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!

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Actively Offering Services in French

Reporting live from HC Link’s biannual conference Linking for Healthy Communities!

I’m really passionate about French Language Services (FLS). The interesting thing about my passion for FLS is that I’m not a Francophone. Rather I’m an Anglophone that has been working for the past few years to improve my French. And that’s actually why I’m so passionate about supporting organizations to deliver services in French: I know firsthand how challenging and frustrating it is to know what you want to say, but to not have the words to express yourself. When it comes to health services, it’s not only frustrating but can actually affect patient outcomes. When it comes to health advice, treatment or medications it is critical that the patient understands fully. And for Ontario’s Francophones, that means being able to access services in French.

In this afternoon’s workshop, Lynn Brouilette from Consortium National de Formation en Santé introduced the concept of Active Offer and shared some of the work that CNFS is doing to support health organizations and professionals to actively offer FLS. Then Patrick Delorme shared a new English toolkit, developed by Health Nexus and the Toronto Central LHIN, which provides a simple methodology for organizations to develop Active Offer.

There is a fine line between offering FLS and the Active Offer of FLS. Active Offer goes beyond simply making services available in French and ensures that all clients know- before they even have to ask- that high quality and reliable services are available to them in French. In this workshop, we heard about two organizations working in Active Offer.

When it comes to FLS, we often wonder if we should take a chicken or egg approach to FLS services: should we offer them first, or should we wait for demand? Research shows us that Francophones often don’t ask for services in French. We need to make it clear that services are available – whether asked for or not.

Anglophones can also be involved in Active Offer! By offering just a couple of words in French (even “Bonjour” or “Bienvenue”) communicates that clients have a choice of English or French. If they choose French, the appropriate French speaking staff can then be brought into the conversation.

Now, on to Health Nexus’ French reception to celebrate Francophones and French Services! We look forward to seeing you there!


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What do I do now? Communicating evaluation results for action

Reporting live from HC Link’s biannual conference Linking for Healthy Communities!

This afternoon I attended an excellent session on communicating evaluation results, delivered by Laura Bellissimo and Allison Meserve from Public Health Ontario. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm one of those health promoters that struggles to find evaluation interesting. I know it's important, and I always want it incorporated into everything that I do, but preferably by other people. However this workshop kept my attention the whole time, which is impressive given that it was right after lunch and the bread pudding at the BMO Institute for Learning is exceptional!

What I loved about this session is that it really made us all think about the communications aspect of evaluating, something that may not always be considered. We evaluate because we must, or because we want to ensure that our program works and is effective. We also want to be accountable to our stakeholders and funders. No one, wisely said Allison, conducts an evaluation for the purpose of writing a report.

It is interesting then, given the efforts that we put into not only designing and delivering the program/initiative but also the evaluation itself, that we don't always communicate results. Or if we do, it's in a way that resonates only to academics and government.

Allison and Laura gave us four key things to think about when designing our evaluation strategy:

Communicate results throughout the evaluation: This ensures that your stakeholders will find the results credible and increases the chances that they will use the results. Your final evaluation should not contain any surprises!

Consider various audience characteristics: Clearly identify who your stakeholders are and what methods of communication work best for them. Think about their familiarity with the program, their reading level, their attitude towards the program and their role in decision making.

Clearly define your communication objectives to successfully communicate your evaluation results: Determine why you want to communicate, to whom you want to direct your messages, and what you want to communicate.

Lots of options beyond a report: Think about social media, mass media, info graphics, poetry, theatre, and professional channels.

One thing that often arises when communicating evaluation results is what to do when the results are negative (or perceived as negative). The impulse might be to not share results that are negative. However, cautioned Allison, if we do not communicate these results, you do your stakeholders a disservice. Others can’t learn from your work if you don’t share it!

So, regardless of the results of your evaluation, communicating those results is critical for accountability, learning and transferability. Be sure to consider not only what and how you will evaluate, but how you will tell people about the results.

Now, go forth and evaluate. And brag about it!

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Toronto Drug Strategy Prevention Working Group

Guest post by Chidinma Nwakalor, an undergraduate placement student at PAD

On November 5th 2015, a Toronto Drug Strategy Prevention Working Group meeting was held at Metro Hall. The monthly meeting brings together representatives from community stakeholders around Toronto such as the YMCA, CAMH, Loft Community services, Toronto School District Board, Parent Action on Drugs, and Toronto Public Health.

The highlight of the meeting was a presentation by Erika Kandar, an epidemiologist with Toronto Public Health (TPH). She presented findings on a Toronto Public Health Survey of students from grade 7 – 12.

The survey showed that most students had a positive view of their self-esteem (80%) and school connectedness (85%). Unsurprisingly, there was a strong, consistent link between mental health and substance use.

The good news for Toronto, is that compared to students in Ontario, Toronto students are less likely to binge drink and use drugs like marijuana, cough medication and pain pills (without prescription). However, 26% of secondary school students still reported risky behaviors like binge drinking and mixing alcohol with energy drinks. Sub-groups of youth at risk for alcohol and drug use included: females, older students, students from low socio-economic backgrounds and LGB+ students. Canadian-born students were more likely to use alcohol compared to new immigrants.

Alcohol and drug use is concerning because these behaviours can affect the development of teenagers and may also lead to substance misuse. The responses on suicidal attempts and incidents of self-harm were even more worrisome. 11% of students reported engaging in self-harming behaviours like cutting or burning themselves on purpose within the past year. Around the same percentage (12%) also reported that they had seriously considered suicide within the past year.

At the meeting, the representatives from the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Public Health (who interact with high school students frequently) agreed that the numbers around suicidal attempts and self-harm from this survey might even be an underestimation.

Self-harm and suicidal attempts are signs of poor mental health and inadequate social support. These two factors need to be addressed to ensure that the incidents of self-harm, suicidal attempts, substance misuse and other risky behaviours are reduced among Toronto students.

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Looking Back, Moving Forward: The 10th Anniversary of the Toronto Drug Strategy


On November 9th, 2015, the City of Toronto hosted an event honouring the 10th anniversary of the Toronto Drug Strategy (TDS). The event brought together community workers, activists, policy makers and members of the public to discuss the work of the TDS over the past 10 years, and the future of drug policy in the City of Toronto.


Toronto City Councillor Joe Cressy opened the event stating that preventing harms associated with substance use has been the main goal of the TDS.

The introductory remarks noted the TDS’ work on reducing the lives taken through drug overdose. Former City Councillor Kyle Rae mentioned that in 2010, the City of Toronto became the first municipality to endorse the Vienna Declaration, which seeks to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into drug policy.

Kyle went back in time to when the area surrounding St. Stephen’s House in Toronto was “disruptive” due to drug activity in the area. Kyle went to Europe to see how similar situations were dealt with in different cities, and found that safe injection sites were particularly helpful in decreasing the number of break-ins, decreasing property violence, and improving health. After bringing these learnings back to Toronto, this issue moved forward on Toronto’s City Council and has played a significant role in Toronto’s drug policy work since then. City Councillor Gord Perks also added the importance of working with the “different hands that make our society” to end the stigma surrounding drug use.

Susan Shephard, Manager of the Toronto Drug Secretariat spoke next about the detailed work of the TDS. When discussing prevention initiatives, Susan noted Strengthening Families for Parents and Youth program, which is an initiative of Parent Action on Drugs. Other work of the Implementation Panel includes workshops for service providers on building youth resilience, workshops on teen brain development, a prescription drug drop-off day, the promotion of safer nightlife/partying, and other harm reduction services. The overall theme of the presentation was the reduction of stigma and discrimination towards drug users.

Next to speak was Zoe Todd, a Harm Reduction and Drug User Advocate from the South Riverdale Community Health Centre. Zoe’s presentation was by far the most moving, as she discussed her personal experiences losing people to drug overdose. Zoe delved deep into the policy context that she feels contributes to the stigma and eventual deaths of drug users, noting the criminalization of drugs as a main barrier to safer drug use. Zoe also emphasized that cuts to health care, gentrification, homophobia, inadequate housing, and racism all contribute to a loss of community, which eventually leads to drug overdose deaths.

I was personally shocked to learn that between 2003-2014, the City of Toronto saw a 41% increase in reported overdose deaths in Toronto. What causes this? Well, one reason is that when drug use is heavily criminalized, drug users are scared to call 911 when overdosing. Zoe advocated for Good Samaritan Legislation, which would allow drug users to call 911 without fear of being arrested for drug use or possession. Zoe brought the audience to tears when she powerfully closed her presentation with a moment of silence for those that have died due to drug overdose.

Senator Larry Campbell was the final speaker of the event, and also emphasized the need for a Good Samaritan Legislation, as well as drug policy that is based on science. He stated that in his ten minute walk to City Hall, he saw 10 homeless people, many of which were probably mentally ill, experiencing addictions and experiencing abuse. “This is unacceptable”, Larry exclaimed.

After the event, there was an information fair in the members’ lounge, where the audience was able to learn about the wide range of Toronto Drug Strategy community initiatives. It was a great opportunity for those in the drug policy and prevention community to learn about each other’s work and further reflect on the presentations made earlier.

Congratulations to the Toronto Drug Strategy for an impactful 10 years, and we look forward to seeing what the next 10 years will hold!



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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. 

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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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YouthREX: When Asset-Mapping for Communities, Focus on Opportunities…not Problems!

On October 21st, YouthREX hosted a webinar titled “Reframing Need: Asset-Driven Youth Program and Community Development”. It’s not often a webinar is jam-packed with new, practical information, but YouthREX never fails to impress me. This webinar was no different.

The webinar kicked off with a presentation by Alexander Lovell, Director of Research and Education at YouthREX. His presentation included a literature review on approaches to community development and youth engagement, starting from the 1970s until today. The main takeaway of this literature review was that youth engagement today focuses more on assets than it used to, and that the concept of “positive youth development” is quickly gaining popularity.

Alexander also highlighted six main principles to remember when asset mapping:

  • Everyone has gifts/strengths/assets
  • Relationships build community
  • People are actors
  • Leaders involve others
  • People care about their community 
  • Research matters and involves listening/asking/learning 

He also highlighted key steps in the asset-mapping process, such as defining boundaries, finding partners, determining what assets to include (both for groups and individuals), organizing the assets through visual means, and determining steps for action. He noted the importance of recognizing different levels of analysis when asset mapping, such as the system, community and individuals.

To demonstrate some of the concepts in his presentation, Alexander used the example of youth unemployment. Focusing on the negative aspects of this problem would be a normal part of a needs assessment. However, an asset-based approach would consider the local resources available in an area with youth unemployment, such as opportunities available for youth and the broader community.

Next up was Katie Elliot of the NORDIK Institute. Katie works in the area of youth social entrepreneurship with Social Entrepreneurship Evolution (SEE). SEE is rooted in a holistic community approach, and aims to promote social entrepreneurship to support young change-makers in promoting resilient communities.

For this project, SEE used a strengths-based approach to identify assets that can support young social entrepreneurs in northern Ontario. Instead of looking at problems negatively, SEE identified gaps as opportunities to help youth realize how they can make positive change. In doing so, Katie and SEE learned why it is important for the community to lead the discussion of their own asset-map, and that this should be done in a safe environment conducive to knowledge sharing. Katie also noted something that many of us in the non-profit world are aware of: lots of community work happens in silos, and it is important to be aware of all the initiatives happening in your community so we can collaborate.

As usual, the YouthREX webinar had tons of practical information for non-profits seeking to improve their community and youth engagement practices!


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Panel Discussion Explores Real-World Perspectives at 2015 Conference

On Day 1 of next month’s HC Link conference, Linking for Healthy Communities: Action for Change, we are holding a one-hour panel discussion following our opening keynote address from Dave Meslin. Dave is speaking about Breaking Down Barriers to Community Action, and will discuss how to open the doors to meaningful dialogue and participation, allowing us to collectively build communities we want to live in.

The follow-up panel discussion will explore perspectives on this from the community level. The intent is that it will bridge concepts introduced in the keynote with the things that conference attendees can do when they return to work after the conference. We are happy to have Dave moderate this interactive panel session. He will no doubt have a number of thought-provoking perspectives and comments of his own to share.

We have a diverse line-up of panelists from across the province that will share their experiences and offer practical advice on how to break down the barriers that exist in engaging and involving people to make change in their communities. Here is a bit about them:


CorinaArtuso crop

Corina Artuso

Youth Engagement Coordinator, Algoma Public Health

Corina has a decade of experience working with youth and community partners in the Algoma district’s rural, urban and First Nation communities and knows the resiliency and power young people can have to make change when given opportunities and support. Using a collaborative approach, she seeks to build capacity for youth engagement at personal, professional, organizational and community levels. Corina will share how youth engagement strategies can break barriers to better achieve organizational mandates and build healthy communities. 




ElizabethGough cropElizabeth Gough

Co-Chair, Elgin Children’s Network 

Elizabeth is a Community Planning Analyst for Elgin-Middlesex-London with a focus on early child development and family support. She has led many community initiatives including: The Family Involvement Project, St. Thomas Doable Neighbourhood Project, Northside Neighbourhood Hub and Elgin Children’s Network. As a believer in Human Centred Design Thinking, her approach to meaningful change starts with relationship building and intentional connectivity. Elizabeth’s work is guided by a vision for a healthier, happier community to live, work and play.




LucOuelette cropLuc Ouellette

Co-President, Coalition of Community Health & Resource Centres of Ottawa

Luc is Executive Director of the Orleans-Cumberland Community Resource Centre and co-president of the Coalition of Community Health & Resource Centres of Ottawa, which was a partner in creating Bridging the Gap: Measuring what matters - The Ottawa Community Wellbeing report. This report told the story of the city of Ottawa in a relatable, accessible and meaningful way that successfully engaged the public and got attention of the media and municipal staff. The Ottawa Coalition also worked very closely with 2014’s Making Votes Count Where We Live initiative. He is a member of the Civic Engagement Table, gathering community partners and residents of Ottawa as part of ongoing civic engagement.


Getting citizens, community leaders and organizations interested and engaged in community issues can be such a huge undertaking. I’m really looking forward to hearing ideas and advice from these three individuals and all the participants at our conference this year. I hope you’ll be there!

There’s still time to register but not long! Registration closes Monday, November 2nd.

This is just one activity planned at our provincial conference this year. Check out the Conference Agenda & Program.

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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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Active Offer

HC Link has been involved with building the capacity of organizations to deliver French Language Services for several years. You might already be familiar with some of the resources and webinars we’ve delivered on this topic. That’s just one of the reasons that I’m excited that Patrick Delorme will be presenting at our upcoming HC Link Conference! Patrick has been working with Health Nexus and Toronto Central LHIN to develop the Active Offer Toolkit: a practical guide to clear and effective French Language Services.

What I like about the Active Offer approach is that it is proactive: rather than waiting for clients to ask for services in French, the organization initiates offering FLS. Clients know that services are available to them in French, and that French services are the same quality as English ones.

The toolkit itself is straight forward and practical. It is based around six steps, each with detailed purpose statements and examples. The 6 steps are built around four key factors for success: commitment, collaboration, communication and competencies. Without the Four Cs, active offer cannot become a reality.



Patrick’s workshop will be on November 12th at 3 pm. Patrick will be presenting in English and there will be simultaneous translation available into French.  In the workshop, Patrick will talk about the concept of active offer, the benefits to providing services in French, and provide an overview of the  toolkit. Participants will then have the chance to work in small groups to actually apply the ACTIVE steps and think about how their organizations have strengthen their Active Offer practices. Patrick has been working in the field of FLS and active offer for several years and has a great deal of experience and expertise to share.

I’ll be moderating this workshop at the HC Link Conference and I hope to see you there!

Do you have any tips, tricks or challenges relating to French Language Services that you’d like to share? Leave us a comment!

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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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Possible: When the Improbable becomes the Inevitable


Written by Lorna McCue, Executive Director, Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition

I’ve just returned from a week-long Collective Impact Summit, hosted by Tamarack: An Institute for Community Engagement from Sept. 28 - Oct. 2, 2015. About 250 people from all over the world and many different walks of life gathered in Vancouver to learn and share their experiences about Collective Impact.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Collective impact, it is a process of bringing people together, in a structured way, to achieve social change. Five essential elements of collective impact have been identified: a common agenda; shared measurement; mutually reinforcing activities; continuous communication; and a strong backbone; i.e. an organization or team that orchestrates the work of the group. For more information about Collective Impact please see

The theme of the summit was “Possible: When the improbable becomes the inevitable”. I admit that I didn’t really “get it” when I first read this tag line, but its meaning became clearer as I heard some of the speakers explain how they used a collective impact process to create sufficient momentum to move improbable ideas to the point where their implementation became inevitable.


collectiveimpact2The summit was an extraordinary event, filled with a great many gifts for our minds, bodies and spirits. The organizing team designed an innovative format that enabled us to collectively co-create a fabulous learning experience, tailored to our own particular needs and aspirations.

Each day started with a plenary session, featuring a musician, poet and/or artist, followed by a keynote speaker and discussion. A variety of formats were used for break-out sessions; workshops, discussion panels, tools sessions, case study presentations and learning labs. The labs consisted of a group of participants who met once or twice each day to reflect on the presentations, synthesize and share our learning, and collectively generate new possibilities for our work and personal lives.

Other optional activities included early morning yoga, walks and discussion dinners. The Learning Commons, which was a “hub” for networking, arts, crafts and music, included a Learning Wall on which participants could post their where questions, insights and reflections. A major highlight of the summit was a celebration at the Musqueam Community Centre. We were given a tour of the grounds, entertained with drumming, dancing and singing, and enjoyed an authentic Coast Salish feast.

Here are some of the thoughts that I brought back from the summit:

  • Collective Impact (CI) practice is evolving and now we need to build the capacity (e.g.; skills, methods, tools and mental models) and create the ecology (e.g., networks, policies, resources, culture) to support it.
  •  CI requires an alignment of goals and resources, and minds that are open to doing things differently.
  •  We need to involve front line workers and “clients”, not just upper management and “decision-makers” in our CI initiatives.
  • Deep and durable changes in population level outcomes require changes in complex adaptive systems.
  • The development evaluation approach can strengthen adaptive responses. 
  • Many positive yet unintended benefits can result from a CI approach; it creates space and time for relationship development and learning about context, culture, root causes and assets.
  • Shared measurement is a powerful tool for story-telling and to test our “theory of change”.
  • Use of “best practices” discourages social innovation. 
  • 61 Canadian communities have developed plans to end homelessness.
  • Wolves in Yellowstone Park changed the river - see

All the presentation slide decks, summaries of each day and extensive resources have been posted at:

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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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Thinking about Mental Health Promotion during Mental Illness Awareness Week

October 4-10 2015 marks Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW). MIAW is a time to reflect on, and discuss, how mental illness and substance use disorders may have an impact on our lives and communities. Part of these discussions might focus on sharing personal experiences of struggle, hope and recovery. MIAW is also an important time to consider the central role that mental health plays in our lives.

Mental health is increasingly known as something more than the absence of mental illness. The Public Health Agency of Canada describes mental health as "the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity." In this way, mental health is a concept that relates to our ability to manage life in ways that help us cope with stressors and reach our goals. Just like our physical health, we all have mental health. Mental health also requires an inclusive environment where we feel safe and are accepted for our differences. A safe and inclusive environment creates space for us to feel good about ourselves so we can develop positive emotional, spiritual and mental health and reach our full potential. Mental health is something we can all work to promote in ourselves and in our communities.

The CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre recently created a video about mental health promotion. The Public Health Agency of Canada defines mental health promotion as “the process of enhancing the capacity of individuals and communities to take control over their lives and improve their mental health. By working to increase self-esteem, coping skills, social support and well-being in all individuals and communities, mental health promotion empowers people and communities to interact with their environments in ways that enhance emotional and spiritual strength. It is an approach that fosters individual resilience and promotes socially supportive environments”.



With this definition in mind, the video outlines the importance of promoting mental health in everyone, even those who may be struggling with mental illness or a substance use disorder. The video shares a fictional story about a woman named Tara who, despite having a diagnosis of mental illness, has good mental health. Although, Tara has been diagnosed with depression – a potentially severe mental illness - her illness is now under control. Tara is on medication and she sees her therapist regularly. She likes her job, feels capable of completing her work, and is able to eat right, sleep well and exercise. She feels comfortable and respected in the places where she lives and works and she feels like the people in her life love her and understand her. By enhancing individual well-being and creating conditions where individuals are safe and respected we can work to promote mental health for everyone.

For more information on MIAW, visit the CAMH MIAW Event Page where you can also learn about in-person and social media events to participate in this week!

You can also learn more about mental health promotion resources and the CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre here: 



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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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Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play

Last winter, in the midst of a particularly frigid deep freeze, I had the opportunity to comment on a draft Position Statement circulated by Shawna Babcock of KidActive on the role and risks of "Active Outdoor Play. I was so excited about what I was reading. I had visions of printing it off, and running it down to our local Board of Education office, waving it in front of any administrator who would listen.

While I'm normally not that impassioned by policy statements, I was this time. For the last several weeks, in the grips of an unrelenting cold winter, the students at our local school were prohibited from playing on the "back field" at break, due to the risk of slipping on the ice. Three times that week, I drove past our school when kids were on their recess. I had expected to see a flurry of winter wonderland activity: snowfort building, sliding on snowpants, broomball maybe. Instead I saw hundreds of bundled up students, standing around like unhappy penguins trying to keep warm.

When I inquired as to why they weren't allowed to play in the playground in the snow, I learned of a board-wide policy intended to protect students from slipping on the ice and hurting themselves. My immediate thought (which I didn't actually say) was "Gee - that's ironic. I spend good money every year making sure my kid does slip on the ice . It's called hockey, and yes I know it's different because he wears a helmet. " The point was made. I got the intent, but that old school Mom in me was screaming "Are you kidding?? Let's just thrown them their iPods and a pack of smokes and hope for the best." There had to be a better way.

I suggested parents could sign a waiver, I attempted to sign my child out at break and allow them to go a nearby park to build forts or play hockey. None of my workarounds were going to work - from the school's perspective. But now, here in my hot little hand, were cold, hard facts, also known evidence and research, to back up my position.

Snippets of facts with footnotes to support them:

  • "Canadian children are eight times more likely to die as a passenger in a motor vehicle than from being hit by a vehicle when outside on foot or on a bike."

  • " When children spend more time in front of screens they are more likely to be exposed to cyber-predators and violence, and eat unhealthy snacks."

The Position Statement

The position statement gave recommendations to set us on a different path (an evidence-informed track by the way) that would result in happier, fitter (and warmer) students.

Here's what the experts had to say:

Educators and Caregivers: Regularly embrace the outdoors for learning, socialization and physical activity opportunities, in various weather conditions—including rain and snow. Risky active play is an important part of childhood and should not be eliminated from the school yard or childcare centre.

Schools and Municipalities: Examine existing policies and by-laws and reconsider those that pose a barrier to a ctive outdoor play.

Provincial and Municipal Governments: Work together to create an environment where Public Entities are protected from frivolous lawsuits over minor injuries related to normal and healthy outdoor risky active play.

The report ends with this great question: In an era of schoolyard ball bans and debates about safe tobogganing, have we as a society lost the appropriate balance between keeping children healthy and active and protecting them from serious harm? If we make too many rules about what they can and can’t do, will we hinder their natural ability to develop and learn? If we make injury prevention the ultimate goal of outdoor play spaces, will they be any fun? Are children safer sitting on the couch instead of playing actively outside?

The full report is available in both English and French at:

Workshop on active play at our upcoming conference!

Active Outdoor Play Position Statement: Nature, risk & children's well-being

Presenters: Shawna Babcock, KidActive @KidActiveCanada 

Marlene Power, Child and Nature Alliance of Canada @cnalliance

Join us to learn about the history, evidence and expertise that contributed to the development of the Active Outdoor Play Position Statement. We will share insights, stories, tools and evidence-based approaches to support the connection between healthy child development and nature, risk and active outdoor play.


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