Inequality amplified by COVID-19 crisis

"Governments across Canada are now moving with exceptional speed to slow the spread of COVID-19. The unprecedented measures being put in place to protect our health, safety and security go beyond what most of us could have ever imagined.

"While social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantining are essential to flattening the curve, we must recognize that these measures create unintended and disproportionate consequences for people living in vulnerable circumstances. As the current situation evolves, the number of people put in vulnerable circumstances will grow. The rights and needs of these people cannot be forgotten or ignored.

"Now more than ever, people living in vulnerable circumstances need our support. We must ensure that we strike the appropriate balance between protecting public health and safety and respecting human rights. We must be fully mindful of how this crisis is amplifying the challenges and disadvantages faced by people living on the margins of society.

"As we face this challenge, we must stand together and support each other. With the spotlight now on the Canadian concept of Caremongering, I encourage everyone to turn their energy to those who are in the greatest of need.

"Now, and as we emerge from this crisis, all governments must ensure that legislation, policies, services and programs aimed at supporting Canadians and bringing our economy back to health have human rights principles baked-in. While we recognize the tremendous efforts of governments during this pandemic, we must all ensure that those people living in vulnerable circumstances are front and centre in our minds and our actions".

Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.
Chief Commissioner


Emerging challenges impacting people living in vulnerable circumstances

Human rights groups, experts and communities have come together in an unprecedented way during this crisis to provide recommendations to governments on how to ensure rights are protected and that strong human rights oversight is in place as governments respond to this pandemic.

In developing response plans, governments must consider these issues, and the recommendations put forward by human rights experts and rights holders.

Below are examples of some of the challenges facing individuals in vulnerable circumstances as we work together to flatten the curve.

People with Disabilities

People with disabilities face barriers in many forms, and in many places on a daily basis. With the challenging times we are in today, they are particularly impacted and the barriers they face may be greater.

Not all communications surrounding COVID-19 have been done in an accessible format, and not all services, including health and delivery, are accessible. Refilling a medication, getting groceries or fresh air, may not be possible.

With people’s daily lives being turned upside down, anxiety and stress will affect us all. For people with mental health issues, isolation can worsen existing conditions, and many do not have the means or support to help them through these challenging times. The mental health and well-being of all Canadians must be considered as the current situation evolves.

Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous populations are now facing greater challenges. For example, overcrowding in housing makes social distancing, self-isolation or quarantining an issue. In northern, remote, isolated and urban Indigenous communities, there may be 10 people living in a space designed for two or three. Housing in disrepair also serves to support transmission of respiratory illness.

A lack of access to adequate health care, which is already an issue in many Indigenous communities, make residents more vulnerable and potentially at greater risk of exposure to the virus.


As we all face changes in our daily lives, we must not forget that children have also had their lives changed.

In emergencies around the world daycares and schools are often the first to close and last to re-open. This leaves many children without a safe place, a sense of normalcy, often a nutritious meal, or other critical supports, all of which are necessary for a child’s well-being and development. Schools, daycares and care providers provide far more than an education.

People in Housing Need or Facing Food Insecurity

As people are laid off, or unable to work, poverty will increase. Closing public spaces means that many no longer have access to computers, the internet or other supports. Applying for employment insurance, wage subsidies, or other measures to help with the cost of living, may not be possible as a result.

Housing - Canadians who face sudden layoffs are concerned about the security of their housing. A first concern for those affected by job loss is: how will I pay rent, will my job and income return before my mortgage deferral period runs out?

With poverty increasing, homelessness will rise. For those who are already homeless, staying home is impossible. Following public health and government advice, guidelines and rules is impossible.

As shelters become more crowded, social distancing and self-isolation is impossible for this already vulnerable population. Those who need to seek refuge or shelter may be less likely to do so because of the increased public safety measures and fears of being exposed to the virus.

People Facing Food Insecurity - As some food banks are forced to close, daycares and schools close, and paycheques stop, people of all ages and backgrounds, may face food insecurities. For those who were already food insecure, the situation may now be worse, a meal, let alone a nutritious meal, may not be accessible.

Women and Children Fleeing Violence

Women and children who experience domestic violence and abuse at home are particularly vulnerable. With many shelters closing, or family and community supports now out of reach, they have fewer options to seek refuge, and being isolated could be very dangerous.

Single parents

As new restrictions are put in place on a daily-basis, single parents may find it increasingly more difficult to navigate these challenging times. Already some grocery stores are asking that babies and children do not enter the store, and parents who have to stop work in order to care for children at home, may not have additional monetary, family or community support to get them the supplies they need.

LGBTQ2I Community

Members of the LGBTQ2I community who already face additional discrimination, violence or exclusion, in their daily lives, may now face worsening conditions. Many may no longer have access to important community connections they have come to rely on, and may feel additionally isolated living alone or in a house where they are not fully accepted. Many may not be able to access the health supports they need.

Canadians needing Medical Treatment

As restricted movement and social distancing measures continue to expand, and as more Canadians fall ill to the virus, access to health care will become more limited.

Already some health care providers have moved to online assessment, making medication and therapy less accessible to vulnerable populations. And as more people fall ill to the virus, health care services people have come to rely on may be deemed non-essential, as health care providers may be forced to change their regular practices to help deal with the virus.

The Elderly

Older people living alone or in an institution, are not only particularly vulnerable to illness, but are isolated now more than ever. Visits from family or friends are no longer allowed, and many do not have access to a phone or computer, or do not understand how to use technology to communicate.

People in Correctional Institutions

People in correctional institutions may now be living under worsening conditions, and with limited rehabilitation supports, positive reintegration into the community may be difficult.

Social distancing and self-isolation may strain family and community supports, and limited access to phones may create further barriers to maintaining healthy connections with family and community.

With anything that disrupts the correctional system, the Indigenous and Black inmates, given their over- representation, will be disproportionately affected. This will also be the case for the high proportion of people in correctional institutions with mental health issues.

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