The Age-Dependent Value of Life: State Responses to COVID-19 in Ontario’s Long-Term Care Homes from March to December 2020


  • Victoria Rose Canale York University



COVID-19, long-term care, seniors, Ontario, neoliberalism


During the early waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada saw high infection rates among its long-term care residents, leading to disproportionately high death rates from the virus amongst this population. The pattern of high death rates among long-term care residents persisted throughout the pandemic. Notably, the Canadian province of Ontario continually fared poorly, recording a total of 5,044 resident and 13 staff deaths by July 1, 2022 due to COVID-19. In the spring of 2020, the Ontario government called upon the Canadian Armed Forces to support some of the long-term care facilities with high rates of COVID-19 infections. The Armed Forces documented instances of residents dying in what they referred to as deplorable conditions. This article argues that the Ontario government failed to protect long-term care residents from COVID-19 and in so doing, marked their lives as expendable. By analyzing legislation and public documents, I identify how the state protected the interests of private corporations that own long-term care facilities and the neoliberal status quo in senior care, rather than vulnerable residents and the predominantly racialized women who staff these facilities. I propose that to uphold the long-term care system’s neoliberal capitalist structure, the state constructed the lives of people living in long-term care facilities as dispensable through weaponizing discourses underpinned by currents of ageism, sexism, and racism, while constructing itself as “caring” for responding to an “inevitable” crisis. An analysis of state responses to the pandemic highlights flaws and can contribute to strategies that may prevent devastation in the future, implicating practices for how a society provides care to people in long-term care facilities.


Author Biography

Victoria Rose Canale, York University

Victoria is a Registered Social Worker and Ontario Certified Teacher in Toronto, Ontario. She holds a Bachelor and Master of Social Work and a Bachelor of Education from York University. Her practice background includes medical social work in hospital and long-term care, sexual violence response, and public health research/advocacy. She is a passionate advocate of social justice and seniors’ rights, and her efforts contributed to reforming Ontario’s long-term care legislation. She was also recognized as one of York University’s 2023 Top 30 Alumni Under 30 Changemakers.






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