Officials failed to protect Montreal’s vulnerable neighbourhoods, activists say

Officials failed to protect Montreal’s vulnerable neighbourhoods, activists say

Officials failed to protect Montreal’s vulnerable neighbourhoods, activists say

MONTREAL — Some of Montreal’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods appear to be bearing the brunt of the city’s COVID-19 numbers, leading community organizers to question why more wasn’t done to protect them.

Montreal North, one of the city’s poorest boroughs, had over 1,850 cases as of Tuesday evening, and the highest rate of infection in the city — more than double the city’s average.

Marjorie Villefranche, the director of the Maison d’Haiti community organization, said Montreal North and other lower-income neighbourhoods have been hit hard due to crowded living conditions, a population that suffers from pre-existing health conditions and a high proportion of the population working in health care and other essential services.

“Imagine six weeks in a three-and-a-half with five or six people,” she said, using the Quebec term for a one-bedroom apartment. ”It’s difficult.”

Data released by the city of Montreal shows that many of the hardest-hit boroughs are in the city’s northeast, including Montreal North, Riviere-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles and Anjou, which house many lower-income people, immigrants and refugees.

In all of those neighbourhoods, between 24 and 34 per cent of COVID-19 cases are among health workers — above the city average of 20 per cent — suggesting that people from vulnerable neighbourhoods are paying the price for caring for others.

Villefranche says many immigrants and refugees, including the Haitian asylum-seekers who crossed the border at Roxham Road in 2017, have sought out jobs as patient attendants in long-term care homes as a quick way to enter the workforce.

“It was a sector where there was a big demand, they needed people to work there,” she said in a recent interview.

The city has ramped up its efforts in Montreal North in recent weeks, moving to install a temporary testing clinic as well as mobile ones in city buses that travel to COVID-19 hot spots or areas where barriers to testing exist. It has extended sidewalks onto the road to reduce crowding and become more active in offering information.

But Villefranche questions why more wasn’t done earlier to protect vulnerable communities, where poverty leads to crowded living situations and more underlying health conditions.

“Normally, when you try to predict what will happen, you look at where the pandemic can enter, you look at your fragile sectors,” she said.

“But it seems like they didn’t look at that. The fragile sectors were the (long-term care homes) and these neighbourhoods.”

She said the government’s original advice, which essentially told people to stay home and stay two metres away from each other, didn’t correspond to the reality in Montreal North, where large families live together and many people work in essential services such as security, health care and food services.

“When you say to stay home, stay confined and cook at home, you’re not talking to those people,” said Villefranche, who said there should have been more information tailored to people who have no choice but to go out.

While governments were slow to spring to action, community groups stepped in, offering food, information and other support.

Wissam Mansour is among those who have been out in the streets distributing masks, gloves and information on behalf of the community group Hoodstock, which focuses on social and cultural issues in the neighbourhood.

Among the population, “there’s a lot of worry,” she said in a recent interview. “They see cases rising and they’re worried.”

Villefranche says Maison d’Haiti has been distributing food baskets to families and helping with communication, noting that many residents don’t have internet access and some don’t speak French.

Both Mansour and Villefranche say that while the local and provincial governments have taken steps to address the situation in the borough, more action is needed.

In the short term, they say citizens need food and health care, including for mental health. Mansour wants tenants to be offered cleaning materials and protective gear to better maintain their apartment buildings.

Longer term, both say more needs to be done to help address problems of poverty and inadequate housing that make the community vulnerable to another pandemic.

“We’re living a health crisis inside a health crisis that’s always there,” Mansour said.

“We can’t be in two crises at the same time.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2020

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported an additional 456 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

A 36-year-old Eckville pedophile  was sentenced to 18 years in prison and given a 10-year-long-term supervision order for abusing nearly a dozen children over a decade.
Black Press file photo
Updated: Central Alberta pedophile sentenced to 18 years in prison and declared long-term offender

Eckville man abused nearly a dozen children as young as two over nearly a decade

Businesses are getting creative to keep cash flowing. (File photo)
Central Albertan lobbying government to help those affected by CERB repayments

Catherine Hay says she received a letter in November saying she had to completely repay the benefit

World Juniors’ referee Mike Langin makes a called during the Canada vs. Slovakia at the 2021 World Junior Championship at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Dec. 27, 2020. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)
Former Sylvan Lake man lives his dream at World Junior Championships

Mike Langin was one the 25 Canadian officials who worked during the tournament

The newly built Parkland Regional Library Services. (Photo Submitted)
Parkland Regional Library system moves into new offices in Lacombe

“Someone with a Parkland Library card can borrow from 350 libraries in Alberta,” Ron Sheppard

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Public opposition to the Alberta government’s plans to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains appears to be growing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File
Alberta cancels coal leases, pauses future sales, as opposition increases

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt welcomed the suspension

File photo
Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit recovers valuable stolen property

Property valued at over $50,000 recovered by Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit.

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File)
First Nations seek to intervene in court challenge of coal policy removal

Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish First Nations are among those looking to intervene

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Canada’s pitch to the Biden team has framed Keystone XL as a more environmentally friendly project than original

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
No Pfizer vaccines arriving in Canada next week; feds still expect 4M doses by end of March

More cases of U.K. variant, South African variant found in Canada

Health-care workers wait in line at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians who have had COVID-19 should still get the vaccine, experts say

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were found to have a 95 per cent efficacy

An empty Peel and Sainte-Catherine street is shown in Montreal, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Poll finds strong support for COVID-19 curfews despite doubts about effectiveness

The poll suggests 59 per cent remain somewhat or very afraid of contracting COVID-19

Lacombe is looking at its options for reclaiming sewage lagoons that are no longer needed. Vesta Energy Ltd. has signed a deal to use three lagoons to store water for fracking.
Map from City of Lacombe
Energy company to use former Lacombe sewage lagoons to store water for fracking

Vesta Energy Ltd. will pay Lacombe more than $100,000 a year in 20-year deal

Most Read