Welcome to HC Link's blog! Our blog will provide you with useful information on healthy community topics, news, and resources, as well as information on HC Link’s events, activities, and resources. Our bloggers include HC Link staff and consultants, as well as our partnering organizations, clients, and experts in the health promotion field.

Please note: opinions in posts are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of HC Link or our funder.

We look forward to engaging in thought-provoking conversation with you!

To view past blogs, please click on the home icon below left.

Lisa joined PAD in 2015 as the Communications Coordinator for HC Link. She is passionate about health promotion and substance use issues and is excited to use her strong writing and coordination skills to promote the work of HC Link. Prior to joining PAD she worked in research and project coordination positions at Raising the Roof, The Jean Tweed Centre, and York University. She also assisted on a qualitative research study at CAMH that investigated the experiences of racialized women in recovery from severe mental illness. She holds a Master’s Degree in Health Policy and Equity Studies from York University

Coming Together for Active Living in Kirkland Lake and Area

Guest Post by Kristin Berfelz, of the Physical Activity Resource Centre (PARC)

On Thursday November 26th, 2015 PARC (the Physical Activity Resource Centre) joined several community members from Kirkland Lake and surrounding area to discuss making active living the easy choice for everyone in the North end of Timiskaming district. The Timiskaming Health Unit hosted the event which was attended by community members of various ages, recreation staff, the local project manager for the Healthy Kids Community Challenge, local First Nations representatives, health unit staff, and even the mayor. Lisa Tolentino from HC Link facilitated the event using a technique called Open Space, which promotes open sharing and solution-based problem solving.

We started off the day getting to know who was there and then looked at some recent health data from the community (and surrounding area). Looking at where the community is and what they have was a great jumping off point to the discussion on where they want to go. A graphic tool used to facilitate the activity was a mural where attendees listed the assets that the community currently has (e.g. infrastructure, services, etc.), and the ones they would like to have. This ensured that everyone was on the same page for the day.



The group began by identifying the topics of greatest interest in the community related to physical activity and then broke into small groups to discuss barriers to physical activity opportunities, engaging the community (including those who aren’t currently active), and promoting what’s already available in Kirkland Lake. Each group discussed their topic, how to measure it, what the causes are, what options are available to address it and who the potential partners could be. After this information was gathered, a high level action plan was created to determine what can be done within the next 3-6 months to move forward on the solution(s).


Often in this field, we are encouraged to engage a variety of partners and this event was a testament to the value of doing so. Relationships were developed for future partnerships and outside of the box solutions were brainstormed by community members. For example, discussions around awareness of what is currently available sparked the idea of having a community notice board for anything from physical activity events and outings to garage sales. Having such a wide range of community members partake in the day was both motivating and enriching.

PARC was pleased to have the chance to lead this energetic and committed group in a couple of physical activity breaks to help boost creativity, and of course add a little more fun to the day!


Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this day of solution focused sharing!

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Wise Crowds Recap

Guest post by Shannon Hitchman

On Friday, November 13th, 2015, 12 people attending the Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change conference were given a unique opportunity called Wise Crowds: Finding innovative solutions for community change. The basic idea is that these people were to share a problem that exists for them with groups of around eight to ten people. These people were to ask clarification questions first, then the presenter was to turn around and the people around the table were to provide their solutions.

I was one of the people who volunteered to share my problem. I felt as though this activity was beneficial and eye opening in a number of ways. The presenter gained access to solutions that may not have occurred to someone who was looking at the problem through the lens of a professional or one who possessed prior knowledge of it. It allowed the participants a look into a field that may not be their own, and to unleash their creativity for this field within a time frame. For both parties, it broke down barriers of stereotypes, considering the presenter could not see who was providing each solution.

Thank you for this opportunity!

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Conference Recap - A Northern Perspective

Guest post by Michèle Lajeunesse, Community Health Promotion Coordinator, Marathon Family Health Team
As I have only been working in the field of health promotion for about six month, the HC Link Conference was a great learning experience for me. I especially enjoyed learning about community engagement and collective ownership, community hubs and the Circle of Health tool. I also appreciated the storytelling and presentations that included tips on developing health promotion programs in rural communities. We have many barriers to face in rural Northern Ontario; therefore I enjoyed learning from the experiences of other health professionals who face similar barriers. By working together, I truly believe that we can make a difference in our communities!
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Reflections on the HC Link Conference

Guest post by Leanne Prendergast,  Founder & President of the Love Our Lives Organization

When I first received the good news that I had been awarded the HC Link conference bursary, I was excited yet nervous. You see I had never been to a HC Link Conference and I had no idea what to expect. But as soon as I walked in, the first thing that put a smile on my face and made me feel at home was the beautifully set out food on the breakfast table. From that moment, I knew that I would really enjoy the conference. Dave Meslin gave an amazing and humorous speech that woke me up out of my tiredness because after all it was morning time. But his humour and personality did not feel as if I was in a lectured but rather I felt he was having a conversation with me on a one on one personal level.

The workshops were absolutely well structured and gave room for interactive conversation and a space to give advice and get advice from others who were attending the workshops. There was a great variety of workshops to attend that were all unique and diverse which gave those who attended the option of getting very different perspectives on how to engage people and not just in a nice, politically correct way, but rather in an exciting innovative and effective way! The food throughout the 2 day session was amazing, because every time I thought I had eaten enough, there was more to have. The food was very accommodating and healthy (especially to those of us who do not eat meat) and allowed us to still think actively and feel energized even after being served a ‘5 course meal’.

There are many things that I would love to share about the conference; however, this would not be a blog, but rather an academic essay. So I will mention one last point that resonated in my mind throughout the 2 day conference. Dave Meslin said that we often times want to be diverse and make sure we have everyone represented at our tables (not talking about food table), however we need to start thinking about being a part of the tables that other people have created that mean as much to them as our table means to us, and through this we can bring about true change within our community, it’s all about collaboration! And so in summary, the HC Link conference was an amazing experience which has taught me the importance of engagement and community!

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Leveraging Social Media to Promote Real-Time Knowledge Exchange

HC Link’s 2015 Conference Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change was a great success overall, it was well organized, featured engaging speakers, and provided ample opportunities for networking. We ramped up our social media campaign both in the weeks leading up to the event and at the conference and we were excited to have our biggest social media presence yet!

With the help of our Social Media SWAT team we were trending on Twitter just an hour into the conference. The first morning we scored the #3 spot in Toronto and the #6 spot in Canada. Our conference hashtag was #Link4HC – there were 613 Original Tweets, 823 Retweets and 43 @mentions using the hashtag.
















How we did it – Tips for leveraging social media at an event

In order to create a great social media presence we enlisted the help of a Social Media SWAT Team. This is an idea we stole from the Association of Ontario Health Care Centres conference. Our SWAT Team was made up of social media savvy staff and communications staff from our partner organizations. We asked the team to tweet in the weeks leading up to the conference, contribute blog posts, and live tweet throughout the event.

The SWAT Team

Just asking people to tweet may not have been successful – we also gave the team all the tools they needed to be able to tweet while still enjoying the conference.

  • Each member got a Social Media Package with sample tweets, the handles of all of the presenters, and media that they could include in their tweets or share with their networks.
  • We held a 30 minute conference call a week before the conference to get everyone up to speed. 
  • We ask each member what sessions they would like to attend and assigned each participant to workshops so that our SWAT team was represented at each workshop.

Participant & speakers engagement 

In addition to the SWAT Team we also used some other strategies to make social media at the conference a success.

  • Included the French and English hashtag on all conference promotion
  • Sent sample tweets out whenever we released new conference information
  • Sent sample tweets and other info to our presenters and asked them to contribute to the conversation 
  • Held a Twitter chat with our keynote speakers as guests the month before the conference 
  •  Put tent cards with the hashtag on all of the conference tables
  • Retweeted participant’s tweets and thanked them for being involved 

We also used free online tools like Storify and Hashtracking to collect data on our impact.

Social media as a tool for knowledge exchange 


We produced six live blog posts, written by myself and HC Link Coordinator Andrea Bodkin during plenary sessions and workshops. The live tweets and blog posts created an online platform for those interested in social action and health promotion to discuss issues relevant issues with each other. For example the use of the popular term “Social Determinants of Health” came up the first morning and by using the popular hashtag #SDoH we were able to bring this question to the broader public health community.



Live tweeting also let health promoters and community members not at the conference follow the conversation and share in the key takeaways. We were able to share insightful strategies and facts with a large audience.



Want to see all the conference tweets? We have archived them using Storify 

Want to see all the conference tweets? We have archived them using Storify

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Recapping the HC Link Conference - A Grad Student Perspective

Guest post by Karen Nelson, PhD Student – School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph

Last week I was able to attend the HC Link Conference thanks to a generous bursary from HC Link. As a PhD student it is not often that I get the opportunity to interact with professionals working on implementing programs in my area of interest outside of an academic environment so I was excited to do so. My goal for this conference was to learn more about current initiatives that have been, or are currently taking place, in Ontario communities, specifically in relation to my dissertation topic of childhood obesity and the built environment in rural communities. The conference not only helped me to achieve this goal, but also provided me with new ideas to explore as I further my research.

Aside from my main goal of gathering information related to my research, I was also able to attend several amazing presentations and participating in engaging discussions. Highlights from the conference for me included:

Active Outdoor Play Position Statement: Nature, Risk and Well-being

Led by Shawna Babcock of KidActive and Marlene Power of Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, this workshop highlighted evidence supporting the position statement on active outdoor play. In this workshop we discussed some of our personal memories of play (which most of us recall as being outside and in nature) and some common barriers to outdoor active play for children. The presenters discussed the idea of ‘nature as a prescription for health’ as well as the importance of recognizing healthy built environments and access to nature as determinants of health – both of which fuel my own research interests.


The second morning had us participate in an interactive session that helped to provide innovative solutions to challenges addressed by other conference participants. One of the questions posed to our group was on how to engage the unusual suspects – a key concern for many who see the same ‘suspects’ on an ongoing basis. The responses at my table were great and many of them I plan to apply to my own research going forward.

Healthy Community Design: Active Community Toolkit for Reviewing Development Plans

This presentation, delivered by Kim Bergeron and Bernie McCall, provided a background and overview as to how public health practitioners can make recommendations on land use planning decisions to ensure they promote healthy active communities. As a student looking at the built environment and health, this was definitely a highlight for me – especially being able to meet Kim – whose work I have been following for a while!

Overall I enjoyed each keynote, workshop and interactive session I attended. I look forward to attending again next year!

I would like to thank HC Link for providing me a bursary to attend this conference.


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Live Blog - Using the CIW in Community Health Centres

Live Blog from the workshop - Community Vitality & Belonging: Measuring what matters with the Canadian Index of Wellbeing

Today I participated in an informative workshop co-presented by Heidi Schaeffer from the Association of Ontario Health Centres and Jenilee Cook from the Woodstock and Area Community Health Centre. The workshop provided an overview of the CIW and it’s application within the Community Health Centres (CHCs).

Community Health Centers across Ontario collected stories from clients on what was important to them. Community Vitality and Belonging were strong themes that emerged. They decided to use the CIW to measure what matters.

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) came of work done by foundations in the 1990 is now housed at the University of Waterloo. The University continues to research, knowledge share and continually develop the tool. They defined wellbeing based on 8 domains - democratic engagement, community vitality, education, environment, healthy populations, leisure and culture, living standard and use of time.

Be Well survey

The AOHD created the Be Well Provincial Survey to measure all CIW domains with a focus on Community Vitality plus some socio-demographic questions. The results will inform community healthy and wellbeing indicators at the provincial level.


Interesting facts

• As the GDP has risen since 94 the CIW has also risen but not at the same rate.
• Currently there is no equity lens for the CIW but AOHC is working on developing one.
• Bridging the Gap Report found that there is a growing inequality in Ottawa. It made allowed them to make some policy asks on affordable housing, food security, public transit and equity and employment.

An On the Ground Example – Oxford County

“It’s not about what we do, it’s about how we do it.” - Jenilee Cook

Jenilee spoke about the Harwood Model which emphases the importance of outward thinking rather that inward thinking –

  • Activity vs. Action
  • Programs vs. People
  • My Organization vs. My Community
  • Charity vs. Change
  • Feeling Good vs. Doing Good

She also spoke to Oxford County Community Members about what was important to them and they said belonging! That started created creating opportunities for people to belong in the community including the “Smile and Say Hello Movement” and “Agents of Community Change”.

Some tactics they used to propel the iniiative included - 

  •  Included Secret Change Agent Hotline
  • Poster Round
  • Community Facebook Page
  • World Smile Day 
  • Candy Gram Pot Luck
  • Share a Chair on Your Front Lawn 
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Recapping Dave Meslin's Keynote Address - Breaking Down Barriers to Community Action

Today we kicked off Day One of Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change with an engaging and exciting keynote address from Community Choreographer Dave Meslin. Dave spent 15 years on the ground as a community organizer and is now teaching Canadians how to build a culture of community engagement and avoid public apathy.Dave shared great personal stories, which illustrated his aptitude for change, from demanding to hold roses in his high school grad photo to initiatives he has been involved with like his Downtown De-Fence Project.

Public Spaces

Dave talked about the importance of community spaces. Dundas Square and the Gardener are covered with advertisements that don’t represent the diversity of Toronto well; we shouldn't let advertisers decorate public spaces. We need to take ownership over these spaces & make them our own. If people were more engaged in policymaking we wouldn’t see public spaces that look like Yonge and Dundas! Public spaces can also have a significant impact on mental health, body image and distracted driving.

Getting People Involved in Policy Change

Dave says we won’t engage the public in policy change if it is boring and dry! By making politics fun and engaging we can reach more community members. Another strategy is getting people to take ownership of their community by getting them involved in initiatives like community gardens. People take care of things they own– their homes, their bodies, and their cars. If we can get community members to take ownership over they communities they will be more engaged in policy change.

Here are some great tips Dave gave for engaging communities in change 

  • Fun engagement and collective ownership are key
  • Break the fourth wall! Get involved in politics! 
  • When politician does something good, recognize them! We always complain when things go bad, recognize the good too. 
  • We need to teach politics and democracy early on to allow people to be engaged 
  • Have faith that you can make change!

What do read more about Dave? Check out Andrea Bodkin’s 2013 blog post The World Is Your Co-Op

Continue to follow the conversation on Twitter throughout the conference - #Link4HC and be sure to follow Dave Meslin @meslin 

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Promoting active communities


Want to promote active communities? Plan on attending this hands-on, interactive workshop with Bernie & Kim on Healthy Community Design: Active community toolkit for reviewing development plans, Fri, Nov 13 at 1:30pm. Here are two references you may want to explore before the session …

Active Community Toolkit for Reviewing Development Plans 
























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Wise Crowds: What have we got to learn?

Guest blog post written by Sarah Christie, Bilingual Projects Leader, PARC 
If there’s one thing we at the Physical Activity Resource Centre (you can call us PARC) have learned over the years, it’s that those at the community level often know much more than we do about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to health and physical activity promotion across Ontario. With your ear to the ground you are an invaluable resource in shaping programs, resources and policies at the provincial level. Which is why we are very excited to be partnering with HC Link to present Wise Crowds: Finding innovative solutions for community change November 12, 2015 at the 2015 HC Link Conference Linking for Health Communities: Action for Change at the BMO Institute for Learning in Toronto.

What makes this session special is that you are the experts. We know that workshops are great, but this time, you have the chance to get involved and share your expertise. Participants will have multiple opportunities to ask questions, connect with colleagues, and share their ideas and solutions. A hands-on wrap-up activity will close the session, capturing key challenges and solutions discussed by participants. These will be presented as a banner for the remainder of the conference so that you don’t miss out on any of the great conversations that were had during the session.

PARC is one of Ontario’s 14 health promotion resource centres, and the Centre of Excellence for physical activity promotion in Ontario. Our goal is to support knowledge transfer and to enhance opportunities for healthy, active living in Ontario. To this end, we have collaborated with HC Link for several years, providing training and consultation supports and connecting with communities across the province. It has been an exciting and rewarding partnership and we are looking forward to sharing this next activity with you.

So bring both your challenges and solutions! PARC, HC Link and your partners in the field, want to hear from you! You are the experts and it’s time to the share your knowledge.

For more information about Wise Crowds: Finding innovative solutions for community change, please visit the HC Link website.

To learn more about us visit the PARC website. And don’t forget to connect with us on Twitter @PARCOntario during the conference (#Link4HC) to let us know what you think of the session and to continue the conversation!

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Webinar recap: Civic engagement

Written by Annie Morrison, Communications Lead, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition 

HC Link hosted a webinar last week called Civic Engagement: Current challenges and approaches. The turnout for the webinar was great, in light of an exciting Blue Jays game and federal election the night before. Though it may be tempting to think of voting as the prototypical act of civic engagement — and happily, this federal election had the highest voter turnout since 1993 — this is just a small piece of what civic engagement is and its overall purpose. Kim Hodgson, an HC Link consultant, led the webinar participants through principles of civic engagement. Her examples showed how expansive civic engagement is beyond the traditional ideas of attending meetings in a church basement or casting a ballot on election day.

Effective civic engagement means getting input for priority setting, decision-making, program development, and service delivery, all of which are elements of good governance. Kim stressed that civic engagement is not meant to achieve consensus or to delegate responsibility to the community. Rather, it helps ensure that decisions that are being made suit communities’ interests, assets, and needs. It also strengthens the relationships between key players — ultimately improving government decision-making. 

yarn blog


A core value of effective civic engagement is that outcomes are actually stronger as a result. The process itself, understandably, can get pretty messy (and fun!).

Kim shared several examples of Ontario communities that are already using more participatory methods for civic engagement online, including West Nipissing’s online streaming of Council meetings, Toronto’s pilot of participatory budgeting, and Lambton County’s online platform for public comment. Even elements like website design and attractiveness make a difference in making civic engagement more interesting and enjoyable. 

Heather Keam and Sylvia Cheuy from Tamarack walked participants through a few offline programs that they have used to engage communities in decision-making. These in-person approaches can also be modified to reach target populations or groups who are not being engaged by more traditional means.

To watch a recording of the webinar, see the slides, or check out some of the civic engagement resources and tools discussed, visit the webinar page. HC Link will host two more webinars in the civic engagement series in the new year. Stay tuned for more information!

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David Courtemanche - Breathing Life into Policy Change

Keynote Address

On Day Two of our conference we will begin with a Keynote address from David Courtemanche, a consultant with many years of experience in public service and policy development. His keynote address – Breathing Life into Policy Change will energize the policy advocacy experience by exploring the political dynamics, decision-makers, leverage points and strategies for being an effective health advocate. He will discuss how to shift the health culture of your community totransform the social, economic and environmental landscape and affect sustainable change.


david courtemancheCourtemanche in Politics  

  • David Courtemanche served in public office for almost a decade and, in 2003 at 39 years old, became the youngest elected Mayor in the history of Sudbury.  
  • He was elected to City Council in 1997 and again in 2000.  
  • As Mayor, he served on provincial and national bodies including the Board of Health, the Economic Development Board, the Regional Planning Board, the Canadian Big City Mayors' Task Force on Immigration, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.  
  • Courtemanche has led multiple community initiatives such as the: Healthy Communities Strategy, Community Leadership Cabinet, Community Action Network, and theTask Force on Volunteerism & Citizen Involvement.

Management Consulting  

  • Courtemanche is the Founder of Leading Minds Inc., a management consultant firm specializing in leadership development for individuals, organizations and communities.
  • He has held senior management positions at several organizations and is currently the Executive Director of the City of Lakes Family Health Team.  


Work in Building Healthy Communities

Interested in hearing David Courtemanche speak about policy change? There is still time to register for Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change. Visit the conference page for more information on registration, programming and presenters.

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8 80 Cities - Building spaces for 8 year olds and 80 year olds

Guest blog post by Alyssa Bird and Ryan O'Connor from 8 80 Cities 
8 80 Cities is a non-profit organization and we work to inspire leaders to make their communities better places for people to live, work, and play.  Our name comes from a simple concept. 8 year olds and 80 year olds are indicator species for our communities. If you build a place that is great for an 8 year old and an 80 year old – that place will be great for people of all ages; that’s the 8 80 Rule.
Our focus at 8 80 Cities is on the public realm. We focus on parks, streets, and public spaces and use workshops, community engagement, and innovative planning processes to change how these places function in a neighbourhood, town, or city’s landscape. 

At HC Link 2016 we’re planning to tell you some stories. These are stories about how we’ve inspired leaders in communities of all shapes and sizes to be healthier and happier places. AND we’re giving two storytelling presentations so you can double your chances to be inspired!

The Doable Neighbourhood Project

The Doable Neighbourhood Project: Building healthier Ontario communities by Ryan O’Connor will tell stories about how pinpricks of animation in public space have started conversations about how to improve the public realm and offer greater opportunities for active transportation in four communities in Ontario. And you might have heard it already but a waterslide was one of them!


Open Streets Project

Can Streets Make Us Healthy? Open Streets Can! by Alyssa Bird will give you an overview of what Open Streets are and how communities in Ontario are using these programs to have conversations about improvements to active transportation infrastructure, to get neighbours to come out and meet one another, as well as to get people out and active on a day when they might be at home sitting in front of a screen or monitor. We also just launched a new toolkit if you’re so inspired that you want to plan an open streets program in your community!


We’re looking forward to sharing these stories with you. We hope you’re looking forward to hearing them too. Because in the end, we’re all going to HC Link this year to find innovative actions to create change in the places where we live, work, and play.

Interested in these stories or other HC Link presentations? There is still time to register for Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change. Registration closes November 2nd - check out the conference page for more info! 

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Racism and Health Series - Indigenous Health

By Mica Pereira Bajard

When I moved to Canada from Bolivia—where the majority of the population is indigenous, and where racism is not a taboo topic—as a child, I would not have imagined that indigeneity and racism would become central topics of discussion and reflections in my Canadian professional and personal lives. At age 11, I never imagined the horrendous effects that colonialism had (and continues to have) on the lives of Indigenous peoples in this country. Canada, with its universal health care and polite population, seemed like the gold standard of ‘great’ countries.

Today, I understand that the health of Indigenous peoples in Canada (and abroad) is inextricably linked to the respect of human rights. First Nations (status and non-status), Métis and Inuit populations—the First Peoples of this country— make up less than five percent of the population in the land we call Canada, yet the country seems to be uninterested in protecting and promoting their health and their rights (Canada is one of four countries worldwide not to have adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). Canada’s governments have been stubborn bullies toward the people on whose lands Canada was ‘created.’

The flagrant health inequities that exist between indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada today are a manifestation of the effect that social and political factors can have on the health of populations.  Exploring the impact that Canadian policies have on these populations using a social determinants of health framework brings to light the implicit racism and colonialism embedded in the status quo of our country’s functioning. For example, rather than fostering indigenous self-determination, the federal government imposes its policies on which indigenous groups have access to health care through the Non-Insured Health Benefit program (only status First Nations and Inuit). The government’s refusal to launch a national inquiry on the missing and murdered indigenous women, despite indigenous women being five times more likely to be murdered than non-indigenous women, is another example of institutional racism that hinders the health of Indigenous peoples. I argue that if the missing and murdered aboriginal women were white women, the government would have a different reaction. A third and important example is the continuous institutionalization of indigenous children.  In 2008, Prime Minister Harper formally apologized on behalf of Canadians for the residential school system—which attempted to assimilate indigenous children by removing them from their households— and recognized that this system continues to have profound social effects on survivors and their communities. Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary to note that there are currently more children under state care today than at the peak of residential schools. Children are being removed from their homes, separated from their parents. How, and why, is Canada apologizing for something it is still committing? 

The above examples are only the tip of an iceberg of the impact that colonial, racist policies has on the lives of Indigenous peoples. Racism against Indigenous peoples underpins most, if not all, policies in Canada, resulting in poor health outcomes for First Nations, Métis and Inuit groups.  This is so much so that scholars Mikkonen and Raphael identified Aboriginal Status as one important social determinant of health in Canada. Compared to non-indigenous Canadians, Indigenous peoples have higher rates of infectious and chronic illnesses are more likely to live in crowded housing and have higher rates of food insecurity, among many other health outcomes. All of these outcomes are the result of racist, colonial tendencies in Canada’s way of governing. That the Public Health Agency of Canada does not recognize Aboriginal Status as a determinant of health is an example of institutional efforts to avoid explicitly acknowledging that we have a race problem.

The continuous dismissal and exclusion of indigenous knowledge and practices in policy and decision-making in Canada contributes to the systemic racism that harms the health of Canada’s first peoples. It is time to shift the governing power to the people whose lands we are on in order to best protect and promote their rights and health. The Canadian government’s lack of recognition that it is racist in its way of functioning is perhaps the greatest threat to the well-being of Indigenous peoples.

Despite all the challenges and issues that remain to be mitigated, there are important stakeholders and initiatives that are working towards creating a more just, inclusive, and respectful Canada. In particular, the 2015 First Peoples, Second Class Treatment Discussion Paper by Dr. Allan and Dr. Smylie offers avenues to change by recommending that the Canadian government embrace honest, transparent conversations about the implicit racism in policies across sectors (ranging from access to health care to education). They argue that better, more meaningful, data should be collected on the health status of Indigenous peoples in Canada to better explore the effects of racism, and that we invest in effective, anti-racist interventions to improve indigenous health. Additionally, the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, which seeks to redress the legacy of residential schools and work towards reconciliation, asks that all levels of government: be transparent in their child welfare policies specific to Indigenous peoples; revise educational curriculums with Indigenous peoples; protect indigenous cultures and languages; improve health care for Indigenous peoples; and work towards the reversal of the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in prisons among other efforts for reconciliation. These calls to action also demand for more professional opportunities for Indigenous peoples in all sectors. Lastly, advocates such as Michèle Audette, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, who engage with decision-makers and community members are making progress towards the recognition of racism in Canada.

Join us on October 23rd and 24th, 2015 at the Racial Justice Matters conference to dig deeper in discussion about the importance of indigenous health and rights, the necessity to change the status quo to ensure indigenous world views, rather than racism, are embedded in policy decision-making, and the role that solidarity and ally-ship can play in creating a better, more indigenous-centred Canada.

Micaela Pereira Bajard is a Master of Public Health Candidate at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH). Follow her on Twitter at @MicaPB or on her personal blog “Mica est là”.


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The value of swapping stories

by Gillian Kranias, Bilinugal Health Promotion Consultant - Health Nexus

For seven years, I have pursued a keen interest to learn more about storytelling. Stories can help us to better communicate, mobilize community members, and advocate with political representatives.

This year, HC Link decided to emphasize storytelling presentations during our 2015 conference. We’ll see what kind of impacts we can make. In the meantime, here are some convincing arguments in favour of storytelling that I have come to appreciate over the years:

We’re wired to understand through story.

Before the development of written language, people relied on stories to transmit and remember information. With this in mind, it is no surprise how recent science now confirms (and explains how) our brains are wired to best assimilate information through stories. Much of this fascinating science is documented in Kendall Haven’s book Story Proof: The science behind the startling power of story.

Stories help communicate complex ideas and situations.

Indigenous traditions value stories in part because they recognize the importance of a wholistic approach. It is argued that certain pieces of information lose their original meaning if isolated from their larger story context. Of course, one isolated story will never communicate all the aspects of a situation. As such, we must listen to many stories (perhaps accompanied with some facts) to arrive at a better understanding of a complex situation.

Stories can motive us to action.

Because a good story evokes emotion, it can motivate us to seek out solutions despite a difficult situation, or to garner energy and time to move forward when our resources appeared depleted. Within community movements and collaborative initiatives “public narrative” is growing in popularity as a storytelling approach which inspires community engagement. To learn more on public narrative, check out this worksheet by Marshall Ganz: Telling Your Public Story: Self, Us, Now.

Within this blog post, I have not shared a single story. I suppose I am still working my way along my learning path to better engage the power of story. Regardless, if we happen to meet up at the HC Link conference, I am certain we will share some stories – which will offer a good source of motivation for me, and a great chance to move forward our collective thinking and efforts for more equitable, healthy communities.

See you in November!

To find out more about our conference and read a full list of our storytelling presentations visit our program page 

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Racial Justice Matters - Advocating for Racial Health Equity in Canada

Written by: Meena Bhardwaj, Eden Hagos, Navita Singh & Anjum Sultana

In the last year, you would be hard pressed to find someone who has not heard about the growing Black Lives Matter movement in the US. The organization and movement was sparked by the abhorrent frequency and fatality of police brutality against black people. Specifically, statistics shows that every 28 hours, a black person has been shot and killed by the police in the last few years. We’ve heard of the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland, and sadly the list goes on and on. Their deaths and of many others has sparked outrage, protests and a national conversation about police brutality against racialized people in the US.

Canada is often painted in stark contrast to the US. While the US is a melting pot, Canadians can pride themselves as being part of a cultural mosaic. The US forces assimilation, whereas the peace-loving Canadians just want to love and respect each other, and say sorry all the time, or so the stereotype goes. However, the issue of racism, police brutality, violence and subsequent inequities present are not issues that are constrained to the US solely but extend to our borders here in Canada as well. The deaths of Jermaine Carby in Brampton, and Sammy Yatim and Andrew Loku in Toronto at the hands of police violence demonstrate this. The thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada speaks to this.

However, these deaths do not happen in a vacuum. They are but one manifestation of systems of oppression that, on the basis of the colour of one’s skin, not only disadvantage certain groups but as a result lead to the privileging of other groups. This is a very key point - the disadvantage of some allows the advantage of others. We see this process play itself out over and over again - it happens in our schools, at work, in the marketplace, and yes, even in hospitals and in broader society as it relates to the health and wellbeing of racialized and indigenous people in this country. Yet, given the influence racism can have and has had on the social determinants of health and the health care system, we have seen surprisingly limited responses from the public health community when it comes to this dire issue in Canada. Racism is not exclusive to the US, it happens here too and is has very real impacts on the lived realities of people of colour.

In fact, an article in Maclean’s shows not only does Canada have a lot of work to do when it comes to institutional and systemic racism, it often has a worse record on the issue than the US. For instance, as the chart below indicates, on several economic, social and health indicators, Aboriginal Canadians suffer more than African-Americans. From unemployment, income levels, incarceration rates, infant mortality, and life expectancy, the situation is much worse in Canada than in the US. However, even more striking is the fact that there are such inequities present at all in either country which identifies itself as a developed nation.



This in large part is due to the legacy of residential schools, and the colonial project that resulted in the ‘cultural genocide’ of Aboriginal peoples in this country, and which the recent findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report reveal and examine in greater detail. We are not exempt from the historical legacies of colonialism and slavery that have institutionalized racist policies and practices into many systems like the criminal justice system, educational system, and yes, even our health care systems. The xenophobia that has influenced certain citizenship and immigration laws also has impacts on health, for example, as we’ve seen with cuts and restrictions to refugee health care in the last few years. The troubling part is that in Canada and elsewhere, when the issue of racism is raised, action is stalled because the conversation becomes narrowly fixated on the individual and interpersonal forms of racism. Microaggressions, slurs and explicit disdain of people based on the melanin content of their complexion should never be tolerated, and it has been found to have real impacts on the health of racialized people.

What we want to do is create a space within the public health community to broaden the scope of the conversation around racism to understand the ways in which it is a public health concern. In schools of public health across the country, students will come across the ‘social determinants of health’ or the ‘upstream’ factors affecting health. We want to explore and demonstrate the ways in which different forms of racism such as the interpersonal, the internalized, the institutional, impact the health and wellbeing of people of color in Canada are possibly the most ignored social determinant of health of all. We want to also have a frank discussion on the different pathways by which racism in society causes health inequities. Specifically, we want to talk how racism leads to pathways to health inequity such as inequitable access and distribution of economic and social determinants of health; targeted marketing of commodities that can harm health like alcohol, tobacco, drugs and food; and inadequate and inappropriate medical care, some of which have been outlined in quite some detail in presentations by the Wellesley Institute.

As we peel back the layers and start to identify the root cause of health disparities between racialized and non-racialized people in this country, we can begin to see how racism influences the aforementioned pathways and replicates social inequities in health outcomes as well. With the release of several publications such as the ‘First Peoples, Second Class Treatment’ report by the Wellesley Institute to the ‘Racialization and Health Inequities in Toronto’ report by Toronto Public Health, we know that racism and racial health inequities are a hidden and serious concern with detrimental consequences for all people in Canada. We must become proactive in our efforts to put an end to these injustices. Racial justice and racial health equity must become everyone’s concern. We must act with great urgency, dedication and vision. We hope through a conference such as ours, we will be able to build a platform where we can inspire meaningful action.

As professionals in this field, and as Dr. Mary Bassett, New York Health Commissioner, eloquently outlined in a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine, we can impact the issue of racism and racial health inequities in three ways: through critical research, through internal reform and by public advocacy. At the core of public health is a commitment to social justice and health equity and we believe this conference will serve as a catalyst for action so as to change the tide with respect to racial health inequities in this country.

As future public health professionals and leaders in the field, we believe it is imperative that we not only have a thorough understanding of the issue at hand but also begin the process of mapping out assets and developing possible solutions. We believe that racial health inequities are a public health concern and we must address the consequences of racism and its root causes. As you begin to read more about this conference, you will see that not only will it provide an avenue for discussion on this critical issue but it will be solutions-focused as well. The conference we are planning has the potential to truly shift the conversation in public health, and possibly other sectors as well by re-framing racism as a public health issue.

In this conference, we are hoping to start a conversation about the ways in which the public health sector can start to take a more active role on the issue of racism and racial health inequity in this country. In the weeks ahead, we will focus on each of our conference sub-themes to show that racism is indeed a public health area of concern. The sub-themes include: Aboriginal and Indigenous Health; Gaining Skills and Tools for Anti-Racism Research and Practice; Immigrant, Refugee & Newcomer Health; Environmental Racism and Built Environment; Racialized Health in the Digital Age; & Systemic and Institutional Racism.

We look forward to engaging on this critical topic with all of you! Let us know what you think or any ideas you’d like to share by sending us a message to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or via Facebook or Twitter. And of course, please do come out to the Dalla Lana School of Public Health on October 23 and October 24th to continue the conversation, discuss solutions and explore the leadership role the public health community can take on the issue of racism and racial health inequities in Canada.

For more details about our conference, check out our website at and stay tuned for details next week on how to purchase tickets!

Follow the Co-Chairs Meena Bhardwaj, Eden Hagos, Navita Singh, and Anjum Sultana on Twitter for more insights on public health issues. Be sure to follow our conference twitter account too:



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Dave Meslin - Breaking Down Barriers to Community Action

We are thrilled to have author and “Community Choreographer” Dave Meslin as our keynote speaker for this year’s biennial conference Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change.

Dave Meslin HiRes 2

Meslin has 15 years’ experience producing grassroots, non-partisan community campaigns designed to influence the public as well as decision-makers. As a writer, researcher, community organizer and trainer, his work focuses on public-space issues, built environment, active transportation, voting reform and democratic engagement. As a professional speaker, Dave shows through lessons learned from his experiences how he has managed to shift cultures of cynicism to cultures of engagement.

Dave Meslin’s Work

Meslin has been involved in several exciting projects over the past several years including a CBC Debate, Is Democracy Broken? And a CBC Documentary: Is Politics Broken?. His 2010 TED talk The Antidote to Apathy has over 1.4 million views and has been translated into 37 languages.

He is currently writing a book called "100 Remedies for a Broken Democracy", to be published by Penguin Canada. The book discusses “100 ways to renew our ailing democracy” and provides a roadmap for people to get involved in politics and civic issues.



Keynote Address - Breaking Down Barriers to Community Action

In his keynote address, Dave Meslin will discuss the barriers that keep people from taking part in their communities, even when they truly care, and explore how to overcome public apathy and create a culture of engagement. He will speak about how to open the doors to meaningful dialogue and participation, allowing us to collectively build communities we want to live in.

With anecdotes from the non-profit sector, the electoral scene and the vibrant world of community organizing, Dave will share stories and tips about effective communication, organizing and advocacy.

Register online for Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change

Want to find out more about Dave Meslin? Check out his blog - Mez Dispenser and website - PigeonHat Industries

Follow Dave on Twitter - @meslin

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Racism and Health Blog Series

Blog Series 

We are excited to announce a blog series on Racism and Health written by students at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. The upcoming 8th Annual Dalla Lana Student-Led Conference at the University of Toronto happening on October 23rd and October 24th, 2015 is titled 'Racial Justice Matters: Advocating for Racial Health Equity'. 

To kick off our blog series we have an excerpt from an article written by Anjum Sultana, a Public Health Policy Fellow, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and one of the co-chairs of the conference. This article was recently featued in the OHPE Bulletin

Racial Justice Matters: Why Racism is a Public Health Issue 

By Anjum Sultana @anjumsultana 

When it comes to the issue of racism and population health, the public health sector has a critical role to play in not only health services and the social determinants of health, but as Camara Jones and others put it, on the social determinants of equity. In a recent commentary ( in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Mary Bassett, the New York Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene, delineates three specific ways in which public health can act - through critical research, through internal inform and through public advocacy. These three distinct actions map out very nicely with recommendations and avenues of change public health can act on in the domains of research, practice and advocacy to mitigate and eradicate racial health inequities in Canada.

Research: The Need for Race-Based Data and Targeted Research Questions

One of the greatest challenges in addressing racial health inequities is the lack of targeted research to find out exactly how racial health inequities play out in Canada and usually other measures – such as immigrant status – are used as a proxy. One technique that could be used within research is to start to collect race-based data as it pertains to health. Our neighbours to the south have decades of data to show the pervasiveness of racial health inequities and we need to follow suit, especially as we are starting to become a more diverse nation. It is not enough to stop at just using the ‘race’ variable but this must be expanded in research methodology to start to measure the impacts of ‘racism’ as well. The tendency to focus on the ‘race’ variable without understanding the context of how particular races are treated differently, has resulted in negative health outcomes, should there be any, becoming attributed to belonging to a racial group. This happens as opposed to attribution to the lived realities and experiences of being a member in that society that may have several manifestations of internalized interpersonal and institutional racism.

To read the full article visit the OHPE website - 



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Fentanyl – A Deadly Drug on the Rise in Canada

A new bulletin published by the Canadian Community Epidemiology on Drug Use on August 11th 2015 reports that deaths from Fentanyl have been rising since 2009 across Canada.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate that is being used increasingly by both recreational and habitual drug users. It is a painkiller in patch form that is prescribed by doctors to patients in severe pain or post-surgery. It is estimated to be 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Doctors generally only prescribe the drug to cancer or chronic pain patients who have previously been treated with other opioids, as they have developed a tolerance to less potent opioids. For patients who have never taken opioids it can be very dangerous.

The drug is used in its original form by drug users, either by chewing the patches or scraping off the drug to smoke or inject it. The drug is also frequently mixed into other drugs being sold on the street such as heroin or cocaine or oxycodone. It is possibly best known as a substitution/imitation of OxyContin.

Fentanyl finds its way into the hands of user via two pathways – through diversion of pharmaceutical products and through importation of illicit pharmaceutical grade Fentanyl or fentanyl like compounds in powder form.

Recent Deaths

With the high cost and decreasing availability of OxyContin Fentanyl is being sold in a pill format and marketed as OxyContin. On August 1st a 17 year old boy died after taking Fentanyl he thought was OxyContin. A young couple in North Vancouver who were recreational users died in July 2015 after inhaling the drug. In injection drug users it is also dangerous; it is cut with heroin, unbeknownst to users, dramatically increasing the potency and risk. According to local police fentanyl was blamed for 16 overdose deaths on Sunday August 9th in Vancouver.

Deaths from 2009 – 2014

CCENDU Bulletin Deaths Involving Fentanyl in Canada, 2009–2014 reports that there were at least 655 deaths between 2009 – 2014 where Fentanyl was the cause or a contributing factor. In addition there were 1019 drug overdose deaths where Fentanyl was cited in the autopsy toxicology report. These results mean that one Canadian is dying of a Fentanyl overdose every three days.

Possible Solutions

The Vancouver Costal Health started the Know Your Source campaign aimed at educating recreational users about the risks of Fentanyl and teaching tips to prevent over dose. There is also a great solution – the drug Naloxone is an opioid antagonist and can be used to reverse the effects of overdose. The drug is easily administered by a doctor, family member or even a passerby.

This drug has the potential to save hundreds of lives and has been used for several years in the US but has been met with opposition in Canada and has not been widely adopted. A recent report Prescription for Life from the Municipal Drug Strategy Co-ordinator’s Network of Ontario urged the government to improve opioid safety and reduce deaths by expanding access to Naloxone. Ontario has had one pilot program that distributed to a limited number of ‘take home kits’ but the drug is not readily accessible. The Network recommends that the drug should be available to all Ontarians at risk for overdose and potential ‘Good Samaritans’ such as parents or friends. It should also be available to workers at in shelters, withdrawal management centers, addiction treatment centers and primary health care settings.


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Baby Boomers Are Reaching Retirement – How Will It Impact Senior Poverty?

As Canadian baby boomers reach retirement, how many of these soon-to-be seniors are financially prepared? Born between 1946 and 1965, baby boomers make up 29% of the Canadian population. Many of them have already retired and the youngest of them will reach retirement age in the next 15 years. By 2030 22% of the Canadian population will be over 65.

Canadians are living longer due to advances in medical care and overall quality of life. While returns on stock investments have been poor over the past 12 years and many Canadians many need to work past 65, most Canadians will not fall into poverty as they reach retirement. A new McKinsey report, Building on Canada’s Strong Retirement Readiness, states that 77% of households will be able to maintain their standard of living after retirement. While this is fantastic news and puts Canada well above many other developed countries, this still leaves 23% of households at risk of falling into poverty.

It should be noted this report does not take into account the amount of income it will take seniors to live comfortably in retirement. Some seniors will be relying solely on Guaranteed Income Supplements (GIS), Old Age Security (OAS), and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

Who is At Risk?

Two main groups are at risk – middle-high income earners who have not planned and saved for retirement by contributing to RRSPs and personal saving accounts and low-income earners, who have not been able to contribute to RRSP or personal savings and will reply solely on their government pension. Many lower-income and middle income families have not been able to adequately save for retirement. Reasoning behind this include an increasingly consumer lifestyle, labour market inequalities, and changes in family-structure (i.e. many single-parent families).

Women are particularly vulnerable

A new study by economists Curtis and Rybczynski, 2015 found that many female baby boomers are not ready for retirement. Many baby boomer women have a higher education and entered the work force after school but took time off to raise children. This created a rising labour supply but not an increase in demand, resulting in lower wages. Low-wages and their M-shaped career pattern mean that many women have very little retirement savings. These women are left relying on their husband’s petition meaning that divorce or the death of their spouse could leave them at risk of poverty.

According to a report  by the OECD,  senior poverty is increasing in Canada, and the most vulnerable group are single women, especially those who are widowed or divorced.

Senior Poverty

Compared with other OECD countries Canada still has one of the lowest rates of senior poverty but there has been an increase in the past few years. The OECD explains the reason for the disparity in income levels seen in Canadian seniors –

Incomes from capital, including private pensions, represent a larger share: around 42% – well above the OECD average of 18%. As private pensions are mainly concentrated among workers with higher earnings, the growing importance of private provision in the next decades may lead to higher income inequality among the elderly (OEDC, 2013).

A report by Statistics Canada using from the new Canada Income Survey (CIS) shows that 12.1% of seniors 65 and older are living below the poverty line, the rate for single seniors is 28%.

There are significant social safety nets in place for seniors in Canada, which is great – however it is debateable whether they are sufficient to keep seniors out of poverty.

Here is a breakdown of the programs: 

Guaranteed Income Supplements (GIS) – supplement available to low-income seniors

Old Age Security (OAS) – guaranteed pension paid monthly by the government to individuals over the age of 65 who meet the residency requirements. You do not need to have ever worked to receive this.

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) – Government pension plan that is contributed to by employees throughout the lifetime.

If a single individual were to receive the maximum GIS and OAS payments their monthly allowance would be - $1330.80. This is the reason 28% single seniors are living in poverty.

Policy Changes

CARP, a seniors advocacy organization, has called on financial ministers to make policy changes that will increase retirement security and reduce pension reform.

  • Creating a national supplementary Universal Pension Plan (UPP) with reliable, predictable benefits.
  • Eliminate mandatory minimum withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs).
  • Replace OAS and GIS benefits that will be due to increasing OAS eligibility age.
  • Support single seniors, with particular regard to older women, with an equivalent to spousal allowance for single seniors in financial need.
  • Help low-income workers make pension contributions.
  • Consider a national Guaranteed Minimum Income to reduce poverty and replace multiple, complex, administratively expensive welfare programs.
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