The Hammer: City of Hamilton offers some support to renters’ push for Ontario to track heat-related deaths
Posted September 30, 2022
Originally Published September 29th, 2022
Before Hamilton city council rose for the election break, it mildly endorsed a renters’ group’s push to for Ontario begin tracking heat-related deaths.
Hamilton is projected to be hit harder by extreme heat more than almost anywhere else in Canada as the climate catastrophe — a force multiplier in hurricanes Fiona and Ian — worsens.
Climate and social justice advocates, including all ACORN Hamilton chapters, have been calling for excessive heat in non-air-conditioned apartments to be considered a public health challenge since mid-2021.
Earlier this month, Hamilton ACORN wrote a letter to the Ontario’s chief coronrer, Dr. Dirk Huyer, formally requesting that the provincial office start recording and tracking heat-related deaths. The letter noted that both British Columbia and Québec have begun doing so in order to get a sense of how extreme heat affects individuals’ health.
Council voted 13-0 on Wednesday, with one abstention, to endorse the letter.
“I would like to see this body endorse this local piece of correspondence,” Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson said in introducing a motion for the endorsement. “This is a reality facing some of our most vulnerable residents in Hamilton, who are living in conditions where they do not have access to air-conditioning, and sometimes their shelter, in terms of ventilation, is questionable. We know that when you track temperatures not only in Hamilton but in Canada and in North America, we’re seeing a steady rise. We know that this presents a clear and present danger, not only now, but into the future, for residents of Hamilton.
“We know that there is legislation that governs heat in the winter, but it is silent on a certain level of coolness and what is the responsibility of the property owner in that regard. I think once we start accumulating evidence of heat-related deaths, it will become apparent that this is a public health issue.”
That said, asking for a council endorsement was only one element of ACORN’s lobbying of the city. The renters’ group, which recently began a “Beat The Heat” advocacy campaign, has called for the city to make a similar request of the Office of the Chief Coronor (OCC) and petition the provincial government about making a legislative effort.
For now, the matter will be referred to the general issues committee (GIC). It will not meet until the new council is seated later this fall after the Oct. 24 election.
Coroner: ‘Further analysis merited’
In response to ACORN, Huyer was fairly positive. He noted that the OCC does track deaths “directly attributed to heat,” but there is a gap in reporting that inhibits tracking heat-related deaths by the same methods used in B.C. and Québec.
“We have carefully considered the information you provided and agree that further analysis into this type of death in Ontario is merited,” Dr. Huyer said to ACORN Hamilton on Sept. 15.
“I have asked our Data Analytics for Safety and Health (DASH) Unit to evaluate all cause mortality data that is accessible to the OCC from other sources to obtain further understanding of deaths associated with extreme hot temperatures.”
Similarly, both Hamilton Public Health Services and the city’s Healthy Safe Communities division seemed open to supporting the push.
“We would welcome this moving forward,” said Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the chief medical officer of health, said at the council meeting on Wednesday, noting there is a similar provision in the city’s recently adopted climate action strategy.
Healthy and Safe Communities manager Angela Burgen noted, “We currently in Hamilton do not track heat-related deaths. (But) we are happy to take that back for further information.”
Ward 10 Coun. Maria Pearson owns rental properties, so she declared a conflict and did not vote on the matter. Outgoing Mayor Fred Eisenberger and all 12 councillors who were present voted to endorse ACORN Hamilton’s letter.
Retiring Couns. Sam Merulla (4) and Terry Whitehead (14), the latter of whom is on a medical leave, were not in attendance.