The Parkdale Food Centre Calls for Ottawa to Distribute Free Masks and Adopt Anti-Racism Measures

JULY 15, 2020

OTTAWA — On Wednesday July 15, Ottawa City Council will vote on creating a by-law reinforcing an Ottawa Public Health directive that mandates wearing masks in indoor public spaces. Although this by-law is tremendously important from a public health standpoint, especially as we move into Phase 3 of reopening, it has equity-related considerations that have yet to be addressed by the City. The Parkdale Food Centre is calling on the City to implement two equity-related measures pertaining to the mandatory mask by-law: the distribution of free masks to anyone who needs them; and adopting adequate measures to address the risk of racial profiling of racialized individuals wearing masks.

“People who are already struggling to afford groceries cannot face the additional financial burden of purchasing masks,” said Karen Secord, the Executive Director of the Parkdale Food Centre. “As City Council votes on this by-law today, they must not leave low-income residents behind. Today, the Parkdale Food Centre is calling on the City of Ottawa to provide a minimum of two reusable cloth masks free of charge to any Ottawa resident who needs one. The burden of the cost must not fall on low-income individuals or local businesses.”

In June, Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health, presented initial findings showing that the COVID-19 infection rate in Ottawa is nearly double for communities that are low-income, home to a higher percentage of racialized residents, and home to a higher number of recent immigrants. 

“It is exceedingly clear that equity must be factored into all City policies, including those related to COVID-19,” said Mante Molepo, Co-Chair of the Parkdale Food Centre Advocacy Committee. “I am particularly concerned about the social stigma associated with Indigenous, Black and other racialized people wearing masks. We are supportive of the masks being mandatory, but it is important to examine the impact of these measures, and ensure that marginalized and racialized communities are not disproportionately affected. There may be considerable safety implications in a Black or Indigenous man, or any other racialized person, going to the corner store wearing a bandana as a homemade mask. Ottawa Public Health must inform the public about the measures they are implementing to avoid racial profiling from occuring, especially when racialized people are wearing face coverings such as masks. It is a considerable safety and human rights issue that both Ottawa Public Health and City Council must urgently address.”  

“At the Parkdale Food Centre, we are dedicated to supporting policies that will allow everyone in our city to live with dignity—and without discrimination,” concluded Deborah Abbott, Chair of the Parkdale Food Centre Board of Directors. “The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated existing inequalities in Ottawa. With both free mask distribution and measures to address racial profiling, the City of Ottawa has the opportunity to work towards a more equitable future for all of its residents.”

For media enquiries, please contact:

Karen Secord: or 613-304-0878