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Professor at the Beedie School of Business SFU and Hogan's Alley Society spokeswoman June Francis talks about the B.C. government's introduction of the anti-racism data act during a news conference in the Hall of Honour at the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on May 2.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

B.C. plans to begin collecting data on the race of all its citizens with a new law that will identify which populations are being underserved by government programs such as health care, the corrections system, education and social assistance.

The government says information collected under the Anti-Racism Data Act, which was introduced in the provincial legislature on Monday, will ultimately help the province better meet the needs of Indigenous people, Black people and others who face discrimination in B.C.

June Francis, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University’s business school and chair of the Hogan’s Alley Society, which is fighting to build a cultural and housing hub in Vancouver for Black people in the region, said unequal access to services and harmful treatment by government agencies have long been obscured by a lack of data.

“These inequities were hidden. When you said ‘It exists’ people would say ‘How do you know that? Where is [the data]?’” Prof. Francis said at a news conference in Victoria with Premier John Horgan and other politicians.

The legislation was developed in partnership with the First Nations Leadership Council and Métis Nation BC and, if it passes, a data advisory committee will be created in the summer to help target which areas to study. In November, a survey will be sent out to random households across the province to collect different information from people such as their ethnicity, faith, ability and gender identity.

The province has said that bodies such as police forces won’t be bound by the new legislation initially and people shouldn’t expect to see front-line staff at places such as the driver’s licence office ask for such information. Any government body that begins collecting this new personal information – either directly or indirectly – must post a public notice, a government news release stated.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former judge who now leads the Vancouver-based Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of B.C., said traditional data from the federal census is not helpful because it only comes out every four to seven years. It also does not break out specific categories such as race or age to be compared among other groups for good analysis of policies, she said.

Dr. Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s former representative for children and youth, welcomed this new approach from the province to collect such disaggregated data – sub-categories of information such as ethnicity or educational status that can be separated from personal information such as names or dates of birth to be used in statistical analysis.

“I’ve investigated individual cases, I’ve worked with data sets and I’ve consistently, in my career, reported on the limitations in the data collection and I’ve expressed concern in part that maybe they don’t collect disaggregated data because they don’t want to report on it,” said Dr. Turpel-Lafond, who wrote the In Plain Sight report in 2020 for the province to address anti-Indigenous racism in the health care system.

The roots of the current legislation on Canada’s West Coast can be traced back to Mr. Horgan asking B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner as well as its Information and Privacy Commissioner in June, 2020, to research how the government could start better collecting data on race.

The lead recommendation from Kasari Govender, B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner, was for B.C. to create a law that mandates the collection of disaggregated data.

Mr. Horgan said, at a news conference in Victoria, that B.C. is shaped by the diversity of its people, but systemic racism and colonialism have had long-lasting effects of unfairly holding people back for education, employment, housing and other issues.

A 2019 Globe and Mail investigation into the ways Canada lacks public data collected and published in other high-income countries found that – across the country – there were big information gaps on how people of different races and ethnicities are served by the health care, education and justice systems.

A report published by the Public Health Agency of Canada last summer stated that understanding how COVID-19 has impacted racialized populations is a research priority in the country. But, the report from the agency’s Health Security Infrastructure Regional and Operations Branch noted, Canada doesn’t have the race-disaggregated health data routinely collected in the United States and the United Kingdom, which have shown racialized people were more likely to get sick and die from the coronavirus.

“Similar patterns are emerging in Canada but rely on proxy measures such as neighbourhood diversity to account for race, in the absence of person-level data,” the report noted.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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