Isaac Muttiah, a laboratory technical assistant at LifeLabs, handles a specimen to be tested for COVID-19 after scanning its barcode upon receipt at the company’s lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. LifeLabs is Canada’s largest private provider of diagnostic testing for health care. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Despite calls, B.C. still not collecting race-based COVID data

Racialized individuals often face discrimination in accessing health care

  • Jun. 18, 2020 8:30 a.m.

By Moira Wyton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Tyee

Despite mounting calls for B.C. health officials to collect and report race-based pandemic data, the province still isn’t gathering the information.

The pandemic has disproportionately infected and killed Black and Indigenous people across the United States, and advocacy groups in Canada want to know if this is the case here as well.

But the province hasn’t been recording the race or ethnicity of people who are tested for COVID-19, infected or dying, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday, nearly two months after she said her team was looking into how to do this.

“We have not been collecting race-based data systematically for cases right now,” Henry said when asked by The Tyee.

Data on the economic, health and social impacts of the pandemic gathered in a voluntary provincial survey will include results based on race and ethnicity, she said. Over 300,000 B.C. residents completed the survey, which closed on May 31.

“We will start presenting that as soon as some results are ready,” she said.

Amid protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism in Vancouver and around the world — sparked by the separate killings of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police — advocates are drawing further attention to the effects of systemic racism on the health of racialized communities.

Racialized individuals often face discrimination in accessing health care, work in precarious sectors where they deal with the public and are stigmatized if they do fall ill.

“The big determinants of health are how much money and how much power you have,” Farah Shroff, a global public health expert at the University of British Columbia told The Tyee in April. “And health status is a way of measuring equity.”

Advocates have long been drawing attention to Canada’s lack of race-based data to measure how systemic racism affects health education and economic outcomes.

The Black in BC Mutual Aid collective is joining those calls after being in touch with among the most-in need in the province.

READ MORE: B.C. Black-based group starts COVID-19 fund, urges officials to collect race-based data

The collective of nine Black activists has been crowdfunding and distributing over $15,000 in micro grants of $100 to Black individuals across B.C. who are struggling due to the pandemic.

The application is low-barrier and open to any of the approximately 43,500 Black people living in B.C.

“It’s a really hard time for a lot of Black families,” said Emmanuela Droko, who has been administering and working to distribute the funds. “They’re just so happy that there’s some sort of support even though it isn’t a huge amount of money, and to know that there’s a space out there that does acknowledge and centre Black experiences through COVID.”

But the collective feels that “mutual aid is an indicator of what government should be doing.”

“It’s a stop-gap,” said collective member Giovanni HoSang in an interview Tuesday. “We are centring the work of community, our centre is in a caring community, especially the most disproportionately affected within this group.”

And they say it is impossible for government to respond to community-specific needs effectively without collecting the information needed to understand the toll.

“The collection of this disseminated race and socio-demographic data will allow us to shed more light on the things that we already suspect but cannot describe in full detail because we don’t have the data to back it up,” said collective member Kevonnie Whyte.

“And with that, you can actually start calling for targeted funding… recovery measures that are not just throwing money into the air,” HoSang added. “Putting money and resources where communities are impacted the most.”

The collective’s May 23 call for race-based data joins calls from the Federation of Black Canadians, the BC Community Alliance and the Tulayan Filipino Diaspora Society.

B.C. would become just the second jurisdiction in Canada to collect and report race-based data if it answered the organizations’ calls.

In the City of Toronto, which began collecting race-based data in April, cases are most highly concentrated in the neighbourhoods with the highest density of Black residents.

The stakes are high for racialized communities in Vancouver, particularly if leaders cannot understand and measure the scale of harm the pandemic has wrought.

“One of the reasons why Canada can believe it doesn’t have a race problem is because we don’t have the data to back it up,” said Whyte. “Collecting this data will be the start of showing what really exists and beginning to come to terms with the reality of our structural racism.”

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. salmon farms challenge activists’ demands for site closures

News reporting also unfair, inaccurate and distorted

Ladysmith man arrested in Saanich after towed sawmill draws attention

Police located the man thanks to social media and a keen-eyed witness

Killer whales cause a scene

WHALE OF A TALE Art Carlyle captured these images of killer whales… Continue reading

Ladysmith man shocked out of his seat after $50,000 Keno win

Larry Salmond plans to purchase a new RV with his winnings

Green Party pins Nanaimo-North Cowichan riding hopes on Istace

Leader Furstenau in town for the announcement of Chemainus businessman’s candidacy

105 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death as health officials urge B.C. to remember safety protocols

There are currently 1268 active cases, with 3,337 people under public health monitoring

U.S. Presidential Debate Takeaways: An acrid tone from the opening minute

Here are key takeaways from the first of three scheduled presidential debates before Election Day on Nov. 3

B.C. nurses report rise in depression, anxiety, exhaustion due to pandemic

A new UBC study looks into how the COVID-19 response has impacted frontline nurses

National child-care plan could help Canada rebound from COVID-induced economic crisis: prof

A $2 billion investment this year could help parents during second wave of pandemic

Search suspended for Indigenous elder last seen mushroom picking in northwest B.C.

Mushroom picker Thomas (Tommy) Dennis has been missing since Sept. 16

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

16 MLAs retiring from B.C. politics add up to $20M in pensions: Taxpayers Federation

Taxpayers pay $4 for every dollar MLAs contribute to their pensions

‘Bonnie’ and ‘Henry’ among latest litter of service dog puppies

B.C. Alberta Guide Dogs names two pups after provincial health officer

B.C. VOTES 2020: Few solutions offered for ‘out of control’ camping

B.C. Liberals, NDP spend millions as problem keeps growing

Most Read