Figure skating championship is bad for public health in London, Ontario

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The World Figure Skating Championships are ongoing in London, Ontario until March 17. Outside the arena, however, some in London are expressing their concerns about the impact of this event. 

You may be wondering why London all of a sudden looks so "clean." You may also be wondering why "all those people" hanging out at Dundas and Richmond are no longer present. I can assure you that the rerouting of public transit to other streets is not the cause of the disappearance of many community members in the downtown core. 

Over the last month -- and more so within the last week -- there has been an increase in police presence in downtown London. There have also been numerous drug busts, arrests, tickets and fines, creating a hostile and unwelcoming environment for many of downtown London's community, especially some of the most marginalized and vulnerable members of our community. 

Aside from these scare tactics of the London Police Services, many people are being 'zoned' to other parts of the city. Yesterday, for example, one community member was zoned to Highbury and Dundas with no access to any place West of Highbury. It is not a mere coincidence that these measures are occurring at the exact time of International Skating Championships in London, Ontario.

You may still be questioning what any of this has to do with our health. Simply put: London has tried their best to "clean up" our streets in preparation for this event. By cleaning up, they really mean making marginalized people (those in poverty) invisible people so that those visiting London will see how great our city and downtown core really is. However, all this comes with a hefty price for our community: it's bad for our health.

It is bad for our health because, through intimidation, tickets and zoning measures, London police are telling people that they are currently not welcome downtown. By limiting people's access to the downtown we are also limiting access to vital services that many people in the downtown core need for a variety of community, mental and physical health reasons.

By restricting people's access to these vital services, we are increasing people's chances of contracting Hepatitis C or HIV because they are unable to access clean needles for safer injection; we are increasing people's chances of contracting STIs because they are unable to access condoms, lube and dental dams; we are increasing people's chances of having mental breakdowns because they are unable to access their trusted support worker; we are increasing people's chances of not having a safe place to go; and the list goes on.

We have a collective responsibility to ensure people's access to vital health care needs, especially the most marginalized community members. If we are failing at providing access to these services, we are also failing as a community and this jeopardizes the health of our community.

This is why figure skating is bad for our health.


Geoff Bardwell is a PhD Candidate in Women's Studies and Feminist Research.


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