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Letter to the editor: Open letter to Dr. Janet DeMille

We need to find ways to get our youth back and active in our community.
Letters to the editor

Dr. DeMille,

While I tried to reach out to you prior to posting this, unfortunately, we were not able to connect. A couple of things I would like to get out of the way. I do not envy your position in the least. The magnitude of the decisions you are tasked to make for our community is significant. I have supported them and toed the line.

I was an early advocate for all of the tag lines for these awful choices that we have been forced to make.  Please recognize that this is meant to be constructive.  Another approach to consider perhaps. I am imploring you to consider a significantly different leadership path than what we have been shown thus far.

As a teacher, coach, parent and suddenly a mental-health advocate, I am sounding the alarm about the significant issues that are turning up in our youth as a result of the decisions having been made by the provincial government and our own TBDHU. What we have been doing is not working. It simply isn’t. 

I want to be very clear about my motives. I am simply here trying to be a voice for our youth. Anything else or any other spin on this letter would be wrong. I am not a far-right anti masker. I support vaccinations. I am simply advocating for our kids.  I have worked with youth in our community for 30 years in many different capacities. What we have done to them in the past year isn’t only unfair, it’s extremely problematic. Our governments and our health units own this. Enough is enough. 

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on the necessity to get our kids back to sports. It clearly struck a chord. Anyone who read the article would know that it really wasn’t about sports at all, but rather about the mental health of our youth in this province and in this community.

It was about milestones, and being locked down. It was about missing out on graduations and first dates.  It was about the building blocks that make kids positive community members. We are failing our kids in this regard. We are failing them miserably. These are things families with kids recognize only too well…Public health is burying their spirit.

The article drew significant coverage both locally and provincially and I was fortunate to be able to share my message with people all over Ontario. 

The side result of this was that countless parents, coaches and teachers have reached out to me with their stories. They have reached out over Facebook, Twitter or email. 

Stories of youth once vibrant and active now despondent and depressed.  Youth once happy and smiling with eyes on the future, dropping out of school, self-harming, disinterested or other cries for help. Threats of suicide, as well as a myriad of other mental health issues, are prominent in our youth. 

One exasperated mother trying to balance her child’s mental health reached out this morning to tell me that she is moving her child out of the city to live with family in a community that has activities and an atmosphere for success for her child. Something for her child to look forward to daily aside from being in her room alone, online school, gaming or phone time. These kids need their lives back.

Daily, there have been hours of schooling online which very few believe is in anyone’s best interests. In spite of teachers’ and family’s best efforts, it is an untenable situation for students, families and staff. No activities in the evening for months at a time. Minimized contact with extended family. These are things that youth latch onto as a part of their identity and it has been ripped away. 

We have watched in our community as schools, music, drama, athletics, gyms and any joyful activities have been shut down.  Big box stores remain open but small businesses are closed.  A situation in our community where my 17-year-old daughter can go and work at her part-time job in a heavily trafficked building (that is nowhere near essential), but can’t go to a hockey practice and isn’t supposed to see her friends or attend class. This is entirely illogical to me as an adult, never mind trying to explain why this policy makes sense to a teenager. 

Perhaps I could soldier on and support these ineffectual half measures if I believed there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  But whatever light was remaining has been extinguished with the mismanagement of the jail outbreak and infected prisoner released into the community at large. 

That is really where we got into this mess of massive case numbers. Now we watch as the vaccine roll-out is even failing.  My father, in his late 70s, was unable to get a vaccine appointment and my father-in-law booked his appointment in September.  The inability for the vaccine roll-out to be anything other than streamlined and organized after a year of preparation is more than frustrating; it’s appalling. People in the community don’t want finger pointing, they want results.      

On the weekend, Thunder Bay Regional's Dr. Zaki Ahmed tweeted out “Are you serious? After spending the night trying to save people with COVID-19 from dying, I read this…”

Dr. Ahmed was responding to the Anti-Lockdown march article published on TBNnewswatch. 

While I agree with Dr. Ahmed, there is no need to be reckless or disregard any sort of restrictions, I believe we need to change course.  We need to be better.  The standby locally and in Ontario seems to be the lockdown. Whereas it would seem that everywhere else in North America, they have found ways to carry on … with measure.

We need leadership in our community because right now, in our community, the cure is worse than the disease.  We need to find researched ways to get our youth back and active in our community.  And there is plenty of research.  As I’m sure you’re aware, the CDC has multiple recommendations on their website for appropriate return to activity.  Supervisors and participants alike will be happy to follow restrictions if the trade-off is resumption of activity for our youth. 

I am unable to genuinely support these positions any longer. 

These pseudo lockdowns are not working and show no consistency or common sense. I want to be safe for my parents and for yours. 

I want my immuno-compromised nephew to be safe. I want students and staff to be safe in school environments. I am not minimizing in the least the seriousness of the situation at hand. 

However, the currently employed methods are punitive and inconsistent; especially for our youth. That inconsistency is why you’re losing the room. That inconsistency is why it isn’t working and is especially unfair to marginalized youth and families. I am not advocating for anything less than a measured response. But show measure in every facet of our community. Be balanced.  

As a community, resume access to gyms, fields, rinks and other recreation opportunities.  Allow music and drama productions to get up and running. Support the small businesses as much as you’re supporting the big box stores. Wear masks, set limits, social distance, but get our community moving again. I don’t have to highlight again the massive issues being created for youth in our community. These are issues that we will be picking up the pieces for years to come. Anything less than a significant change in direction isn’t leadership at all. 

Dave Paddington,
Thunder Bay