BC Rights Commissioner Sets a Path for Collecting Race Based Data 

B.C.’s human rights commissioner is calling on the province to require the collection of race-based data to help address racism and  discrimination.

Commissioner Kasari  Govender said Tuesday that collecting data that includes information on  demographic factors like race is essential to understand the impact of  discrimination and address inequities.

But the approach needs to respond to the  needs of racialized communities and be oriented towards action, she  said, particularly as the pandemic intensifies gendered and racial  inequalities in health and employment.

“This is a time of both pandemic and  protest, and we are in a time of great transformation in our society,”  said Govender in an interview. “And I think it’s so important in this  moment of transformation to say, `How do we make all of the promises of  human rights real in people’s lives?”’

Advocates for First Nations  and racialized communities have said for years that a lack of  race-based data prevents governments from responding equitably to  structural problems and crises.

B.C. doesn’t know, for  example, whether Black people here are more likely to become ill with  COVID-19 as data across the United States and in Toronto has shown. The  province also doesn’t know the racial breakdown of people who access  subsidized housing.

After years of campaigning by advocates, in June Premier John Horgan asked Govender and Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy to  recommend ways the province could move forward in collecting such data  while respecting individual privacy.

Govender’s office released a report Tuesday that recommends new legislation, the Anti-Discrimination Data  Act, to “legislate the collection, use and disclosure of demographic  data for social change.” The government would be required to collect  data that included “sub-categories of information, for example by ethnic  group, gender, occupation or educational status.”

The act would support the implementation of  the B.C. Human Rights Code and support existing poverty reduction and  Indigenous rights legislation.

“It would require government researchers to  collect data in service of systemic equality, that the data can be  collected explicitly for the purpose of moving the needle on systemic  inequality,” said Govender. “So that’s one way in which the potential  harms of this kind of data collection can be mitigated against.”

The report calls for a relationship-based  “grandmother perspective” in collecting and using the data, contrasting  that with a “Big Brother” approach to gathering information.

Coined by Gwen Phillips of the Ktunaxa  Nation, the grandmother perspective calls on government to seek only the  information that is needed to care for people and focuses on building  trust between researchers and community. Phillips is a champion of the  B.C. First

Nations Data Governance Initiative, which aims to support  Indigenous data collection and sovereignty.

“We want to better care for our neighbours,  and we want government to better care for its citizens,” said Govender.  “So what data is needed in order to do that?”

The proposed act would require  nation-to-nation collaboration and consultation for data collection  initiatives in **>First Nations<**, in accordance with the Declaration on the  Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

For other racialized communities, the  report recommends legislating a community governance board to develop a  data governance and storage model, as well as a secretariat to support  it.

Public and advocate consultations would  also take place for projects that affect specific communities, such as  looking at people who are detained in mental health-care facilities.

Legislating the recommendations would be  the best way for government to ensure such a huge undertaking is done  equitably and will cross-ministry support, the report says.

“It’s important that this doesn’t happen in  a piecemeal way across ministries or across public institutions,” said  Govender.

“It needs to happen in a comprehensive way, and it needs to  follow this motivation around really paying attention to how this is  going to impact people in the community.”

Govender, who only had a few months to  prepare the report, hopes to continue consulting with communities if the  province moves ahead with her recommendations.

It’s important this work isn’t done to simply measure racism or inequality, but to take action, she said.

“The question that needs to be at the forefront is `How does this data move us forward?”’

By Moira Wyton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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