FMWC President’s Letter June 2020

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As we near the longest day of the year in 2020, I look back on what we have endured thus far.

WE started the year with insidious concern about a “flu-like illness” and threats of world-wide spread.  Some countries jumped into action early and have by-and -large avoided widespread carnage (think New Zealand, Germany and Mongolia--with zero cases). Other countries waited until the “official” pandemic stamp via the WHO on March 18th, (think Canada).  A few more countries tried a social “experiment” of sticking by the status quo. The U.K. paid for their experiment with lamentable and preventable illness and deaths.  Sweden experimented with no lockdown.  Sweden’s “top epidemiologist” has admitted that their strategy resulted in too many deaths. “At 43 deaths per 100,000, Sweden’s mortality rate is among the highest globally and exceeds those of its neighbouring countries”.  (Bloomberg News, June 3, 2020).

Strongman-led countries such as Russia, Brazil, and the United States who follow what seems to work for them and do not consistently utilize evidence-based recommendations have fared the worst both in morbidity and mortality. This comes as no surprise to many.

Mixed into the pandemic-panic, is evidence that the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women who tend to work in diverse front-line employment (long-term care homes, hospitals, environmental services, food services and so on). Added to this is objective evidence of increased intimate partner and family violence for those shuttered at home.

AND in front of all of us, in an abject and profoundly agonizing manner was the “daylight Mainstreet modern lynching of George Floyd” (Royson James, Toronto Star).  Mr. George Floyd’s very public murder in full view of horrified citizens and three stony-faced police officers by a fellow officer who knelt on his neck for over 8 minutes while he gasped out, “I can’t breathe” has galvanized much of the planet.  His death during this time of global struggle, symbolizes the silencing of our voice, oppression via “boot to the neck”, arrogance and systemic brutality as this Black man was un-armed and not struggling (as depicted in the video). As a side note, Mr. George Floyd tested positive for covid-19 on post-mortem. Speculation abounds that the defense may use this diagnosis to explain his violent death).

Mr. George Floyd’s murder appears to have moved the globe to a tipping point. We are saying “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”. Decades and generations of being silenced, unheard, ignored, harmed, murdered and discriminated against have culminated in global protests.  We are morally forced to review our thoughts, actions, biases, and conversations both personally and publicly.  We must educate ourselves about implicit/unconscious bias since this is the kind most of us who consider ourselves open-minded commit.

While Mr. George Floyd’s murder provides a surge of support for the tenet that BLACK LIVES MATTER, his demise shines a light on the abysmal record of systemic racism that Blacks and the Indigenous peoples have endured.

I tweeted a headline a few days ago that showcased the hostile and threatening behaviours leveled at a woman in small town central Alberta, who tried to organize a march for ending racism and that “Black Lives Matter”.  The quote from a man in town was, “I will not welcome this to our town. The entire thing insinuates we have some sort of racial problem, which we do not”. I noted in my tweet. “Yep, looks like you DO!”  The response I received from ALL LIVES MATTER @watisthisdont was, “looks like you DO!”  I do not know if this is a troll or a real being, however, a common response to those opposed to “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and other groups who shine a light on racism or bigotry is that “All Lives Matter”.

The reality is all lives do matter. In our society though, some lives and freedoms matter more than others. The advantaged have had the privilege of race and socio-economic status rooted in the criminal justice system and virtually all other socio-educational, health, and political systems. As noted by Zi-Ann Lum, systemic racism is “baked into the foundations of our justice and media systems, entrenched in our healthcare and immigration systems and manifests itself in practices and policies that exclude and promote members of a particular group”.

The year 2020 has proven so far to be an eye opener. Words have power. It is up to each of us to educate ourselves and talk about what is going on.  It is not up to the BIPOC to do so, as per Melanie Woods in this great article, “BIPOC is an acronym for person of colour or Black, Indigenous or person of colour, usually used to refer to people who identify or are perceived as non-white. Many chose BIPOC to highlight the unique experiences of Black or Indigenous people independent of people of other people of colour and push back against a definition of people as ‘one-size-fits-all’.”.  This article talks about allyship and builds a vocabulary that helps to understand the Anti-Black Racism movement.  Some of what is explained can be extrapolated to the Indigenous peoples of Canada, albeit, with added significance and respect for their own unique stories and experiences.

It is up to all of us to determine how far we move to action sustainable and tenable change to fix our rootbound racist and, dare I add, sexist socio-political systems. The change must start within us for it to spread. We can start small by speaking up at racist jokes or asking for explanation when racist assumptions are made. You can speak up if you notice tokenism and ask for more than one woman or person of colour.

We do know, though, we can “be the change you wish to see in the world” (Ghandi).


Take Care and Be Well.



Clover Hemans, BScN, MD, MSc QIPS

President, Federation of Medical Women of Canada