Is It Fair to Discriminate During the Pandemic?

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Is It Fair to Discriminate During the Pandemic?

We should respect individual rights regardless of the colour or creed of the individual. Ditto for respecting the rights of the elderly or the disabled.

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Leah Goldstein

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The small retailer held up a cardboard sign with a half-smile on his face. “No Elderly or Customers with Pre-existing Conditions” it read. His smile broadened, but somehow turned serious. “Is this legal?” he asked. “Because I don’t want to be responsible for killing anybody.”

As the virus cuts a swath through the population in the most discriminatory way, targeting the aged, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and the disabled with particular vigour, the legal and moral dilemmas are just beginning. Are we allowed to discriminate in order to protect? Can the government mandate that seniors in long term care residences be effectively imprisoned, with all visitors including family denied, until herd immunity is reached? Can we force vulnerable people in our employ to work from home even after our offices are allowed to reopen?

This year the discrimination issue will be hitting Ontario lawyers with particular force. After a bruising three year battle within the Law Society of Ontario over a proposed “Statement of Principles” regarding discrimination, the Society ultimately compromised by requiring all Ontario lawyers to check off a box on their mandatory annual returns, due in the next six weeks. The box, which if left unchecked will result in the yanking of a lawyer’s license, obligates the lawyer “to respect the requirements of human rights laws in Ontario and to honour the obligation not to discriminate.” It’s the phrase “obligation not to discriminate” that intrigues.

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Presumably the Law Society is urging lawyers to honour a moral code that goes beyond the basic legal obligations that every Ontario resident must obey. Why else bother with the statement? But the statement also implies that there is widespread agreement within society of such moral obligations. Surely, the Law Society seems to imply, as a country, Canada has made it clear that all forms of discrimination are repugnant. Every right thinking, educated, enlightened professional will agree, so the Law Society posits, that we should respect individual rights regardless of the colour or creed of the individual. Ditto for respecting the rights of the elderly or the disabled.

Which brings us back to question that my retailer asked. We wish to respect the rights of the elderly but we also, as a society, feel an extra obligation to protect them. Is limiting access to a business a form of prejudice? Or an act of compassion?

Goldstein and another trainee at the training camp

Ontario’s large retailers and banks have answered this question by flipping it around. Special “Seniors Only” hours abound at supermarkets and local branches of national banks. So far no one has challenged the legality of what is in effect reverse discrimination. One wonders what the Law Society would make of this. Are we honouring our obligation not to discriminate if we discriminate in favour of the vulnerable (see affirmative action)? If a lawyer is approached by a litigant who wishes to challenge this retail policy, would said lawyer be violating the obligation he checked off by taking the case? Or would he be violating it by refusing the case?

The dilemmas will soon be piercing our religious institutions as well. A president of a large synagogue will have to decide if a “Seniors Only” minyan should be instituted. If so, should seniors be given any honours at the regular non-Senior minyan? By honouring a senior at a regular minyan are we encouraging seniors to engage in dangerous behaviour? Conversely, if we refuse to allow such honours are we not discriminating against the elderly in the most direct fashion?

 The Shelter in Place orders that have swept the world confront this question more broadly: What is our collective responsibility towards the vulnerable? Are we, as a society, obligated to discriminate in favour of the vulnerable? When the vulnerable number in the tiny percentages, it seems that our answer is generally: Yes. For example, virtually no one argues that society should not, as a matter of moral policy, support the severely disabled. (Whether the support is sufficient in any given society is an entirely different question, and may highlight the difference between what we say we should support, and how seriously we mean the statement). But does that remain our answer if we must mandate that the entire economy be largely shuttered in order to ensure that as small a number of the vulnerable end up dying?

It seems that the culture of each society will end up deciding that question. In the US it involves a raging debate, street protests and highly partisan internet rants. In Ontario the culture thus far seems to be that as long as the government provides assistance to the businesses that have been negatively impacted, then: Yes, save the vulnerable.

For me, I appreciate the approach that Israel endorsed at the start of this virus. Rather than framing the debate as them (the vulnerable) and us (the less at risk), the country embraced everyone as being in the same family. Save the grandmother, they urged. The discrimination dilemmas will remain, but our empathy in deciding them will be far higher.

Haskell Nussbaum holds degrees in physics and law, the latter from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He served as a judicial clerk to a Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel and served in the Golani Infantry Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces. He is also the author of 101 Ways To Help Israel, and has contributed articles to the Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem Report, National Post, Moment, the Jewish Week, HaModia and others. He has been interviewed in (or on) Fox and Friends, NPR, CBS News, USA Today and New York Magazine

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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Volunteers Step Up to Help the Hungry During COVID

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Volunteers Step Up to Help the Hungry During COVID

COVID-19 has made the food insecurity situation more dire. Thankfully, many organizations are stepping up the plate to help.

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Esther Halevi with Lindsay Detsky (background). A huge supply of farm eggs that will feed several families, diapers, toilet tissue and cleaning supplies, all donated by the Toronto community

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The COVID-19 crisis has brought to the forefront a harsh reality: Anyone is vulnerable.

No more has this been apparent in those facing food insecurity challenges.

Through the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), Statistics Canada found in 2017-18 that 1 in 8 households was “food insecure,” translating to over 4.4 million people. According to the Chasdei Kaduri Jewish Food Bank, 13% of Jewish families in the Greater Toronto Area live beneath the poverty line, and struggle from food insecurity challenges.

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And it goes without saying that COVID-19 has only made the situation more dire.

“We’re seeing so many people have to go to food banks for the first time,” said Veronica Summerhill from FoodRescue.ca, which is an initiative by the Second Harvest Food Bank.

Chaihana restaurant donated and delivered food to seniors, and homeless.

“FoodRescue.ca acts in a sense like dating site for food donations – we match facilitators of the food donations with those in need, while also providing direct delivery.” A lot of the food comes from outlets who unless contacted, may dispose of their food, such as grocery stores and restaurants. Summerhill notes that five Jewish non-profits are registered with the program.

Many Jewish organizations have not only maintained, but have amplified their operations, due to COVID-19. Mazon Canada has directed funding to an emergency COVID-19 food relief, which has amassed over $100,000 and has established grants to other partner organizations. Chasdei Kaduri has teamed up with food delivery service Friendly Produce as a result of increased demand.

But as the demand has significantly increased, so has the amount of those willing help. And these support systems have stretched way beyond the established food banks and charitable organizations.

Facebook groups such as Kavod-19: Toronto Jewish Community Response to COVID-19 and Hungry North of the GTA- Vaughan, Markham, Richmond Hill, Aurora and Beyond have provided outlets for individuals and companies to coordinate grassroots efforts to help.

Jewish food bank donations at a doorstep

One of those individuals is Esther Halevi, a Toronto-based social worker, who for the past five years organized food support systems for single mothers. She has immensely expanded her frontline efforts to bring food directly to those in need alongside many, including kosher companies, caterers, and several incredibly willing individuals looking to assist.

“Everyone realizes they are vulnerable,” says Halevi. “But there has been so much kindness and cohesiveness in the Jewish community to help. It’s been incredible.”

Halevi points out that those who don’t have food, and need help, are often the most vulnerable: Holocaust survivors, seniors, immigrants, and refugees, all who may not qualify for government provisions.

“People are calling, and are worried,” said Halevi. “But people have been reaching out to help.”

 Thankfully, volunteers on the front lines, such as Halevi, have been making sure that so many people without food, can now have items in their fridge and pantries.

Tevy Pilc is the Assistant Editor for TheJ.ca. He is a Toronto-based media professional with a diverse background that includes extensive experience in broadcast and print journalism and Jewish advocacy. He hates antisemites more than they hate Jews.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

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Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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COVID-19 Frontline Workers Snubbed by Ontario

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COVID-19 Frontline Workers Snubbed by Ontario

Furman believes that everyone working in a hospital at this time deserves pandemic pay

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Healthcare workers protesting the ineligibility status of many of their colleagues for "pandemic pay"

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Dorit Furman is a phlebotomist working at St. Michael’s hospital five days a week, 8-hours a day, drawing patients’ blood as a lab technician. On any given day, she comes face to face with no less than 20 patients suspected of COVID-19. Every day she puts herself at risk as a hospital worker, with as much exposure to the deadly virus as do doctors and nurses. So imagine what it was like for Furman to learn that hospital cooks and maintenance staff are eligible to receive the government’s “pandemic pay,” which temporarily supports front line workers battling COVID-19, but that she was not.

“Every day I am taking blood from COVID-19 patients. And our government has decided that we are not front line workers? It’s not the money. It’s the lack of respect and recognition.”

Furman emphasizes that she believes that everyone working in a hospital at this time deserves the pandemic pay – including cooks and maintenance staff. She simply cannot understand why she and her colleagues who work as lab technicians are excluded.

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Furman begins her day at 6:30 am to take blood, from every hospital unit. It doesn’t matter who the patient is; she takes blood when patients enter the hospital, and before they leave, to make sure they are virus free. Furman takes blood from as many as 60 patients a day, helping ICU nurses in the most critical cases, who need help drawing blood. She has more than 30 years of experience, having worked as a nurse in Israel prior to becoming a lab technician in Canada.

Healthcare worker must wear full personal protection equipment their entire shift to protect against being infected with Covid-19

If not for Furman and lab technicians like her, doctors wouldn’t know if the patient has COVID-19, whether or not they have antibodies, how to treat them, and whether they are ready to be released. They are critical to the effective treatment of patients. And yet, the Ontario government has not deemed phlebotomists to be front line workers.

That feeling of being ‘unrecognized’ is made worse by the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). “They don’t provide us with N-95 masks anymore. At the beginning of this crisis, we were told that we don’t need it. Then we got them for a two week period, until we were told recently that we can’t get them. We were told to wear a surgical mask instead.”

Group of lab technicians who are denied pandemic pay

Furman contacted her union to ask what her rights were. She was told that she could refuse to take blood from COVID-19 patients, but hospital management said otherwise. “I did take blood with a surgical mask one time, but I’m scared. I have a son who is asthmatic and a husband, who was laid off work, at home. I am more worried exposing them, than about exposing myself. Now that I am the only breadwinner, I really don’t know what to do.”

Furman worked during the SARS crisis and emphasizes that this time things are different. During SARS, she had all the PPE that she needed, including N-95 masks, and was able to change equipment between patients. Now, Furman has to wear the same inadequate mask all day. Then, she was recognized as a front line worker and received a special dispensation. “The level of fear and uncertainty around contracting the virus was not there during SARS. We didn’t live with the same level of stress,” says Furman.

In spite of her feelings of frustration, Furman loves her job. “I feel very fulfilled when I see a COVID-19 patient going home. I was a part of that process that led to that positive outcome.” 

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

cOMING SOON…….

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