Race-Based Data Matters

Person sitting outside storefront
Photo: Avi Waxman / Unsplash

Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been a higher demand for race-based data collection within Canada’s Public Health sector. According to a 4-week study in 2018 executed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33.1% of patients with race/ethnicity data were Black Americans. The data that was collected highlights that Coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Black Americans, who only make up 13.4% of the American population. I say that to recognize the lack of comparable data for Black Canadians. Canada should no longer delay efforts to improve its race-based data collection process. 

While the Toronto Public Health sector has started to collect race-based data, the Province has still failed to do so. Canada claims to promote equality, but it does not truly prioritize that commitment. In a recent report, the Chair of the Toronto Board of Health, Joe Cressy, said “the provincial government has made it clear that they are not interested or willing to collect race-based data… [but] in order to tackle Coronavirus, we must fully understand it, and who is most at risk.” The Ontario government recently stated that the other 34 public health units are approved to collect this data; however, their participation was voluntary and not required.

Fighting for racial equality and overcoming racial discrepancies in healthcare is not new. Let us not forget that Black Canadians are more likely to live in a densely populated area with a lower socioeconomic status than other ethnicities. Racial inequality not only affects Black people mentally, but also affects them physically through issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory malfunctions among others. In response to this topic, Dexter Voisin, the University of Toronto Dean, stated that “when we [Black people] contract Coronavirus at a higher rate, we will also experience mortality at a higher rate.” The Toronto Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, reported that citizens of Toronto who live in areas with the highest number of low-income earners, high unemployment rates, and a high population of recent immigrants displayed higher rates of hospitalization related to the Coronavirus. This data, however, was only based on preliminary data analyzed by small geographic areas. Racially induced trauma paired with unfavorable living conditions for disease control cause Black people to be victims of many physical illnesses and diseases. 

In my opinion, intentionally collecting race-based data plays an indispensable role in dismantling systemic racial discrimination in Canada and beyond. I believe that all public sector organizations should collect race-based data throughout all industries, such as health care, law enforcement, education, and more. Collecting race-based data has showcased significant positive results in political, economic, and social movements throughout history. Such examples include the government passing a series of policies to propel low income families into higher economic statuses, improving labor practices, conditions and increasing wages. Race-based data collection is a necessary step towards a better and healthier lifestyle for Black people. A commitment to collect this data also acknowledges the lived experience of Black communities. On the contrary, refusing to collect race-based data sends a clear message from the government that it does not care about addressing issues necessary to Black people’s survival. It is vital that Black people receive proper access to healthcare, health education and other health resources.

In order for Canada to live up to its claims of being a fully-inclusive country, it must first acknowledge its faults and obtain the data that it needs to drive real change. But when you have a Premier who makes statements claiming that Canada does not have the “systemic, deep roots” of racism compared to the United States, real change can never occur. Canada, we have a problem.

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