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Why Covid-19 targeting Montreal? 7th deadliest center

Why are so many people getting sick and dying in Montreal from Covid-19?

The city is at the center of the crisis in Canada and Quebec is now the seventh deadliest place in the world for daily deaths

Rue Ste Catherine in Montreal is usually crowded with shoppers and traffic until late at night.
Rue Ste Catherine in Montreal is usually crowded with shoppers and traffic until late at night. Photograph: Peter McCabe
in Montreal Published on Wed 13 May 2020 16.15 BST

Not this year.

Montreal, a city touted by tourist guides as “North America’s Europe” for its rich culture and joie de vivre, is Canada’s centre for Covid-19.

Of the entire country’s 70,000 cases and 5,000 deaths, the city of 2 million people has 20,000 cases and more than 2,000 deaths, or about 64% of the entire province’s death toll.

Those numbers have catapulted Quebec into an unfavourable position: it is now the seventh deadliest place in the world for daily coronavirus deaths, according to Quebec newspaper La Presse.

The empty streets of downtown Montreal.

The empty streets of downtown Montreal. Photograph: Christian Ouellet/Alamy Stock Photo

“We are all concerned about Montreal,” said Quebec’s premier, François Legault, on Monday, saying that the situation there was “not under control”. The gradual reopening of schools and businesses may be further delayed if Montreal can’t get its act together.

If Peter McCabe’s Empty Montreal photo project is any evidence, the city has largely obeyed stay-home orders. His streetscapes devoid of human activity show a side of Montreal almost no one sees. “The air is crystal clear. That’s not normal,” he said.

But if people are genuinely staying home, the elevated infection rate isn’t normal either.

Why are so many people getting sick and dying here?

A commuter wearing protective mask boards a subway train in Montreal.

A commuter wearing protective mask boards a subway train in Montreal. Photograph: Canadian Press/REX/Shutterstock

The trends overwhelmingly point to the reality that many infected with Covid-19 are people who already experience systemic inequality, poverty and discrimination – issues that existed long before the virus, and which are now being cracked open for all to see.

First, there are the old.

A horrific exposé in the Montreal Gazette revealed that a local nursing home – known by its French initials as a CHSLD – had concealed the deaths of 31 seniors. Many of them seemed to have died after most staff abandoned the facility. Some of the seniors found alive hadn’t had water, food or a diaper change in days.

Provincial data shows about 82% of the dead lived in seniors’ residences – most of them public.

Of the total 2,003 dead in Montreal, 74% of them were over 80.  97% of them were over 60.

The CHSLD crisis continues.

According to La Presse, at least 141 CHSLDs in Montreal presently have at least one case of Covid-19, but that the government won’t say which ones. Meanwhile, the Quebec government has announced it will allow caregivers back into some CHSLDs.

The other part of Montreal’s Covid-19 story can be summed up by the case of Marcelin François, a 40-year-old Haitian asylum seeker who died in his wife’s arms inside their Montreal apartment in mid-April.

During the week, François worked in a textile factory. On Saturdays and Sundays, he worked as an orderly inside whichever CHSLD his temp agency dispatched him to that week.

He lived with his family in Montreal North, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in all of Canada.

It is a popular destination for asylum seekers – many of whom crossed the US–Canada border on foot shortly after American president Donald Trump took office. Half of the neighbourhood’s residents are members of a visible minority, and 42% are immigrants.

Like François, many asylum seekers are now working, without citizenship status, inside of Quebec’s seniors residences.

And then they’re coming home at the end of their shift, to crowded apartments they share with friends and family, inside of shoddily maintained apartment buildings.

Earlier this month, the province admitted that its effort to manage staffing shortages by moving workers around the long-term care network could be spreading the virus.

Montreal North feels the consequences of that. One in five Montrealers infected with Covid-19 are healthcare workers – none of whom are receiving danger pay.

In Montreal North, 23% are infected, said community organizer Will Prosper.

“It’s these people who are still taking care of us, when not too long ago they were the people who we wanted to kick out,” said Prosper.

Other areas of Montreal badly hit by Covid-19 share similar traits with Montreal North: low-income, large immigrant communities, many people of colour, poor quality housing.

Montreal’s Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations is demanding the federal and provincial governments collect data on the race and income level of Covid victims.

Nargess Mustapha, also a community organizer in Montreal North and the president of youth empowerment organization Hoodstock, doesn’t need data to see how Covid-19 has further entrenched existing inequalities. She’s on the ground, along with an army of young volunteers, distributing mask-and-sanitizer kits and food hampers to members of her community.

She recites a long list of reasons why Covid-19 has struck her neighbourhood so deeply: a lack of health services, inadequate transit access, people living in crowded apartments, poor relations with police – especially now that officers can hand out $1,500 fines to those not respecting self-isolation measures.

Meanwhile, 42% of homes are single-parent households, which makes things like child care for essential workers very complicated.

And, a lack of internet access makes it tough to get government aid and information being distributed almost exclusively online.

“Being able to socially distance is a sign of privilege,” Mustapha said in French, pointing out that the population density of one neighbourhood sector rivals that of New York City’s densest borough. “It’s hard to apply those rules in Montreal North

A Passport condemned to Exile?

Theater play “Passeport 10452″ by director Betty Taoutel

The original French version of this play was presented at Montreal within the Arab World Festival. The Arabic version is being shown at the Monnot Theater in Beirut.

Synopsis of ” Passeport numéro 10452″
Directed by Betty Taoutel and participation of Hagop Der Goughassain

A tiny country of 10,452 square Km (exactly) experiences 30 years of civil wars and preemptive wars by Israel.

A family is torn by the identity game, linked to belonging, homeland, language and immigration…

Omar grew up in an unstable Lebanon: Assassinations, car explosions, political tensions, perpetual conflicts, demonstrations, marches… among the various political factions and the 18 officially recognized religious sects.

Leave or stay?

Trying his chances in Montreal in order to get a Canadian passport?

Leaving his natal country in order to enjoy a sense of security and secure the future of his children…

Omar’s mother is tormented by these existential questions and is doing her best to convince her husband of the necessity of grabbing the available potentials and opportunities far away from Lebanon.

The up-rooted in both Beirut and Montreal are described with humor and a poignant look at their living life-style

Note: The French text

Dans un petit pays de 10 452 km2 meurtri par 30 ans de guerre, une famille est déchirée par les enjeux identitaires liés à l’appartenance, la patrie, la langue, l’émigration…

Omar grandit dans un Liban instable : attentats, tensions politiques, grèves et conflits perpétuels entre les différentes factions politiques et religieuses. Partir ou rester ?

Tenter sa chance à Montréal dans le but d’obtenir ce passeport canadien tant convoité ? Quitter la terre natale pour se sentir en sécurité et assurer un avenir meilleur pour ses enfants ? Telles sont les questions qui tourmentent la mère d’Omar qui tente de convaincre son mari – et surtout elle-même – de la nécessité de partir vers cet ailleurs qui se trouve à l’autre bout de la planète.

Entre le rêve idéalisé de ceux qui veulent partir et la réalité, souvent dure, vécue par les immigrants, cette pièce de théâtre signée Betty Taoutel dépeint, avec beaucoup d’humour et de dérision, le vécu poignant des déracinés, à Beyrouth comme à Montréal.

This event is on facebook

Tales of life in Montreal, Canada (Part 1, January 19, 2009)

Note:  The following abridged chronicles are extracts of very short stories of life in Montreal.  They were selected from a tiny French booklet written by Gisele Kayata-Eid, a Lebanese who immigrated to Canada.

Saint-Justine hospital, a semi-circle century old building   Babies and kids are bolding and pale.  Mothers are livid, anxious and wheeling chairs; they are pondering “why him? Why so young?”  Behind me in the return bus a dad and son are thrilled.  The kid is calling: “Hi mom, I am well.” The dad takes the cellular and confirms: “Yes honey, the tests are normal; nothing to worry about.  We are on our way”.  Today, Saint-Justine changed name: it is saint-Justice.

Caesar is an old homeless; he frequently visit a “friend” benefactor.  This friend smiles to Caesar and sometimes listens to his miseries; occasionally he offers him leftovers of his dog’s canned food.  It is 30 degrees below zero and the wind speed is over 150 km/h today.  Caesar asks permission to sleep on the porch; his benefactor denies him this favor on account that insurance would not cover the risk of Caesar dying on his property.  Dirty and smelly Caesar is not to sleep inside: the friend would have to repaint and change the carpet.

A typical voter on Election Day.  The person parks his car and calmly walks to a public building, a church, a basement, or a school where flags flap. He files in the queue by reflex; a badged attendant shows him the way to a vacant bare booth; a man and a woman agents wearing badges sit behind a sober desk.  The voter delivers his ID and is recited the well oiled instructions. The voter votes and then departs, as mute as he entered.

The church was well heated.  A whole team of attendants welcomes me, smiles at me, hand me the mass sheet, shows me the way and allocate me a seat, as if I were at an Oscar ceremony. The people hang stony faces and follow the game of standing up, sitting, kneeling, reading the document, and occasionally participating in the hymns of the chorus.  Mass lasts exactly an hour before the worshipers exit as silently and solitary as they entered.

Saturday morning at a hospital emergency.  I had an ugly deep cut on my forearm and blood was ejecting profusely.  I ran to the emergency of the nearest hospital. The shift attendant directed me to an empty room.  Immediately, a nurse showed up and kept asking me the same questions for over 15 minutes.  I am ordered to take a blue seat instead of the red one since I was served filling a questionnaire.  I had to wait another half an hour before I am ushered to a closed room.  Another 15 minutes wait before a white robed person enters. No, the person is not the physician; she is a nurse with a clipboard that needs to be satisfied with more of the same queries.  I don’t know what happened next: I had fainted this Saturday morning.

The public transportation in Montreal had a 3-day strike; unperturbed, the citizens of this City walked to work, confident that their authority will settle this problem very soon; they have to go to work because the workplaces are the main locations to talk.  At the exact time for the resumption of transport, the citizens are already lined up calmly and by reflex; they know that the doors of the trains will not be shut before everyone is in and seated.  The only time that moods flare up is when the media ask the citizens to offer comments on the strike

Kindergarten in Montreal.  There is this golden rule in kindergarten “It is absolutely forbidden for this father to recuperate his son”.  The personnel scrupulously notes down “His father came in, held up his son, put him down, whispered to him and then left him crying”. During the day, the workers in kindergarten take notes of every details for every baby’s behavior such as what he ate, how much, how was the consistency of his bowel, when he falls down, if he wakes up with the other kids, if he refuses to draw, color, or participate. Kids arrive before the sun is up.  Today, a kid never stopped crying because his dad picked up his brother to hockey training; the kid managed to skip outside the perimeter and was found sleeping in the snow




March 2023

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