COVID-19 and Warehouse Work: The Making of a Health Crisis in Peel Region

Warehouse worker, 2019. Spencer Davis.

Catherine Carstairs and Ravnit Dhinsa

During COVID-19, thanks to e-commerce and video chats, it was possible for many workers to pick up their laptops and set up their office on the kitchen table. This could be stressful, especially for parents who had children at home, but at least these workers were safe from exposure to COVID-19. The essential workers powering distribution centres, manufacturing plants, and warehouses were not so lucky. These workers made online shopping and quarantine possible for the rest of the country but put their own lives at risk in the process.

Peel region, which was a hotspot for most of the pandemic, is home to thousands of these workers, with warehouses and fulfillment centers studded all over Brampton and Mississauga. Behind the Amazon packages and groceries being delivered to doorsteps are working class people, often immigrants to Canada, struggling to choose between staying safe at home or providing for themselves and their families. Sadly, health risks are nothing new for these workers in this rapidly expanding field, which relies heavily on precarious workers with little ability to fight for their rights. Continue reading

In Racial Solidarity: Historicizing Anti-Asian Racism, Violence, and White Supremacy in Canada

Toronto Solidarity Rally Against Anti-Asian Racism. Author’s photo.

This post by Melanie Ng[1] is part of the “(In)Security in the Time of COVID-19” series. Read the rest of the series here.

Vancouver: On a cold February night in 1887, an anti-Chinese lynch mob  of white men razed a Chinese work camp. Lanterns in hand and singing the U.S. Union army marching song “John Brown’s Body,” the mob set Chinese tents afire, violently beat un-armed Chinese workers, and ran many more off a 20-foot bluff into the Burrard Inlet. W.H. Gallagher, an eyewitness to the scene reported, “The tide was in; they had no choice; and you could hear them going plump, plump, plump, as they jumped into the salt water. Scores of them went over the cliff—McDougall [the camp contractor] was supposed to have two hundred of them up there.”[2]

What, or who, incited the mob with such racial hate? What was the end goal to such violence? And why would an anti-Chinese mob be chanting a famed U.S. Civil War-era abolitionist anthem? What did anti-Chinese racism in Canada have to do with an end to Black chattel slavery in America?

Jumping to the present, in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, anti-Chinese racism in Canada appears more virulent today than what we have seen in recent decades. Continue reading

Tracking Racism in COVID-19

      No Comments on Tracking Racism in COVID-19

This post by Avvy Go is part of the “(In)Security in the Time of COVID-19” series. Read the rest of the series here.

It would be wrong to think of anti-Asian racism in general and anti-Chinese racism in particular, as something that only happens during COVID-19, or that only occurs on an individual level.

Like all forms of racism, anti-Asian racism has a long history in Canada.  It is deeply embedded in our institutions, laws and policies.

Despite their long history in Canada, and their contributions to the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and Canadian society, Chinese Canadians were subjected to over 60 years of legislated racism in the form of the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act and other discriminatory laws. After having been in Canada for over 150 years, Chinese Canadians are still perceived as foreigners.

Even the idea that Chinese brings diseases to Canada is nothing new. This stereotype started long before the coronavirus was known to us. The 1885 Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration described Chinatowns as “hotbed[s] of diseases”. The portrayal of Chinese Canadians and other East Asian Canadians as “yellow peril” resurfaced again in 2003 during the SARS crisis.

Racism is structural and systemic in nature. It is also the toughest to overcome because we Canadians want to think of ourselves as open and welcoming.  We have a hard time accepting the fact that when it comes to racial inequality, we are no better than our neighbours to the south.

Acknowledging systemic racism and understanding what it does and looks like is the first step toward effective advocacy for racial justice and ultimately reconciliation.

COVID-19 exacerbates pre-existing racism and discrimination.  We have all heard about the devastating impact of COVID on migrant workers, and the higher infection rates among certain racialized groups (in particular, amongst Black, Indigenous and South Asian communities). Another area where the pandemic widens racial gaps is in employment.

The Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey released in August, 2020 showed that there have been unprecedented increases in unemployment due to the COVID-19 economic shutdown, particularly among racialized communities. The rates of joblessness are significantly above average for South Asian, Arab, and Black communities. The Report also found that South Asian and Chinese Canadians experienced much higher increases in unemployment from July 2019 to July 2020, compared to other groups.

At the Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (CSALC), we started to see the impact of COVID-19 in January of this year, before Canada had its first reported case of the coronavirus, before WHO declared a global pandemic, and before the COVID-19 was given its name. Continue reading

Racial Prejudice in the Argentine and OAS Archives

Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, arrives in Argentina in 2018. G20 Argentina.

This post, by David Sheinin, is a response to Krista McCracken’s Anti-Racism and Archival Description Work, published on June 7, 2021.

Krista McCracken makes excellent, compelling points in “Anti-Racism and Archival Description Work.” In addition to supporting what they outlined in their post, I offer two cases drawn from my own research that demonstrate the importance of the racist archival record to understanding racism, past and present. Continue reading

#PandemicMethodologies Twitter Conference Programme

For many people the last year and a half has been a time of crisis. Academics have adapted research goals and timelines (when they’ve been able to), abandoned projects, shifted focus, been forced to put research on the back burner as other priorities in their lives have demanded attention.

The upcoming Pandemic Methodologies Twitter Conference started with a seemingly simple question: What has historical research looked like during the COVID-19 pandemic? Perhaps more importantly, what has it felt like? And how has it looked and felt differently for different historians at different stages in their careers, in relationship with different communities? As the joke goes: It’s complicated.

Conference Programme/ Programme du conference
@PMTC2021 / #PandemicMethodologies

June 24-25, 2021
Schedule in Edmonton/MDT

*indicates presenter for a group.
Sponsored by the Canadian Historical Association (CHA)

Thursday June 24, 2021

10:00: Jacob Steere-Williams (@steerewilliams), “Pandemic Public(s): At the Intersections of Public Health and Public History”

10:30: Esyllt Jones (@panhist), “Public Health History and Pandemic Policy-Making”

11:00: BREAK 

11:30: Crystal Gail Fraser (@crystalfraser), “Thinking through Indigenous Archives & the Interpretation of History in Canada”

12:00: Peter Fortna* and Sabina Trimble (@willowspringsss), “Testing Different Paths: Oral History, Ceremony, and Reimagining Histories during a Pandemic” Continue reading

History Slam 184: The Past & Present of Strathcona Park

By Sean Graham

Located on Vancouver Island, Strathcona Provincial Park was established in 1911 by the British Columbia government. Covering 250,000 hectares, the park’s architects had an initial vision of it drawing tourists escaping the stress of modern urban living. Using Banff as a model, there were discussions of how to best create an appealing natural setting that wasn’t too natural – there were concerns that the area had too many cougars for tourists, so they culled the cougar population. At the same time, the park was seen a valuable site for resource extraction and efforts to conserve the space were viewed by some industries as disruptive to their business.

Over the park’s 110 years it has continued to be a site of tension between preservation and resource extraction. These debates are just part of Catherine Marie Gilbert’s wonderful new survey of the park. Covering the park’s evolution, the book wonderfully takes the reader through its various stages of development, from a site for relaxation to a site of extraction to a site for recreation. A story of Strathcona, the book places the story within a wider national context of park development, most notably the lack of consultation with Indigenous communities.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Catherine Marie Gilbert, author of A Journey Back to Nature: A History of Strathcona National Park. We talk about the discovery of new photos of the park, how they were useful in writing the book, and the initial idea of Strathcona as ‘Banff West.’ We also chat about tourism as natural exploitation, the national resources in the park, and Strathcona (and parks in general) as part of Canada’s colonial project.

Continue reading

The 1946 Windsor Park Patrol Campaign Against Queer Men

17 members of the Parks Department after taking the oath as auxiliary constables. Windsor Daily Star, 10 Sep 1946.

Walter T. Cassidy

In a webpage dedicated to the history of its Auxiliary Service, the Windsor Police force presents the story of the “Windsor Slasher,” responsible for a series of violent attacks in the city between 1945 and 1946. The story explains that deaths resulting from the series of attacks led directly to the formation of the Auxiliary Service when “in September 1946 the first group of volunteers to assist the Windsor Police were formed from Parks & Recreation personnel.” Two key historical facts, however, are missing from this story. The first relates to the identity of the victims. While the story describes the Windsor Slasher as a “Jack-the Ripper style killer,” the killer in fact targeted queer men, attacking five and killing two, in Windsor’s riverside parks over two summers. Second, the story leaves out that the main targets of the new Auxiliary Service patrols were also queer men. The result is the whitewashing of a traumatic period in the history of Windsor’s queer communities.

The Windsor Slasher has been written about a few times. The most extensive researched work was done by Patrick Brode. Brode’s book is thorough and well written but authored from a straight lens. One aspect that has not been touched on, and which had one of the largest repercussions for men who have sex with men, was the creation of the “War Against Sex Crimes” campaign. Continue reading

Lessons Learned from Twelve Months of COVID-19 Data Activism in Canada

This post by Alex Luscombe and Alexander McClelland is part of the “(In)Security in the Time of COVID-19” series. Read the rest of the series here.

In the fall of 2019, the world saw the emergence and global spread of a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) capable of causing acute respiratory syndrome (COVID-19) in humans. First appearing in Wuhan, China, COVID-19 quickly spread around the world, eventually reaching Canada. As scientists began work on a vaccine, governments sought ways of slowing the spread of the virus through emergency legal interventions, including travel bans, school shutdowns, and mandatory closures of non-essential businesses. Additionally, governments across Canada sought ways of enforcing these restrictions, granting a range of new COVID-19 related powers to police and bylaw officers nationwide.

In direct response to the announcements from Canadian government officials that police and bylaw officers would be fining, arresting, and potentially jailing Canadians for allegedly violating the new emergency orders, we launched the Policing the Pandemic Mapping Project (PPMP) in April 2020. Continue reading

(In)Security in the Time of COVID-19: New Histories of Human Vulnerability, Community Resilience, and the Struggle for Social Justice

Artwork by: Tobias Merlo.

This post introduces “(In)Security in the Time of COVID-19,” a ten-part blog series that will be featured on over the next six weeks. Visit the series page here.

We are the (In)Security Working Group, a collective of historians based at the University of Toronto committed to developing a rigorous and critical analysis of the ways in which security regimes impact people’s lives.

We understand “security” as a set of police practices that states mobilize to protect property under the guise of keeping people safe. Historically, these governmental techniques designed to foster a healthy population and to ensure capital accumulation have also produced precarity, exploitation, and skewed life chances among “undesirable” populations. Security regimes thus render Black and Indigenous; LGBTQ2+; mentally or physically disabled; undomiciled or precariously housed; undocumented; and poor people vulnerable to premature death despite their stated objective of fostering life. Policing practices that ostensibly keep people (and property) safe and frequently culminate in the disproportionate arrest, assault, and execution of black people are one example of the Janus-faced nature of security. Yet, even seemingly benign professions like social work and governmental agencies like public health play increasingly important roles in contemporary security regimes that underpin what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls “organized social abandonment” in the age of austerity.  Prioritizing property and profit over people leaves too many people vulnerable to the direct and indirect violence of market forces. Our collective believes that alternative ways of keeping people safe exist. Indeed, the very same communities abandoned and targeted for injury and death are often the birthplaces of innovative strategies for survival and harm reduction.

The (In)Security working group was created during a state of emergency. Continue reading

Lessons From a Not-so Distant Pandemic: The H1N1 Pandemic and Indigenous Disparities

Indigenous pharmacist Dr. Jaris Swidrovich preparing to administer vaccines at the Saskatoon Tribal Council’s clinic.

Curtis Fraser

Over 80% of Indigenous adults have now received their first vaccination against COVID-19, compared to 57% of the Canadian population as a whole. Active COVID-19 cases among Indigenous peoples peaked in January of 2021, but have since dropped by 85%, thanks to the successes of the vaccination campaign. While the number of cases among Indigenous people is likely undercounted, as Courtney Skye showed in a Yellowhead Institute report, Indigenous activism is resulting in improved health outcomes for Indigenous peoples, although much work remains to be done. Canada’s health care system continues to struggle with systematic racism as we have seen recently in the case of Joyce Echaquan, the forced sterilization of Indigenous women in Saskatoon, and widespread discriminatory practices within British Columbian health care against Indigenous patients.

The most recent epidemic was that of H1N1. For Canada as a whole, the history of H1N1 is seen as a success story – the epidemic was not nearly as severe as was initially feared. There were fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths in many regions from H1N1 than during a regular flu season. But this was not the case for Indigenous peoples. In 2009, Indigenous peoples made up roughly 4% of the Canadian population, but they accounted for 25.6% of those who became critically ill.

The H1N1 deaths in Indigenous communities cannot be blamed on the virus.  The Federal government badly mismanaged the epidemic. Continue reading