A panel to examine the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on racialized people

The online event on Thursday organized by AMI-Quebec will focus on racism, diversity and mental health.

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The insults and insults hurled at Joyce Echaquan by healthcare workers before the death of the 37-year-old Atikamekw mother in a Joliette hospital last fall opened the eyes of many Quebecers to the existence of racism in the healthcare system. health.


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But for the BIPOC community (Blacks, Aboriginals and other people of color), racism is nothing new. Echaquan’s treatment and death “served to highlight something that members of the BIPOC community have known for years: Systemic racism is real and exists in all facets of Quebec society,” said Renate Betts , Executive Director of the Westhaven Community Center in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

In addition, the BIPOC community has been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, said Betts and the two other panelists who will participate in an online event on Thursday on the relationship between racism, diversity and mental health.

Renate Betts is the Executive Director of the Westhaven Community Center in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.  Photo courtesy of AMI-Québec
Renate Betts is the Executive Director of the Westhaven Community Center in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Photo courtesy of AMI-Québec Courtesy of AMI-Québec

Along with Myrna Lashley, Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University, and Shyam Anandampillai, Psychotherapist and Creative Arts Therapist, Betts will speak about her professional and personal experiences in a presentation and discussion. organized by AMI-Québec and hosted by Sean Henry, host of CBC Daybreak.


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The families served by the Westhaven Community Center are “mostly first and second generation Canadians who struggle to fit in, talk and put food on the table,” Betts said. When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, “we discovered that our families were even more vulnerable than we already thought.

“Families who seemed to be making ends meet were calling us to see if we could help them find food. Parents have told us that their children cannot take their courses online because they do not have a computer or the Internet at home. Children did their homework on their parents’ cell phones because it was the only device they had access to.

While Westhaven’s 10 young community workers – most of them not yet 25 – were called upon to act as “pseudo-social workers” to help families, “none of us were prepared for this. the heavy responsibility of helping adults, the people we normally defer to, find enough food to fill their children’s wombs, ”Betts said.


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Shyam Anandampillai is a psychotherapist and creative arts therapist.  Photo courtesy of AMI-Québec.
Shyam Anandampillai is a psychotherapist and creative arts therapist. Photo courtesy of AMI-Québec. Courtesy of AMI-Québec

Its staff have endured many of the same stressors as health workers, from trying to overcome feelings of hopelessness while struggling to help those served by the center, to fear of being exposed to the virus. But unlike health workers, she said, community workers have not been recognized for their role in keeping their communities healthy.

For Betts, the fact that 80 percent of its staff are from the BIPOC community is a sign of systemic racism.

“Society does not easily open all of its doors to those who do not look like the majority,” she said. “It’s easier for a BIPOC person to get a job in an area that is undervalued, like community work, because not many people care about the work we do and as a result we have seen that the community BIPOC has been hit most severely by the pandemic – precisely because we often work in the lowest paying jobs and receive little support from those in power. “


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McGill’s Lashley, a researcher in the Culture and Mental Health Research Unit at the Lady Davis Institute at the Jewish General Hospital, shares the view that the pandemic has caused disproportionate harm to racialized people.

“Many were relegated to lower paying jobs and many were working two or three jobs, especially in long-term care facilities,” she said. “Not only are you at a greater risk of being exposed to the virus because you are exposed to more people, you also run the risk of passing it on to one or more people and your family.”

Sean Henry, host of CBC Radio Montreal's Daybreak morning show, will be the moderator of the panel.
Sean Henry, host of CBC Radio Montreal’s Daybreak morning show, will be the moderator of the panel. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

For historically marginalized groups in Quebec, including Indigenous people, Blacks, Asians and other racialized people, virtual consultations with mental health professionals during the pandemic have avoided in-person visits to hospitals and CLSCs – places “governed / operated by predominantly white professionals” and places where they did not feel safe, said psychotherapist Anandampillai.


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Despite “a huge increase in the number of BIPOC patients turning to private psychotherapists” for therapy, they still represent a small minority of those who need help – those with the technological know-how, the devices and the finances. Most of the BIPOC population fell through the cracks, he said.

“These people are likely affected by the closure of many in-person programs in hospitals. The real effects of this situation may not be evident for years to come. “

Another barrier to health services for these marginalized populations is the lack of understanding of the symptoms of trauma, which are often mislabeled or misdiagnosed as mental health disorders, Anandampillai said. A deregulated nervous system, for example, “usually caused by unresolved and unfinished stress responses from our past,” can cause people to react in ways that seem inappropriate or disproportionate, he said.


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“I firmly believe that cultural humility training and trauma-informed care is the need of the hour.”


The Edith and John Hans Low-Beer commemorative conference, organized by AMI-Québec, will begin on October 14 at 7 p.m. on Google Meet. Visit amiquebec.org/LB21 for the link. The event will also be broadcast live on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AMIQuebec/.

  1. Studies have shown that the pandemic has disproportionately harmed racialized communities around the world.

    One in 10 young black adults have contracted COVID-19 in Canada: survey

  2. Coroner Géhane Kamel comments on his report on the death of Joyce Echaquan during a press conference in Trois-Rivières on Tuesday, October 5, 2021.

    Systemic Racism is “Exactly What Happened” to Joyce Echaquan, Coroner Says

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