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Commission urges tolerance and respect during the SARS health emergency

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April 3, 2003

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For immediate publication

Toronto- Chief Commissioner Keith Norton of the Ontario Human Rights Commission today urged tolerance and respect for Ontario’s Asian-Canadian community in light of the ongoing health emergency prompted by the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

"It has come to my attention that people of a certain ethnicity may be treated differently and are possibly being stigmatized due to the outbreak of SARS and its suspected origins in China’s Guandong Province," stated Mr. Norton.  "It is intolerable to use the SARS virus as an excuse to stigmatize any group of people in our communities," he added. 

Mr. Norton praised Dr. Colin D’Cunha, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health for affirming that SARS is not a disease of ethnicity but a disease that can affect individuals that have been in close, direct, contact with a case of SARS.

Discriminatory action against any persons or communities because of an association with SARS, perceived or otherwise, is prohibited by the Ontario Human Rights Code.   "Throughout this emergency we must continue to respect the basic principle of human dignity guaranteed by the Code.  Barring someone from a public place, place of employment or refusing services because of their race or place of origin is unlawful and contrary to the Code," said Mr. Norton.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care defines SARS as a severe form of pneumonia whose cause is, as yet, unconfirmed.  According to the Ministry, "The disease is spread from one person to another only through close contact - through droplets from coughing or sneezing, or from direct face-to-face contact. There is no evidence to date that the disease spreads through casual contact, or through the air."

The ground of ‘disability’ under the Code covers diseases and other medical conditions such as SARS.  Different treatment of persons who have or are perceived to have SARS, for reasons unrelated to health and safety precautions prescribed by medical and public health officials, is prohibited under the Code.

To view the list of quarantine conditions and symptoms of SARS, please contact your Local Health Unit or the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.  If you suspect you may be infected, please call Telehealth Ontario 1-866-797-0000 (TTY 1-866-797-0007) for direction.

People who have general queries about SARS can call Ontario's Health Infoline at 1-888-668-4636 (TTY 1-800-387-5559) for more information.

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Afroze Edwards
Sr. Communications Officer
Communications and Issues Management
(416) 314-4528


François Larsen