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

Exercise and cancer to be explored via webinar

UFV’s Dr. Iris Lesser to lead Zoom event for cancer patients and supporters

Vancouver double homicide leads to arrest in Harrison Hot Springs Wednesday

VPD and RCMP tracked dumped vehicle connected to killings to Chilliwack

Multiple accidents slowing westbound Highway 1 traffic

3 accidents in Langley, Abbotsford within 30 minutes

Hope’s visitor centre re-opens, as tourism revs up in the area

Visitor centre, area tourism businesses open doors as B.C. travel allowed by provincial government

Harrison Festival Society unveils further summer lineup

Children’s concert, drum making on deck for July 15 and 18

B.C. identifies 20 new COVID-19 cases, travellers specified in count

Pandemic total 3,028 cases, 51 people from outside Canada

Mayors welcome rideshare expansion to eastern Lower Mainland

As of Thursday, Lyft is now offering service throughout Metro Vancouver

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Filing deadline in RCMP sexual-harassment class-action extended due to COVID-19

Plaintiffs now have until January 2021 to submit claims for up to $222,000

Jamie Bacon pleads guilty to charge in Surrey Six case

The plea brings an end to a complex legal case that has spanned more than a decade

Hefty undeclared driver charges piling up, ICBC warns customers

Average extra penalty $2,971 after an at-fault accident

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

Conservation officers relocate Spirit bear known to roam northwestern B.C.

Bear roamed valley north of Terrace for many years

Most Read