Manitoba Metis Federation filing human rights complaint over COVID-19 data collection, sharing

The MMF's complaint stems from concerns that the province hasn't created a data-sharing agreement with the federation that would let it know when Métis people test positive for COVID-19.

Province says MMF declined to participate in data-sharing agreement earlier this year

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, says the province has discriminated against Métis people in its handling of COVID-19 data collection. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Manitoba Metis Federation plans to file a human rights complaint against the provincial government, its health minister and its top doctor, alleging discrimination in how Manitoba is collecting and sharing data linked to COVID-19 cases.

The federation sent a letter outlining its concerns — and naming Health Minister Cameron Friesen and Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin — to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, it announced in a news release on Friday.

The complaint stems from concerns that the province hasn't created a data-sharing agreement with the federation that would let it know when Métis people test positive for COVID-19.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the province said the government has regularly been in touch with staff from the Manitoba Metis Federation about the pandemic, and that the federation declined to participate in information-sharing agreements earlier this year.

The federation also wants to make sure people with COVID-19 who self-identify as Métis are actually Métis citizens, the release said.

The federation was in touch with the province in early April, and was told that self-identifying as Métis was enough for the government to list a person as Métis in its COVID-19 data — a method that's problematic, the Métis political body says.

"Sharing incorrect data created by those who falsely identify as Métis comes with a number of problems. We want to ensure that our resources are being used in an effective way that benefits the Métis Nation and indeed all Manitobans," President David Chartrand said in the release.

Agreement with First Nations

The province started asking patients testing positive for COVID-19 to voluntarily self-identify if they are First Nations, Métis or Inuit starting in early April, and struck a deal with First Nations leaders to track and share COVID-19 data in May.

That agreement did not include the Manitoba Metis Federation, though Roussin said at the time the province was "interested in connecting with representatives from the Métis community to work on a similar agreement."

To date, that hasn't happened, the MMF's release said.

The federation says it sent several letters to the government between April and August requesting a data sharing agreement.

It heard back from Friesen's office late Thursday afternoon, when it got a letter that expressed interest in working with the Manitoba Metis Federation but did not address its concerns surrounding data collection, the release said.

Without a data-sharing agreement, the federation has been relying on word of mouth to learn about Métis people with COVID-19, said Manitoba Metis Federation Health Minister Frances Chartrand.

Meanwhile, the provincial spokesperson said government staff reached out to representatives from the Manitoba Metis Federation about a data-sharing agreement in April and May, but the federation again declined.

The health minister then responded in writing to the federation's lawyer in June, saying the province was still willing to create a data-sharing agreement if the MMF reversed its earlier decision not to participate, the spokesperson said.

"We encourage the Manitoba Metis Federation to engage with provincial health officials in order to develop an information-sharing agreement that will meet the needs of Métis citizens and help our entire province in the fight against COVID-19," the spokesperson said.