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An open letter to Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Robert Strang

As Black scholars, community members, and allied academics and health professionals across the country, we are writing in support of Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, the James Robinson Johnston Chair (Chair) in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University. 

We are also writing to issue a clarion call in support of the need for disaggregated racial data collection during the COVID-19 pandemic.  As Chair, Dr. Dryden’s expertise and leadership in the field of health is crucial during this pandemic. Evidence emerging from the United States, indicates that Black people are disproportionately infected by and dying from COVID-19. Simply, we know that race is a social determinant of health throughout Canada, and COVID-19 will amplify the disparities in health and care that Black people have historically faced in the province. 

Dr. Dryden’s call for disaggregated race-based data in Canada and Nova Scotia must be heeded by government and health officials moving forward as part of an equitable health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other organizers and political leaders in Canada who have called for the collection of race-based data include the Alliance for Healthier Communities, Wellesley Institute, and Andrea Horwath. We also remind the provincial government that Section 3 of the recommendations in the Wortley Report (2019) dealt extensively with the necessity of government institutions to gather disaggregated racial data in order to facilitate evaluations of policy effectiveness, transparency, and accountability to the public. 

Along with Dr. Dryden, we also strongly condemn the April 7, 2020 comments by Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Robert Strang in singling out the communities of North Preston, East Preston, Cherry Brook, and Lake Loon in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. We know that these comments have greatly increased stigma and heightened racism against African Nova Scotian communities, and further, that they form an obstacle to providing equitable health access for Black communities. Together, we applaud the public stance Dr. Dryden has taken in identifying the impacts of anti-Black racism on disparate health outcomes. Her expertise in this area, drawn from her history of academic research, marks an important intervention into public health discourse at this historic moment.

The role of the James Robinson Johnston Chair is not only an academic one, but also a public one intended to “create a bridge between the academy and the wider African-descended communities.” In these unprecedented times, Dr. Dryden has played a significant role both locally and nationally in amplifying the concerns of the wider community, including those most marginalized, and performing the role of public intellectual in numerous articles, media stories, webinars, and other educational forums. These efforts have been important in identifying and challenging the impacts of structural anti-Blackness in society. We understand that due to these interventions, Dr. Dryden has recently faced racial attacks and increased harassment for speaking out about racial disparities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We call upon Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Robert Strang, as well as all Nova Scotia public health officials, to recognize how anti-Black racism negatively affects the health of our communities. We call upon you to strongly and publicly condemn attacks on Dr. Dryden. We also call upon you to avoid negatively singling out Black communities in the context of COVID-19. 

Finally, we urge government and health leaders to follow the recommendations of Dr. Dryden and other experts in the field of healthcare to gather disaggregated racial data, and to immediately create a proactive health plan for African Nova Scotian and Black communities. We are not surprised by the racism directed at those who take a public stance against anti-Blackness, but we will continue to speak out loudly against such attacks, as well as the silence by our elected officials that allows anti-Black harassment to thrive. 

Signed, 

Rachel Zellars, Assistant Professor, Saint Mary’s University

El Jones, Community Organizer and Lecturer, Saint Mary’s University

Barbara Ann Hamilton Hinch, Assistant Professor, Dalhousie University

Issac Saney, Director & University Teaching Fellow Transition Year Program, Dalhousie University 

Asha Jeffers, Assistant Professor, Dalhousie University

Chike Jeffers, Associate Professor, Dalhousie University

Claudine Bonner, Associate Professor, Acadia University and Treasurer of Black Canadian Studies Association

Susan (Susie) M. Brigham, Professor, Mount Saint Vincent University

Lynn Jones, Community Organizer and Founder, Lynn Jones African Canadian and Diaspora Heritage Collection  

Women’s Wellness Within

Val Marie Johnson, Associate Professor, Saint Mary’s University

Benita Bunjun, Associate Professor, Saint Mary’s University

Department of Social Justice & Community Studies, Saint Mary’s University

Beverly Bain, University of Toronto

Sailaja Krishnamurti, Saint Mary’s University

Sunera Thobani, Professor, University of British Columbia

Sobia Shaheen Shaikh, Assistant Professor, Memorial University

Nanky Rai, MD MPH CCFP, Family Physician, Health Equity Researcher and Educator, Toronto, ON

Leah Genge, MD, Family Physician and Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, Dalhousie University

Tommy Brothers, MD, Resident Physician, Dalhousie University

Madeleine Verhovsek, MD FRCPC, Associate Professor, McMaster University

East Coast Prison Justice Society 

Funké Aladejebi, Assistant Professor, University of New Brunswick

Ewurabena Simpson, MD, MPH, FRCPC, Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa

Ruth Rodney, RN, PhD, Assistant Professor, York University 

Sheila Wildeman, Schulich School of Law

Adelina Iftene, Schulich School of Law

Elaine Craig, Schulich School of Law

Olabisi Akinkugbe, Schulich School of Law

Maria Dugas, Schulich School of Law 

Michelle Williams, Director, Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq Initiative, Schulich School of Law

Aldo Chircop, Schulich School of Law

Sara Seck, Schulich School of Law

Jocelyn Downie, Schulich School of Law

Matthew Herder, Schulich School of Law

Mariana Prandini Fraga Assis, Postdoctoral Fellow, Schulich School of Law

Joanna Erdman, Schulich School of Law

Bernard Burgesson, MD, Orthopaedic Surgery Resident, Dalhousie Orthopaedics

Tim Holland, MD, Dalhousie University

Robin Cameron, Professor, McMaster University

Juliet Daniel, Professor, McMaster University

Honor Ford Smith, Associate Professor, York University

Darryl Leroux, Associate Professor, Saint Mary’s University

Naiomi Metallic, Schulich School of Law

San Patten, San Patten and Associates, Inc.

Henry Annan, MD, Paediatrics Résident, IWK Health Centre

Naheed Dosani, MD, Founder and lead physician – Palliative Education And Care for the Homeless (PEACH), Inner City Health Associates, Assistant Clinical Professor, Division of Palliative Care, Department of Family Medicine, McMaster University

Amina Jabbar, MD, Geriatrician, Seniors’ Health Services, Trillium Health Partners

John David Neary, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, McMaster University

Cindy Ochieng, MD (Dalhousie University), MPH McMaster University Resident Physician in Public Health and Preventive Medicine including Family Medicine

Justin M. Pyne, MD, Resident, PGY-2, University of Alberta

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