B.C. human rights commissioner calls for data collection to tackle inequity

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's human rights commissioner says the province isn't collecting enough demographic information in order to tackle racism and social inequality.

Kasari Govender says use of data about ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation is minimal in B.C., leading to knowledge gaps and policies that fail to address discrimination.

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That includes a lack of understanding of how people of colour may be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis, Govender says.

"There is a responsibility to act when missing data can result in a loss of human life. Numbers matter. Ongoing silences in data have harmed the most systemically oppressed communities," says a report released by the commissioner's office on Tuesday.

Govender says B.C. needs a law that paves the way for data collection as evidence to underpin policy changes in sectors like health care, policing and education.

The report proposes an Anti-Discrimination Data Act that would require government researchers to collect data towards tackling inequality and providing a framework for building relationships with communities experiencing systemic discrimination.

"People know the discrimination that they face. They know the inequalities that they face. So, this is really about translating that kind of experience into data, into hard data that government can make decisions on," says Govender.

The report includes shorter-term recommendations as well, such as a requirement that all police forces in B.C. collect and analyze race-based data, including from offenders and victims of gender-based violence.

It also calls for the province to collect demographic data from people using rental, income and disability assistance programs, as well as from people in jail through BC Corrections and the Ministry of Education's annual student learning survey.

It also urges the province to collect such data for adults, children and youth in relation to involuntary detentions under the Mental Health Act.

Govender says it's important to collect a broad range of demographic information to ensure it's viewed through what she calls an intersectional lens.

"The kinds of inequality that people face, the kinds of injustices, are often coming from multiple forms of their identity and we have to understand the data in that way," she says.

Premier John Horgan wrote to Govender and B.C.'s information and privacy commissioner in June, asking for guidance on how the province could craft a policy initiative that balances the right to privacy with calls for rigorous and thoughtful data collection to address systemic racism.

Govender says she's optimistic that's a sign the province is motivated to move forward with the recommendations in her office's report.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2020.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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