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Ford Government should not exclude urgent and important questions about concerns of frontline health workers at press conferences

来源:Loving Sister   更新:2020-04-25 11:18:46   作者:Yafang Shi
Ford Government should not exclude urgent and important questions about concerns of frontline health workers at press conferences

 


 

A sign of appreciation for frontline health workers in a neighbourhood of the City of Aurora (Yafang Shi/Loving Sister)


Recently, as a journalist amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been deeply concerned with lack of response from the Ontario provincial government to my question about concerns of frontline health workers.


An urgent and important question 


After reading articles on the outbreaks and issues at long-term care homes on Loving Sister (www.lovingsister.com) , a frontline health worker at a hospital reached out to me about their concerns. 


Based on the concerns that the frontline health worker expressed and the  information I obtained from an interview with Vicki McKenna, the president of the Ontario Nurses Association (I also contacted the hospital but did not receive a response), I tried tirelessly and persistently to ask the Ontario provincial government the following urgent and important question in the past week: 


Frontline Health workers and the Ontario Nurses Association are concerned that the outbreaks that have taken place at long-term care homes will repeat at the hospitals due to two issues: 


Firstly, although health workers have been banned to work at multiple long-term care homes, hundreds of nurses still work at multiple hospitals; 


Secondly, management at some hospitals did not inform staff of the positive cases of staff members and the fellow staff members could not get tests and become vigilant about symptoms. The ONA has filed complaints to the Ministry of Labour and grievances on these incidents against employers.  


We have seen that at least 76 staff members have become infected at two major Mississauga hospitals. 


Minister Elliott, are you concerned that the tragedy that has happened at the long-term care homes will repeat at hospitals? Are you going to take any measures to prevent it from happening? If you are, what measures are you going to take? 


Efforts were in vain.  


By April 21, there have been 54 outbreaks in 38 hospitals according to a report from the Ontario Health Coalition.


Four separate COVID-19 outbreaks have been declared at Toronto Western Hospital.  


Southlake declares COVID-19 outbreak. 


By May 5,  there have been 87 outbreaks in 48 hospitals according to the report from the Ontario Health Coalition.


On May 13,  COVID-19 outbreak was declared in Toronto Western Hospital's ER after five staff reportedly test positive.


Barriers encountered during the process of asking questions and trying to get a response


Looking back, I encountered many barriers during the process of asking questions and trying to get a response. 


1) I wrote an email to the spokesperson for the Premier Doug Ford who is responsible for the teleconference, the Ontario Premier’s COVID-19 Update, to request the access to it. I did not get the access until the following day when I wrote an email to the spokesperson for the Premier Doug Ford stating that “it is vital that media from diverse communities get equal access to governments' (press) conferences and ask questions that are important to their communities and the society at large”. 


2) I asked the spokesperson for the Premier about the procedure for journalists to ask questions at teleconferences and was advised to ask the teleconference operator. The conference operator said that the rule was ‘first come, first served’. After I requested to ask questions at two teleconferences with one that I called in 45 minutes before the scheduled conference but did not get the chance to ask questions, I sent an e-mail to the spokesperson for the Premier to ask her about  the rule of taking journalists’ questions. No reply. 


3) Since April 17, I have requested to ask questions at five consecutive teleconferences of the Ontario government but have not been given opportunity to ask questions. 


On April 22, I was the third journalist who called in the teleconference and requested to ask questions but was denied the opportunity to do so. When I was listening to the journalists who joined the conference asking questions even though they joined later, my heart sank with disbelief and outrage caused by the unfairness and exclusion I encountered as a journalist. After the teleconference, I called the teleconference operator. She was surprised that I had not got the opportunity to ask my question. She said that the teleconference operator had received journalists' calls and the media relations officer from the Premier's office had determined which journalists' calls were taken. I wrote to the spokesperson for the Premier Doug Ford stating that "media from diverse communities should be given equal opportunity to ask questions at press conferences of the provincial government. The provincial government should take questions from diverse communities seriously and be transparent and accountable to all Ontarians including people from diverse communities". No reply.


As a seasoned journalist with a journalism career spanning for more than 20 years, I have attended numerous press conferences and asked questions about urgent and important issues to many politicians. At press conferences, ‘first come, first served’ is a natural rule when journalists raise their hands or queue for asking questions. Sometimes, when a large number of journalists are present, journalists work out what questions will be asked and who will ask questions among themselves before conferences. During the last federal election, I attended a press conference organized by the Liberal Party, where I had the opportunity to ask a critical question to Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party, following the aforementioned procedure. 


4) In addition to seeking the opportunity to ask questions at the teleconferences, I also have emailed my question to the spokesperson for the Minister of Health Christine Elliott twice since April 16 but have not received a response (The second email was also sent to the spokesperson for the Premiere on April 20).


Reflections on Issues 


Several issues that have been revealed by this troubling experience should be reflected on.  


The Ontario provincial government should be accountable to all Ontarians including people from diverse communities. The concerns from members of diverse communities should be respected, heeded and addressed by the Ontario provincial government. 


All journalists including those from diverse communities should have equal access and opportunities to ask questions at press conferences organized by the Ontario provincial government. The questions from all media including those from diverse communities should be responded to.  


It is a vital part of democracy that journalists of colour have equal opportunity to ask questions on concerns from diverse communities and the society at large and hold governments accountable.  


Canada is ranked 16th in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The report states that “the coming decade will be decisive for the future of journalism, with the Covid-19 pandemic highlighting and amplifying the many crises that threaten the right to freely reported, independent, diverse and reliable information”. 


It is a sobering reminder that freedom of press is not a given even in Canada. We journalists, especially journalists of colour, still encounter barriers and need to continue to fight to hold governments accountable through our journalistic work.  


Yafang Shi   She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Loving Sister (www.lovingsister.com). She worked for Radio Canada International of CBC, Fairchild TV/Talentvision TV and Ming Pao Daily News. She has exhibited her photography of Women's Marches at York University, University of Toronto, Markham Public Library in Canada, and the Gallery of Owspace in China and presented on journalism and feminism on various panels. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists and holds a MSc in Sociology from the London School of Economics. 


Email: yshi@lovingsister.com


(Note: The article was originally published on April 25 and has been updated with more outbreaks in hospitals)

 

 

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