Code Red: Call to action


Code Red is about the health of our community. And we should be alarmed.

The landmark Spectator series that begins today and continues throughout next week harshly exposes shocking and unacceptable realities by comparing health and life outcomes in the most and least prosperous parts of Hamilton. Neighbourhood by neighbourhood, Code Red starkly illustrates these life-changing differences and proves, in the strongest terms, why we all need to come together, with the utmost urgency, to help bring about transformative change that will result in nothing less than Hamilton becoming a healthier community overall, with a brighter future for more citizens than is currently the case.

Technically, Code Red can be described as a health mapping project, in which The Spectator and its partners use real-life health data gathered and processed in a way that allows direct comparisons of broad determinants of health, including critical issues such as birth weight, education, emergency room visits — and life expectancy. Similar work has been done in the health and social service sector, but it is unique for a journalistic organization to execute what amounts to a public health exercise.

Many doctors, social workers and other community health workers will not be surprised by what is revealed. They’ve studied it and live with it every day. But even those immersed in the work, in some cases, are shocked by the dramatic extent of the disparities in health outcomes between those who live in relative prosperity and those trapped in poverty.


It’s important that we make clear a number of things that Code Red is not.

It is not just about the problem. Do not make the mistake of thinking that because any given instalment is about problems, we don’t plan to deal with solutions. Specific ideas and suggestions about solutions will also be presented, both by The Spectator and community leaders from a variety of sectors.

Code Red is not a blanket indictment of the extensive work that has been and continues to be done to address these challenges. Quite the opposite is true. The fact that Hamilton is uniquely positioned as a national leader on collaborative community development means we are in an ideal position to be a catalyst for, advocate for, and actively engage in transformative change. This is thanks to the work being done by organizations such as the City of Hamilton, Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, the Jobs Prosperity Collaborative, Hamilton Community Foundation and numerous other stakeholders. A recent Federation of Canadian Municipalities report refers to Hamilton’s poverty roundtable as having drawn “the admiration of cities across the country.” We have the reputation and reality of a city where people can set aside egos and ideologies and work together toward a common goal. And we’re going to need that more than ever going forward.

Code Red is not a judgment of people, affluent or poor, healthy or unhealthy, engaged or passive. It is an examination of interconnected factors that have come together over time to allow the establishment and entrenchment of a social and economic system that is, in key ways, broken, or at least not fully functional. And it provides clear and irrefutable evidence that the cost of dealing with these issues in a reactive way, as we do now, is shockingly high. By comparison, that ounce of prevention and proactivity is a bargain on every level.

But the current reality does not have to represent Hamilton’s future. Code Red, and the many community contributors involved, clearly point out that even modest systemic changes can have dramatic results, leading to a healthier community overall and a brighter future as a result.


Why Code Red? The series title is intended to work on a number of levels. But chiefly, our intent is to convey urgency, and to issue a renewed call to action across our community. Together, we can change this reality. And we must. Because accepting the status quo as depicted in this unique body of work is out of the question.

Yes, great strides have been made. Yes, the journey is tiring, and can be daunting. Yes, the road ahead is still long and difficult. But the destination is clearly in view. We will get there, and we will enjoy and share the fruits of living in a sustainable, equitable, compassionate community.


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