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Anxieties over racism heighten for many black Canadians in COVID-19 isolation|BCI CANADA

© Provided by The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Casey Palmer's hands were already full keeping his family safe from the COVID-19 pandemic when the killing of George Floyd provoked a flurry of emotions he's still trying to unpack.

Like many Canadians, he was sheltering in place when TV and social media feeds were flooded with a video of Floyd, handcuffed and suffocating under the knee of a Minnesota police officer for nearly nine minutes.

The disturbing images of police brutality were familiar, but that didn't make them any less painful. He suspects the impact of weeks of isolation due to COVID-19 have coupled with anxieties he's harboured about living as a black man in Canada, and brought all of it to a "fever pitch."

"It's a recipe for a bit of a mental disaster," he said of dealing with another inescapable reminder of anti-black racism, this time in the midst of a global pandemic.

"We're already trying to figure out how to make our way through something the world hasn't seen in decades."

His two biracial sons, aged four and six, heard about the protests and the eldest started asking why people were marching in the streets. Palmer had to consider how to explain the situation in a truthful, but age-appropriate way.

"In doing that I have to go through my own emotional checks, and figure out what's going on inside of me so I'm not harming us both in the process," he said.

Natasha Williams, a Toronto-based psychologist, said those intense experiences sound familiar.

She's spoken to many black Canadians who have expressed feelings of despair, and for some, hopelessness, amid multiple reports of racially charged incidents that have emerged in recent weeks.

Normally, people would be able to meet with others and share their grief, but that's not possible these days.

"Isolation can foster symptoms that are related to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder," Williams said.

"Because a lot of times when you're isolating you're also ruminating within a lot of negative, detrimental thinking, and not being able to address those psychological symptoms."

The death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in the presence of Toronto police last week added another layer for many. The woman's fall from a high rise apartment building increased calls for reform to police and mental health support systems, and led to an investigation by an Ontario police watchdog.

People have taken to the streets, from Vancouver to Halifax, calling for justice in the young woman's death. They also marched for Floyd, and anti-black and anti-Indigenous racism.

Data from the United States shows black and Latino people are twice as likely to die from COVID-19, but similar figures are hard to come by in Canada because provinces and territories don't collect race-based figures.

If it wasn't for the virus, Sam Kemp-Jackson said she would have been among the thousands of people taking part in the Justice for Regis march last Saturday in downtown Toronto. Instead, she was housebound in an abundance of caution over lupus, an autoimmune disease that puts her at heightened risk to COVID-19 complications.

When she saw video of Floyd's killing, and another last week of a white woman who threatened to call police on a black man in New York's Central Park, she felt dread.

"These types of things get to you on an ongoing basis. When you keep hearing it, it's like death by 1,000 cuts," Kemp-Jackson said.

"It's tiring. It's exhausting... But there's no choice. You can't jump out of your skin, you can't decide: I