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

Pretium Resources reports fatality at Brucejack mine

The isolated incident occurred last Friday, and the employee passed away on Sunday in hospital.

Smithers man leaves $1 million to children’s hospital

Jim Bolster wanted to help out children with health problems like his own

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

New ownership resurrects BV Taxi

The new owners expect to be taking fares by mid-August

Tahltan Nation closes hunting and recreational activity access points

The remote and vulnerable territory has limited medical capacity

B.C. records 146 new COVID-19 cases through long weekend

More that 28 people tested positive for the virus each day since Friday

Two people die in propane heated outdoor shower near Princeton

Couple was attending a long weekend gathering

Alberta to require masks at schools this fall, but still no mandate in B.C.

B.C. students are also set to return to classrooms in September

B.C. to allow customers to buy cannabis online for in-store pickup at private shops

Age verification will still be required inside the store

30% of British Columbians would ‘wait and see’ before taking COVID vaccine: poll

Some are concerned about side effects, while others don’t think the virus is a big deal

Don’t leave your hand sanitizer in the sun and other tips to stay COVID safe this summer

Being mindful of staying outside and keeping hand sanitizer, sunscreen out of the sun recommended

What exactly is ‘old growth’ B.C. forest, and how much is protected?

Forests minister Doug Donaldson doesn’t support ‘moratorium’

Canadians can travel to Hawaii in September; no quarantine with negative COVID test

Travellers will be required to pay for their own tests prior to arriving

Anonymous letters tell Vancouver Island family their kids are too loud

Letter said the noise of kids playing in Parksville backyard is ‘unbearable’

Most Read