After Years of Denial, BC and Vancouver Commit to Gathering Race-Based Data

COVID-19 has highlighted the damage done when governments fail to gather information on policy impacts.

Moira Wyton 29 Jun 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Moira Wyton is The Tyee’s health reporter. Follow her @moirawyton or reach her here. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

NDP MLA Ravi Kahlon: ‘Race-based data and the collection of it, and the use of it, is going to be fundamental to address human rights and to address systemic racism.’ Photo via the BC NDP.

After years of struggle, advocates for racialized communities are claiming success as the provincial government and Vancouver city council committed last week to begin collecting race-based data on the pandemic and beyond.

Analysts and researchers have argued for years that it’s vital to measure the disparate impacts of policies on different races and socio-economic groups.

But the pandemic and public attention on systemic racism have brought urgency to addressing the information gap.

“The pandemic has exacerbated and brought to the surface many inequities, particularly around race and class and socioeconomic factors generally, but especially in relation to health care,” said Amal Rana, a community activist and member of the City of Vancouver’s racial ethno-cultural equity advisory committee.

Premier John Horgan wrote the province’s human rights and information and privacy commissioners on June 16 and asked them to look into how best to collect race-based information and report back by September.

“I would like you to examine how to craft a policy initiative that balances the right to privacy with the call from community advocates, health researchers, and public policy professionals for rigorous and thoughtful data collection, to address systemic racism,” wrote Horgan.

And last week Vancouver city council unanimously passed a motion calling on the province to break down data by race and socioeconomic and committing the city to do the same.

“The reason this motion passed and had the support it did was because of the work of so many different racialized communities coming together,” said Rana, who helped draft the motion with councillors Christine Boyle and Jean Swanson.

Racialized communities have long seen data broken down by race and other factors as an essential tool to address systemic racism across health, education, economic and social policies.

But no such data is tracked at a national or provincial level.

“Racialized communities have known and continue to know what the impacts of poverty, of discrimination, health care and all of these things are on us, but that’s framed often as anecdotal evidence,” said Rana. “Sadly, the way the system works is that we have to have the data to back it up in order to get change to the system.”

In the wake of reports of the pandemic’s disparate impact on Black, Indigenous and racialized communities in the United States, pressure has mounted to collect data that shows if that is true in Canada as well.

“It’s about changing the paradigm around how we have conversations on systemic racism… to understanding that these are issues of health justice and health inequities,” said Rana.

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