BC’s Anti Racism Data Act:A new unit of measurement to eliminate systematic racism

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We have been listening from various communities about racism for such a long time but there was no formal way to measure it — Rachna Singh, Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives

By Surbhi Gogia

It is hard to believe in something that cannot be measured or recorded. Racism is one system that has existed in Canada. Everyone knows it exists but for people who are victim of racism find it challenging to raise their voice in the absence of any concrete data that will prove thatinequitiesexiston the basis of race or ethnicity.

The province of British Columbia has taken a historic first step in this direction by introducing Anti Racism Data Act. As the name suggests, the Act will help identify which populations are being underserved by government programs such as healthcare, the corrections system, education and social assistance.

“For too long, systemic racism and the long-lasting effects of colonialism have unfairly held people back when it comes to education, job opportunities, housing and more,” said Premier John Horgan. “These injustices are compounded when Indigenous Peoples and racialized communities ask for action, only to be told by government to provide evidence using data that is not being collected.”

SFU Beedie professor June Francis said that noting that unequal access to services and harmful treatment by government agencies have long been obscured by a lack of data. “These inequities are hidden. When you say [racism] exists, people would say, ‘How do you know? Where is [the data]?’” said Francis. “It is an important beginning in addressing institutional and structural barriers and biases in our polices, programs and services.”

Rachna Singh, Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives, while explaining the thought that went behind introducing this act, said, “Racism is very much prevalent in BC and across Canada. Although many communities like our South Asian community have come a long way and achieved a lot, but government structures are still deeply embedded in racism either consciously or unconsciously.”

Singh said, “We have been listening from various communities about racism for such a long time but there was no formal way to measure racism. To tackle systemic racism, to bring racial equity it was important we collect data. And we found either the data was not collected or done in inconsistent way.”

Data collected and spread without a well-defined and articulated process and purpose, has more risk of doing harm than benefitting a community. Singh quoted the example of COVID data collection after which South Asian community was stereotyped and targeted for being disproportionately hit by Covid infections. “Whereas that data showed us why South Asian community was at higher risk of getting infections because many South Asian worked as frontline workers.”

Singh informed that this Act willenable enhanced collection, analysis and utilization of data in a way that honours the rights of communities instead harm them. “Sometimes people are not very comfortable telling about their ethnicities, gender identity again and again.”

So the data will be collected on a voluntary basis through a population survey, she said.

Safeguards will be in place to ensure the data isn’t used for harm and ministries will be required to follow careful guidelines before information is released publicly.  

“The advantage of having comprehensive race-based data collection is that we can shape policies at the provincial level and then implement those throughout government and indeed throughout communities with confidence that we’re doing so based on data, driven by the evidence,” said Premier Horgan.

The anti-racism data legislation builds upon initial recommendations from the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner’s report, The Grandmother Perspective, which provides suggestions about how government can use disaggregated data to address systemic discrimination. It is also informed by recommendations from the In Plain Sight report from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, which outlines steps for government to address anti-Indigenous racism in the health-care system.

Singh informed that the act is the result of many community based engagements where more than 13,000 people were involved to giver their input on data collection. “More than 90% of racialized people who provided feedback through community-led engagement sessions believed that collecting intersectional demographic data such as ethnic origin, ancestry, faith, ability and gender identity could bring positive change in B.C. and be a step toward building trust between government and Indigenous Peoples and racialized communities,” Singh said.

“This historic legislation will fundamentally change government programs and services in B.C. by removing long-standing barriers,” said Singh.

Singh said that this Act is only first step in our province’s efforts to eliminate systematic racism.

“Our work doesn’t end today – we must face up to the discomfort of talking about racism and fully commit to the work needed to be anti-racist. We will continue to work with Indigenous Peoples and racialized communities at every stage as we take the next steps to implement this legislation based on mutual trust and respect as we build a better, more inclusive B.C. for everyone.”