New report reveals need for better data to combat systemic racism in Edmonton

Contributors to a report that tracks Edmontonians' experiences annually are calling for more localized data to be collected in the city.

'If you want really specific data, it's really hard to find that on a local level.'

Give people stand inside city hall in front of holiday decorations.
Alom Deng, Nneka Otogbolu, Lloyd Cardinal, Susan Morissey and Tina Thomas spoke about the latest Vital Signs report at city hall on Thursday. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

Contributors to a report that tracks Edmontonians' experiences annually are calling for more localized data to be collected in the city.

The Edmonton Community Foundation and the Edmonton Social Planning Council released their Vital Signs report on Thursday. This year's report focuses on systemic racism and includes data from many sources, including Statistics Canada, academic studies and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Though the 32-page report is chock-full of statistics, numerous people involved in its creation say they remain frustrated by the lack of detailed information available about some minority groups and topics in the city.

"A lot of this data's old and outdated," said Lloyd Cardinal, who was part of the report's advisory committee.

The committee met regularly to discuss subjects like health, safety, civic engagement, housing and employment inequality. 

Nneka Otogbolu, the director of communications and equity strategy at the Edmonton Social Planning Council, said advisory committee members tried to fill in data gaps by sharing their lived experiences with each other. 

"I know some work is being done to start collecting some disaggregated data and I'm hoping that this report will set the tone to educate community as well and get the importance out there to start collecting it too," she said.

Sydney Sheloff, a strategic research coordinator with the Edmonton Social Planning Council, said when smaller geographic areas are studied, people get sorted into bigger and bigger groups to avoid small sample sizes.

"If you want really specific data, it's really hard to find that on a local level," she said. 

The lack of recent local data for some groups and topics led the report's authors to cite older studies and sources outside the city.

Speaking at the launch event, NDP MLA David Shepherd said the provincial government should be collecting race-based data.

"Doing so could be used to address systemic racism and inequality," he said.

Earlier this year, Shepherd introduced a private member's bill on this subject but it was not accepted in the legislature. 

"The government has committed that at least within three years, they may begin to move forward on that work," he said.

Edmonton Public Schools has recently begun collecting race-based data.

The Edmonton Police Commission voted to ask the province if race could be identified on driver's licenses — an initiative Cardinal urged people to oppose.

"Labelling us with races is furthering racism," he said.

"Data needs to be generated in safe, trusting, discreet places that protect the dignity of a person so that it can be used to understand racism and plan anti-racism."

Declining perceptions of safety, quality of life

Though Vital Signs' reports have different themes, a recurring section on life in Edmonton reveals some trends.

According to a 2022 survey by Leger, 61 per cent of Edmontonians surveyed said they felt safe in the city — compared to 73 per cent in 2020.

The same survey also found a decrease in perceptions of quality of life. In 2020, 59 per cent of survey respondents rated their quality of life as "very good" or "excellent"; this year, only 43 per cent of respondents did so.

The report's contributors said they want their work to educate residents and inspire them to take action to address inequities.

Alom Deng with the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council shared several calls to action during the event: participating in Indigenous-led events, attending community town halls and supporting grassroots initiatives.


Madeleine Cummings is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She covers local news for CBC Edmonton's web, radio and TV platforms. You can reach her at madeleine.cummings@cbc.ca.