City to consider tracking race-based COVID-19 data after calls from experts

The executive director at Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion says the city should include race, gender and income in local COVID-19 data to show if marginalized communities are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The city said the data does not include race, gender or income, but will consider tracking it in the future

Activists in Hamilton believe COVID-19 may be hitting the city's marginalized communities harder than most, but say they won't know until Hamilton Public Health starts tracking gender, race and income in local COVID-19 data. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

Hamilton Public Health will consider including race, gender and income in local COVID-19 data after experts warned marginalized communities could be disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Kojo Damptey, the executive director at Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI), sent requests to Hamilton Public Health and the emergency operations centre on April 8 and April 21 asking for more detailed data.

Damptey said without knowing who is affected and how severely they are impacted, resources won't be allocated in a "coherent manner."

"If we don't collect this data while it is happening, in the future when we look back, we are also going to have to say, 'During this pandemic, how did we perform, did we do things correctly?' ... how are we going to know those answers?"

Kojo Damptey, executive director at Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, said the city will not be able to accurately reflect on its handling of COVID-19 without more detailed demographic and socioeconomic data. (Bandcamp.com)

Damptey heard back from Hamilton's chief medical officer of health late last month.

"This sort of data is not routinely captured in our case investigative information. You have raised food for thought however," Dr. Elizabeth Richardson wrote.

"At present we have many demands for data on many fronts and will continue to reflect on what we can incorporate while managing the outbreak itself to the best of our ability."

Hamilton Public Health has since confirmed to CBC it is mulling over how to incorporate race, gender and income in the statistics of who is infected and fatalities.

"We were in the process of looking at collecting this data (social determinants of health data) and the Ministry of Health has recently informed us that they're looking to develop a clear and consistent provincial approach in the near future," Kelly Anderson, a Hamilton Public Health spokesperson, told CBC News.

"We all understand this is an important issue, but to do it well requires a consistent and well-formulated approach."

Toronto started tracking race-based numbers in April

Calls for COVID-19 data with race, gender and income have been loud in the United States where data suggests the virus is deadlier for people of colour.

Those calls have since been echoed in Ontario with fears that the same disproportionate impact is affecting Canadians.

A letter obtained by CBC News shows 190 organizations, including HCCI, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic and Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team, demanded deeper statistics from Premier Doug Ford, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliot and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.

While Ontario and Hamilton continue to not record this information, Toronto started tracking race-based numbers in late April.

Ameil Joseph is an associate professor in McMaster's school of social work. (Ameil Joseph)

Ameil Joseph, an associate professor in the school of social work at McMaster University, said the Anti-Racism Act should be part of what guides COVID-19 data collection and also said Ontario's Anti-Racism Data Standards could be used.

"It was specifically designed for the kind of monitoring, collection and identification of issues related to systemic racism and disparities in the public sector," he explained.

"If we ignore the disparities and pretend they don't exist or don't collect the data, we don't have a way to understand, appreciate and intervene."

But, Christian Hasse, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Health, told CBC News health was excluded from the Anti-Racism Act act in 2017 due to the Personal Health Information Protection Act.

"Health information custodians (HICs), were also not included due to policy concerns about collecting, using and disclosing personal health information within the act's framework," read the statement.

"The ministry wants to better understand issues of inequity, in terms of how the coronavirus pandemic and pandemic response may affect subgroups of the population differentially and is researching using data from other sources to better understand equity issues."

Hasse didn't mention the standards in his response.

Mouna Bile, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic's bilingual Black justice coordinator, worries Hamilton is missing the full picture by not including race, income and gender in its COVID-19 data. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Mouna Bile, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic's bilingual black justice coordinator, said without more specific statistics, Hamilton data will have blind spots.

"Race, poverty, language barriers and other socioeconomic conditions play a very important role in the way that people cope, deal or fight against COVID-19 and so it's now up to officials to put that into action," she said.

"Racialized and marginalized communities have to be acknowledged ... we can never put a one-size-fits-all'[approach] for these types of issues."


Bobby Hristova


Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca