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Demonstrators take part in a rally protesting the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, in downtown Toronto, on May 30, 2020.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says the federal government must start collecting race-based data in order to make policy changes that will start to turn the tide on what the United Nations has called the “deplorable” treatment of African Canadians.

Protests against the police-killing of George Floyd in the U.S. spilled into Canada last weekend and Toronto was seized by the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from a 24th-floor Toronto apartment while police were in the home. Her death is under investigation by the province’s police watchdog.

On Monday, Canada’s political leaders tried to address the growing outrage. Mr. Singh proposed firm steps to address anti-black racism in Canada, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised his government would do more but didn’t outline specific steps or a timeline to act. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer proposed no new policies but said all levels of government have “much more to do."

In contrast to protests south of the border, violence at Canadian demonstrations was limited to Montreal, where 11 people were arrested after dozens of businesses were damaged at the tail end of the formal march, which took place without incident.

Mr. Trudeau promised to “keep taking meaningful action to fight racism and discrimination in every form." That progress in Canada has been too slow though, according to a 2017 United Nations Human Rights Council report on anti-black racism.

Across Canada, the report found disproportionately high unemployment rates for African Canadians, leading to more precarious and low-paid work, and worse health outcomes, where people in black communities are less likely to access health care services and more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions. In Nova Scotia, it found “deplorable” socioeconomic conditions and no change in educational inequities, 30 years after schools were integrated.

While federal leaders acknowledged the persistence of racism and systemic discrimination in Canada, Quebec Premier François Legault denied that it stems from structural problems.

“All humans are equal, are all the same, regardless of the colour of their skin,” Mr. Legault said. The UN report found African Canadians in Montreal have the highest poverty rates among visible minorities in the city.

The UN report recommended a mandatory nationwide policy on the collection of data disaggregated by race, colour, ethnic background, national origin and other identities “to determine if and where racial disparities exist for African Canadians so as to address them accordingly.”

That hasn’t yet happened and without it Canada is missing critical information that countries like the United States have readily available, said Arjumand Siddiqi, Canada Research Chair in population health equity. For example, Canada does not have information about how employment statistics break down along racial lines, making it difficult to know if some groups are being excluded from the suite of financial aid the Liberals have rolled out in the wake of the economic shutdown sparked by COVID-19.

While race-based data is collected in the census every five years, there is no routine collection of data, and on top of that, the data that is collected is not readily available, said Prof. Siddiqi, who is also an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

The difference between the data available in the U.S. and Canada is “night and day,” she said. Without that data, evidence-based policy changes are stymied and it’s harder to hold governments to account.

The failure to collect the valuable data comes even as the impact of having the information is clear, Mr. Singh said, noting that changes to police carding were only made when numbers laid bare that the practice disproportionately targeted black and Indigenous people.

He said the data collection would help spur systemic changes in policing, the justice system and to inequities in health care, education, housing and employment, which “perpetuates the undervaluing of black life, of racialized people’s lives.”

The Liberals funded a new Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics within Statistics Canada in 2018. A spokesperson for Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains did not explain why a separate centre was created rather than integrating it with all of the work done by the federal agency.

Evidence from other countries and small pockets of information in Canada show that poorer people and people of colour are being hit harder by the novel coronavirus. But the Prime Minister acknowledged that collecting that information widely in Canada is an uphill battle, given that at the moment the government doesn’t even have the age data for a “large portion” of the people diagnosed with COVID-19.

Mr. Singh also said he supported the use of body cameras for police officers to ensure accountability and said police need more training in how to de-escalate incidents.

The UN report released a long list of recommendations to the federal government, which included apologizing for Canada’s history of slavery and other historical injustices, as well as considering paying reparations. The federal government on Monday did not say whether it was going to accept either of those recommendations.

With reports from The Canadian Press

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