An Essential Need for Black Health

By Chaney Turner 

“Every cannabis user is a medical patient whether they know it or not.”

Dennis Peron 

Access to affordable medication has always been challenging for poor and lower-income people. But for Black and Brown populations who are disproportionately impacted by systematic racism, gentrification, and displacement — access to affordable cannabis is a necessity. When it comes to approaching our healing from a holistic place, there are many barriers that prevent us from accessing cannabis, even though traditionally Black & Indigenous communities have used plant medicine for centuries.  

In 2012, I was rushed to the ER after being sick for a few days. My blood pressure was ‘180. The doctors were concerned and wanted to find out the cause. After spending a week in the hospital I was diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism also known as Graves Disease. Doctors gave me 3 options. Have my thyroid surgically removed, take radiation pills for 6 months, or take the medication Methimazole. I chose to take Methimazole while researching more holistic ways to heal myself.

I didn’t realize until years later that my thyroid and chronic illness were stress-related. This led me to do a personal evaluation of how long I’ve lived with stress & anxiety. In reflection I realized I was an anxious child, always stressed with a variety of stomach aches. Anxiety lived in my bones. 

Many things contributed to my anxiety as a child. I was sexually abused at an early age. My mother was addicted to crack cocaine. I’m from East Oakland and grew up in a neighborhood plagued with drugs & violence. Like many Black people, I thought anxiety was a normal part of life; I learned how to live and function with anxiety.

I didn’t realize until years later that my thyroid and chronic illness were stress- related. This led me to do a personal evaluation of how long I’ve lived with stress & anxiety. In reflection I realized I was an anxious child, always stressed with a variety of stomach aches. Anxiety lived in my bones.

Later in life, I started smoking weed and would describe myself as a late smoker. I tried weed a few times as a teen but didn’t start indulging recreationally until after high school. I used to suffer from painful menstrual cramps. The unbearable pain would confine me to my bed for days. Cannabis was the only thing that brought me relief. I eventually got a medical card in 2003 after a car accident. I’m sensitive to opioids and they make me nauseous, so I asked my doctor for a medical marijuana recommendation. Receiving my medical card not only helped with my healing, but it also sparked my interest in the marijuana business. In 2016, along with former partners, I co-founded a Measure Z dispensary in Oakland, Ca. This membership-based dispensary catered to marginalized communities, most of the patients that came through our doors suffered from some form of trauma. 

One of the common narratives on the benefits of cannabis is that it supports veterans with PTSD. While this is true, Black folks living in the hood who are exposed to constant trauma are left out of this narrative. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Systematic racism, violence, and sexual abuse are contributing factors to PTSD. 

The Black Census Project, led by Black Futures Lab, is the largest survey of Black people conducted in the United States. Black people across the country shared their thoughts and life experience and the results were informative. 84% of senior respondents say the lack of affordable health care is a “major problem,” while 73% of young respondents under age 30 say the same. Other studies have shown that Black people have some of the highest rates of PTSD, cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and other stress-related diseases. These health issues can all be managed with medical marijuana. 

Covid-19 has further exposed the economic & health inequalities that Black & Indigenous people face in America. Coronavirus is real, but let’s be clear, it’s capitalism that’s killing Black, Brown & low-income people whose lives are being sacrificed for this country’s economy. Equity is essential for our health and survival. Investing and empowering communities with the tools & resources they need in order to survive and have a better quality of life. 

Chaney Turner is a national equity thought leader, organzier & cannabis advocate. Chaney
is the Chief Executive Officer of Beyond Equity, a non profit that focuses on empowering & liberating Black communities from extractive systems. They’re also the owner of Town Biz Oakland & Co-Founder of The People’s Dispensary. Chaney’s work embodies the belief that those most impacted by inequities should have the power to implement solutions to those inequities. This work is a logical extension of Chaney’s activism, the majority of which has centered around gentrification, displacement and state sanctioned violence

OHIP For All

Pink and orange graphic that reads "health care for all!"

Access to Healthcare

By: Chelsia Watson

Gaining access to safe and reliable healthcare can be one of the biggest hurdles new migrants face in Ontario and across Canada. Depending on your immigration status, having access to Provincial healthcare can be straightforward or it can pose a challenge; either way it is important to know your rights and know where you stand. OHIP For All, a group that advocates for equal healthcare in Ontario, spoke to The Peak about how someone with precarious status can safely access healthcare. Please note that although this article is specific to Ontario, many of these services are available across Canada. If you need assistance finding healthcare resources, we recommend searching community health centre’s in your city or going to City Hall for a list of accessible services.

How does my immigration status affect my ability to access healthcare in Canada?

Many people across Canada do not have access to healthcare. In Ontario alone, there are over 500,000 migrants who do not have health coverage because of their immigration status. Access to healthcare varies based on immigration category and status, time spent living in Ontario (typically, Ontarians must be physically present in Ontario for at least 153 days in a 12-month period in order to qualify for healthcare), type of work contract (e.g., most temporary migrant workers have private health insurance). Other profiles include visitors, students, military, and other protected persons. Depending on the permit, most full-time workers may have access to coverage while part-time workers do not. Gaining access to healthcare can be complicated; here are some numbers to consider: there are 250,000 people living in Ontario without status and 80,000 new migrants in the 3 month waiting period. The rest of the 500,000 people without healthcare in Ontario are international students and those with temporary status.

There are various ways that someone can live in Ontario but not have health insurance. The first group includes those who do not have coverage now but will eventually become insured. This is typically made up of Ontarians who have been approved for permanent residency but must wait 3 months after arrival to qualify for health coverage. It encompasses various groups including new immigrants, temporary foreign workers,  migrants newly approved for permanent residency and Canadian citizens who were living abroad. Following the three month period, these individuals are able to access the same OHIP coverage as other Ontarians.

The next group of uninsured people will never be eligible for OHIP throughout the entirety of their time in Ontario. This includes visitors and those without status. Individuals without status include people who may have overstayed their visitor’s visa, who are waiting for a decision regarding their immigration case, or who evaded a deportation order. These individuals are among the most vulnerable residents in Ontario and are often forced to choose between their health, safety, and basic necessities.

The last category includes those who were eligible but have lost eligibility. This includes individuals who may have violated a work permit, overstayed their work permit, are in between contracts, or have had a sponsorship breakdown.

My city is considered a Sanctuary City. Does This mean I am able to access health services anywhere in the city?

The Sanctuary City movement is a commitment to ensuring that city services are accessible to all residents of a city, regardless of immigration status. For example, Toronto became a sanctuary city in 2013. This means that all residents of Toronto have access to healthcare services provided by Toronto Public Health. This includes sexual health clinics, vaccinations for students from kindergarten to grade 12 and breastfeeding clinics. Dental services are also available but are intended for low-income patients and consequently eligibility is determined by income. The sanctuary city model does not assist patients in accessing provincially-funded healthcare, including visits to a family doctor, the emergency department, or a specialist. If your city is designated as a Sanctuary City, you may also have access to municipal healthcare services.

Are there specific doctors and/or clinics in that are considered safe for a person with precarious status?

There are a number of resources individuals can consider when determining which clinic is a safe space for them. In Toronto, Access Alliance has put together a list of clinics available for episodic care – that is, medical concerns that do not require significant follow-up. It’s important to note, the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care has specialized clinics for children. For patients requiring longer-term access to health services, community health centres are a good option. In order to be eligible to receive services from a community health centre, you must live within the centre’s catchment area.  Below is a list of clinics in Toronto that accept uninsured patients. If you reside outside of Toronto, we encourage you to find the nearest Community Health Centre and call to find out what health services are offered.  

East End

  • East End Community Health Centre
  • South Riverdale Community Health Centre
  • Sherbourne Health Centre
  • Flemingdon Health Centre

West End

  • Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services
  • Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood and Community Health Centre
  • Unison Health and Community Services
  • LAMP Community Health Centre, Black Creek Community Health Centre
  • Stonegate Community Health Centre
  • Rexdale Community Health Centre
  • Regent Park Community Health Centre

For Patients who Identify as Indigenous

  • Anishnawbe Health Centre (no catchment area)

Are doctors required (by law) to report a person they suspect is without status?

Doctors are not required by law to report individuals solely due to their immigration status. However, doctors are required to report all patients (name, contact information, and relevant medical conditions), regardless of immigration status, to public health if: 

  1. The patient has certain infections such as HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, tuberculosis
  2. The patient has a license and is considered to be unsafe to drive
  3. Child abuse or neglect is suspected

Am I able to get a health card? How do I get one?

You can get a health card if you meet the place of residence and immigration status requirements.  In Ontario, you can get a health card by going to a Service Ontario Centre. If you are outside of Ontario, the process to obtain a health card will be similar. It is suggested that you can call ahead of time to ensure you bring the correct documents. If you require other documents or would like assistance getting your health card, you can visit an ID clinic. In Toronto, ID clinics are offered through various organizations.

Place of residence requirements include: 

  • being physically in Ontario for 153 days in any 12‑month period
  • being physically in Ontario for at least 153 days of the first 183 days immediately after you began living in the province
  • make Ontario your primary home

Immigration status requirements (you must meet at least one) include:

  • are a Canadian citizen
  • are an Indigenous person (registered under the federal Indian Act)
  • are a permanent resident (formerly called a “landed immigrant”)
  • have applied for permanent residence, 
  • are in Ontario on a valid work permit and are working full-time in Ontario, for an Ontario employer, for at least six months
  • are in Ontario on a valid work permit under the federal Live-in Caregiver Program
  • are a convention refugee or other protected person (as defined by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada)
  • have a Temporary Resident Permit (only certain case types, e.g. 86 through 95)
  • are a clergy member who can legally stay in Canada and is ministering full time in Ontario for at least six months
  • your spouse and any dependents also qualify if you do

Toronto ID Clinics:

  • Street Health
  • Unison Health and Community Services
  • Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre
  • Regent Park Community Health Centre

If I do not have a health card, do I need to pay upfront for doctor visits?

This may vary depending on the hospital or clinic that you visit. Research same-day clinics in your city, many cities have community clinics that you can access for free. Some of these health centres are able to provide primary care depending on where you live. If you access health care outside of these options, including most clinics and hospitals, you will most likely be billed after you use the service. The clinic or hospital will establish a payment plan if necessary. 

What if I need urgent medical attention? Can I go to my nearest hospital’s ER?

If there is an emergency, it is encouraged that you go to the nearest hospital. However, it is important to note that you may be asked to pay for the cost of your hospital visit and that you may be asked for payment in cash upfront before receiving treatment.

What are my rights once I am receiving medical care?

As a patient, you have a right to:

  • Receive safe and proper care.
  • Give or refuse consent for any procedure, and for any reason.
  • Have a medical professional clearly explain health problems and treatments to you.
  • Participate in health care decisions.
  • Ask questions and express concerns.
  • Request a second opinion; within reason.
  • Be assured that personal information is confidential.
  • Request to access your health information records.
  • Request the transfer of your health records to another medical professional; you may be charged a fee.

What kind of work is ‘OHIP For All’ doing to advocate for healthcare rights for all people regardless of immigration status?

OHIP For All is a campaign that spreads awareness on health-related issues in Ontario. There are many groups similar to OHIP For All across Canada. This platform unites healthcare professionals, students, and other advocacy groups to come together and organize rallies and events that ultimately mobilize groups of people. We have spread awareness in mainstream media engagement, strong social media platforms, migrant community engagement, and direct lobbying with the various provincial political parties