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Why we can’t tell you the full COVID-19 story


Today, we are launching Lives Remembered, a CBC News commitment to honour and also understand more about the Canadians who have lost their lives to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Canada has tens of thousands of cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and as of this writing, more than 3,000 deaths, a number that will, tragically, grow. As a national news organization with a public service mandate, we want to pay homage to those we have lost by telling their stories in words and videos. 

But not only that. 

As well as honouring the memory of people who have fallen victim to COVID-19, it is important to know who the most vulnerable are and why. We believe it’s our duty to uncover and help Canadians better understand how this deadly virus moves among us.

An incomplete picture

Unlike many other countries, Canada has an incomplete picture of the toll of COVID-19. We know long-term care and seniors homes are hit hard, but those homes are regulated provincially, with no national database that can tell us more about this tragic story.

Data in other countries has revealed deep inequities based on race, suggesting a greater burden of illness and death among certain minority groups. 

Here in Canada, we don’t know.

Are low-income workers at greater risk of exposure? Are racialized and Indigenous Canadians disproportionately affected? Which occupations are most likely to put workers at risk? Does where you live make you more susceptible?

The answers are simply not available — or protected for privacy reasons — in the limited data we get from authorities. 

Understanding more about this virus is key to managing it.

WATCH | ‘He was magnetic’: Jennifer Auger recalls her husband, Shawn, who died of COVID-19:

Jennifer Auger lost her husband, Shawn, to COVID-19 on March 30. 1:38

A database of those lost

With Lives Remembered, we are setting out to gather as much information about the people who have died as possible, to learn who is being disproportionately affected and to help us all understand how to deal with this pandemic in the months ahead.

This is why we have dedicated a talented team of journalists to find some answers, beginning with our story today on the first 1,000 COVID-19 deaths in Canada. Over the past month, the team has built a deep database of everything we can gather on not just these but all Canadians whose deaths have been linked to COVID-19.

We have reached into your communities to learn more about the lives of the people who have died. 

This is unlike any mass tragedy we’ve lived through. We knew the who, what, when, where of the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks within days. We knew within hours the names of the people killed when Flight 752 was shot down earlier this year over Tehran.   

With this pandemic, governments and health authorities in many areas of our country are not releasing basic demographic data on factors such as age and race, or even when Canadians died or where. 

WATCH | Isabelle Mikhail’s cooking was ‘epic’ and brought people together, her daughter May told CBC:

May Mikhail lost her mother, Isabelle, to COVID-19 on March 18. 1:49

A deeply personal story

As we endeavour to report on the people behind these impersonal numbers, we sometimes encounter shame and fear, which has also made it difficult to tell the full story of lives lost. 

In a sense, these Canadians are being made invisible. At CBC News, we want to bring some recognition if possible. 

We know that for many Canadians this is a deeply personal story. Many of you have already reached out to tell us about a loved one, in moving and profound ways. You have told us you wish to honour your loved ones, and also of your desire to contribute to a greater understanding of the problem. 

And you want to be sure that the people who succumb to COVID-19 are more than a statistic, which is why an important part of Lives Remembered will be to tell those stories in words and pictures in the weeks and months ahead. 

If you would like to share the story of a loved one who has died of COVID-19, email us at COVID@cbc.ca.

Finally, privacy is important to us. This email is being monitored by a small team of CBC journalists who are endeavouring to get back to as many people as possible.

Whether you wish to remain anonymous or tell the story of a loved one lost publicly, we would like to hear from you.



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