OTTAWA -- Ottawa's Board of Health voted unanimously to recognize racism as a public health issue in Ottawa.

Councillor Shawn Menard shared a copy of a motion on Twitter that was later presented during Monday's Board of Health meeting. Menard tells CTV News Ottawa that the general motion was worked on with Chair Keith Egli and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches.

The motion states, "Racism, discrimination and stigma are associated with poorer physical, mental and emotional health and greater mortality, making anti-Black racism and racism against minorities an important public health issue."

"Public health has a role in promoting the health of the entire population by working with others to ensure fair opportunities for health and well-being."

The motion recommends the Board of Health recognize racism is a public health issue and direct the medical officer of health to establish training for board members, employees and volunteers to participate in anti-Black racism and other anti-racism training to contribute to improved health outcomes.

Has Ottawa failed its racialized communities?

Speaking on CTV Morning Live on Tuesday morning, Egli said the motion affirms what public health officials have been saying for some time.

"Racism has public health implications," Egli said. "No question about that. We're working on addressing it, we're going to continue working on addressing it. Racism is not a static issue. It changes and we have to be ready to respond to those changes."

When asked by host Leslie Roberts whether Black residents of Ottawa were getting poorer care than white residents, Egli wouldn’t say yes or no directly.

"There are impacts. Racism impacts people's public health, their mental health, their physical health. We recognize that, we're working towards addressing that. We'll continue working toward addressing that."

Egli said racism is a systemic issue.

"It's not something that's going to be easily fixed but it's something that needs to be fixed. I think one of the ways to address that is collaboration with communities and partnership."

Also included in the motion:

  • Direct the medical officer of health to increase awareness of the impacts of racism and discrimination related to COVID and actions to counter racism in Ottawa. 
  • Dedicate resources to seek further community partnerships to implement recommendations to improve African, Caribbean and Black mental health
  • Establish a process in collaboration with First Nations, Inuit and Metis partners, to ensure respectful planning, collection, analysis and sharing of health data to inform improvements to physical and mental health of Indigenous populations in Ottawa
  • Direct the medical officer of health to ensure that Ottawa Public Health informs community consultations on addressing systemic racism in Ottawa, such as through the Community Safety and Well-Being Plan's development and implementation.

Speaking to reporters on June 5, Dr. Etches said, "Anti-Black racism and racism against minorities makes our population less healthy."

"Racism, discrimination and stigma are associated with poorer physical, mental and emotional health and greater mortality. My job is to not only control infectious diseases but also to promote the health of the population by working with others to ensure fair opportunities for health."

Dr. Etches said Ottawa Public Health is working with health system partners to collect race and ethnicity data on COVID-19, "to better understand the barriers to health and health care in Ottawa, and health outcomes for people who are racialized."

The medical officer of health added, "We need better data to understand how racism is affecting people's health."

Representation matters

Rideau-Rockcliffe Councillor Rawlson King, the council liaison for the city's anti-racism secretariat, told Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts he wants to see more representation from racialized communities on Ottawa's boards and committees.

"Representation matters, but what also is important is to ensure the institutions are listening to people," he said.

"I think that we will see change and that's the whole point of addressing systemic racism is to ensure that that change is systemic. That is something the Black community has raised with me on multiple occasions. They do want to see that representation. That takes time. We have a term that is already in place right now but I think that we will see those changes."

King called the board of health "an exemplar" in listening to the community.

"More importantly, I think people want to see results with health," he said. "Ottawa Public Health is working with other groups to ensure that we start examining the impact of race-based data; that we actually do consult with communities on issues such as mental health.

"At this point, governance is important but the results matter because, obviously, health is life and death and we want for the community to have impact on those decisions. There is a campaign to listen to what the community is saying and experience and, at the same time, there is a campaign to ensure that there is proper representation across the board at all our agencies and all our boards."