and it's essential for them to feel safe enough to do so," she said.

An Ontario Medical Association advertisement is pictured on an Astral media bus shelter that reads: 'Vaccines. Ask your doctor. Not the internet.' (Paul Smith/CBC)

Essential workers are "the unsung pandemic heroes," she added..

They are people whose work is essential, but their lives and health are "sometimes considered not so essential," Hill continued. 

"It's almost a systemic, racial justice issue," she said.

"We know that these precarious sectors are mostly new immigrants, as well as racialized groups."

Federal sick pay program not enough, Brar says

Ford's government opted not to introduce paid sick days despite repeated calls from experts, including the medical officers of health from Toronto, Peel and Ottawa.

"There's paid sick leave from the federal government," Ford said Wednesday as he announced the stay-at-home order. He accused those calling for his government to ensure paid sick days of "playing politics," before repeatedly urging people to use a federal program called the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB).

The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last fall introduced the CRSB, which provides $500 per week for up to two weeks to eligible workers. Critics say the program provides less money than a full-time, minimum-wage salary, involves processing delays of up to four weeks, and doesn't guarantee job security for workers who use it. 

Brar agrees the federal program isn't enough.

"Workers can't afford to walk on eggshells to see if they would be eligible or not [when they're] already struggling."

It's why she says the online racist comments won't stop her from speaking out and instead, have bolstered her commitment.

"Thank you for fuelling my advocacy further," she posted on Twitter. 


Natalie Kalata

Senior Reporter, CBC News

Natalie is an award-winning senior reporter for CBC News Network and CBC The National specializing in breaking news. Whether it's a terror attack or a royal tour, she brings the stories to you. Natalie lives in Toronto with her husband and family.

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