MONTREAL -- A new study suggests some of Montreal’s cultural communities are disproportionately vulnerable to COVID-19 -- due to factors that exist even outside of the context of the pandemic. 

COVID-19 has only highlighted them. 

In the study released Tuesday, researchers at the Institut Universitaire SHERPA identified factors that put the city’s multi-ethnic and disadvantaged neighbourhoods more at risk of distress and infection amid the pandemic – including working jobs where COVID-19 exposure is a high risk. 

"I think what's behind a lot of this problem is actually workplace issues -- it's not the fact of being immigrant or racialized in itself, it's the fact that being members of those groups makes you more likely to work in precarious jobs so in the context of COVID, more likely to work in a frontline job," said Jill Hanley, one of the authors of the study. "They were being exposed at work, and more likely to be taking public transporation to get to work."

Other risk factors include financial status, migratory status, being allophone, and being targeted by racism. And while these problems aren't new, the study shows the pandemic has elevated their impact.

“Inequalities can lead to infections and deaths,” said Janet Cleveland, another author. 

"They already caused health problems for people, but this just made it explode in terms of incidents and awareness," Hanley said. "There was already job discrimination, there were already issues in terms of access to health-care, there was already housing discrimination." 

The study details how, for example, the Quebec government said at the very beginning of the pandemic that COVID-19 testing would be free for everyone residing in Quebec regardless of their status -- but several people who showed up for tests were asked to present their health cards (the authors say this has since changed). 

The report also mentions access to foodbanks for families who relied on them before the pandemic was limited once it hit due to an increase in demand. Childcare was also a concern, as several people from Montreal's cultural communities work essential service jobs but had to keep their children home at the beginning of the pandemic because schools were closed and daycares were reserved for the children of healthcare workers. 

While the authors have been able to pinpoint elements that put people from cultural communities at risk, collecting race-based data would help them paint a better picture of the situation, Hanley said. 

"So that we can actually properly see the disproportionate impacts of these problems on different groups -- so that we can act on them." 

The driving force behind the study was to better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted certain communities by speaking to the leaders within them. 

"It was already becoming clear anectodally that their communities are more affected in terms of exposure to COVID-19, but also the effects of the social economic changes that came about because of it," said Hanley. "The idea was hopefully, now that the first wave has subsided -- but we know we might be headed into a second one -- to have some information to help prevent some of these same problems the second time around." 

While Quebec has put certain measures in place to help address concerns that impact Montreal’s most vulnerable communities since the start of the pandemic, the authors argue more needs to be done, especially if there is a second lockdown. For this reason, they created a series of recommendations and sent it to multiple government bodies. 

The recommendations include:

  • Collecting data on COVID-19’s social determinants
  • Facilitating collaboration and consultation with communities
  • Improving access to health information by offering it in multiple languages
  • Promoting access to health services
  • Providing universal access to financial support
  • Ensuring that health and safety measures related to COVID-19 are implemented in workplaces
  • Guaranteeing food security
  • Preventing evictions connected to COVID-19
  • Promoting family wellbeing
  • Strengthening intercommunity relations and acting against racism

“Measures must be taken to protect the health of everyone, regardless of their migration status, language or origins,” Cleveland said.

Hanley added that she hopes more will be done to address existing problems exposed by the pandemic moving forward.

"It would be amazing if we came out of this with a respect for all types of jobs... That we consider discrimination in housing and employment and health-care and try to address that," she said.