British Columbia

B.C. human rights commissioner ready to tackle race-based health data collection

Premier John Horgan recently agreed with advocates from Indigenous, Black and other communities of colour that data is needed to better understand racial inequity in the health-care system and has tasked the province’s human rights and information and privacy commissioners with figuring out how it can be collected.

The pandemic has sparked calls to collect data to better understand racial inequity in health-care system

In some parts of the U.S., Black and Latino patients have been much more likely to die of COVID-19. The government of British Columbia is now calling for race-based health- care data to be collected in the province to identify systemic inequities. (Shutterstock / VDB Photos)

The provincial government is in agreement with advocates from Indigenous, Black and other communities of colour that the collection of disaggregated race-based health data is critical to better understand racial inequity in the health-care system and has tasked the province's human rights and and information and privacy commissioners to begin 

The task comes in the wake of calls from advocacy groups to collect such information during the COVID-19 pandemic to see which communities are disproportionately impacted by the disease or at higher risk of contagion.

"The problem is already visible. This is making the problem more visible to governments," said B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender, adding "vast discrepancies" in how the virus impacted Black and Latino people in the United States have already been proven.

In some parts of the U.S., Black and Latino patients have been much more likely to die of the disease.

Outside of Indigenous groups, B.C. has not been collecting data on how COVID-19 is impacting people based on their race. And prior to the pandemic, a 2018 report by Health Canada found significant health inequalities were already observed for racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants and Indigenous peoples.

Govender, speaking on The Early Edition, said having data will help inform public policy that will "ultimately improve outcomes for everyone" and draw attention to unconscious biases people working in health care may have.

On June 25, Vancouver city council unanimously supported a motion calling on the province to do what the commissioners will now be doing.

"Without race disaggregated data, many of the inequities in our society have been obscured or hidden, while resources, policies, services and programs have assumed a white normalcy, giving advantage to only one group," said June Francis, co-chair of the Hogan's Alley Society, in a news release from council announcing the motion.

Underlying structural inequities can include working front-line jobs that put racialized individuals at greater risk of infection, living in smaller homes that make it a challenge to self-isolate, encountering barriers to accessing information and having a lower socio-economic status.

Govender, who is still determining how best to collect the data necessary to enact change, said another important component of the task is ensuring that data is safe and the communities it represents have control, access and ownership of the information.

"The danger that we need to be cognizant of and thinking through the methodology to collect it is, that we don't want to increase stigmatization [of] overly-impacted groups," said Govender.

Investigation into racism also underway

The data collection begins at the same time independent investigator Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been asked to look into the extent of racism in the health-care system.

 Turpel-Lafond, director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at UBC, says her examination will be wide-ranging and will attempt to determine the range and extent of anti-Indigenous racism in the system.

On June 19, provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that B.C. would be investigating allegations health-care staff in emergency rooms were playing a "game" to guess the blood-alcohol level of Indigenous patients.

"This investigation is not trying to discover whether racism exists in B.C.'s health-care system. It does exist," said Turpel-Lafond.

To hear the complete interview with B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender on The Early Edition on July 9, tap here.

With files from The Early Edition


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