On the weekend the Winnipeg Free Press was defending the use of information obtained through torture. Today it is formenting fear of immigrants as a major source of communicable diseases.
The editorial is designed to inspire fear and loathing of immigrants. The first half focuses on the case of Johnson Aziga, an HIV-positive immigrant from Uganda who was convicted on Saturday in Ontario of aggravated assault and first degree murder because he had unprotected sex with a large number women who he did not warn of his disease.
That part, at least, is factual. The Free Press then makes astonishing claims about tuberculosis, HIV and immigration procedures that can be refuted by anyone with 10 minutes free time and access to Google. Erroneously claiming that immigrants are not screened for communicable diseases, the Freep states:
TB is a highly infectious disease that is easily passed like the common cold. It was once almost eradicated in Canada, but it is on the rise again, largely because immigration rules do not require applicants from countries where the disease is common to be tested for it. Some are tested after they have arrived here, but, putting Indian reserves aside, almost two-thirds of Canadians affected with tuberculosis are immigrants or refugees.
Tuberculosis is easily curable but hard to avoid when it appears. HIV is almost entirely avoidable but as yet incurable. Both can be deadly. Canadians should ask their politicians why they are being needlessly exposed to either.
Let’s examine the claims.
Is TB easily contracted, as the Freep claims? No. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC):
TB is not as contagious as other diseases, such as the flu or chickenpox. To get infected, you would usually have to spend many hours every day with someone with infectious TB disease. If you live in overcrowded housing with poor air circulation, you may be more at risk of getting latent TB infection.
Is TB on the rise in Canada? According to the PHAC, the rate of TB in Canada is decreasing, not increasing. The agency writes:
The TB case rate in 2007 was the lowest recorded since data collection began in Canada.
Are immigrants from countries where TB and HIV are common allowed to immigrate without medical testing? No. They must undergo extensive medical examinations as a part of the application process.
What about newcomers and TB rates? According the Freep, “putting Indian reserves aside, almost two-thirds of Canadians affected with tuberculosis are immigrants or refugees.”
According to the PHAC:
In 2007, foreign-born individuals accounted for 66% of all reported TB cases in Canada. Canadian-born non-Aboriginal and Canadian-born Aboriginal cases made up 11% and 20%, respectively (Table 3). However, the TB rate in the Canadian-born Aboriginal group continues to be the highest of the three groups, approximately five times the overall Canadian rate.
This “putting Indian reserves aside” is a racist distortion of statistics that permits the Freep to minimize the suffering in Aboriginal communities and exaggerate the scope of the problem in immigrant communities.
TB is rooted in poverty. Poor people living in over-crowded conditions get it. Poor people in prisons get it. Poor people living on the streets get it. Poor immigrants get it too, not because they are immigrants, but because they are poor.
It is time for the Winnipeg Free Press to “get it!” At best, the Freep is guilty of sloppy journalism; at worst, racism and xenophobia. I leave it to you to decide which best applies. Neither is acceptable.