Canada’s racial divide: Confronting racism in our own backyard

Interesting long read in the Globe.

Excerpt pertains to data gaps. However, some of the gaps listed do not exist – Census/NHS data on economic outcomes is detailed as are educational outcomes, as is employment equity data in governments. Visible minorities can be broken down by the major groups, and ethnic origin provides more detail (for some of the data, see my Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote Overview Deck (December 2015).

However, the points regarding health and incarceration are valid:

Part of the problem is that it’s hard to figure out, with much precision, what’s going on. Unlike the United States, where race-related data is routinely collected on everything from jobless rates to university-graduation rates, Canada “cannot tell its own story,” says Arjumand Siddiqi, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, who has lived and worked in both countries.

She hit a wall in 2007, when she wanted to test if race-based health inequalities varied in different societies. Most of the research at the time relied on U.S. data.

While working at the University of North Carolina, she began to analyze a joint Canada/U.S. survey of health. When she accessed the data from Canada, however, detail on race was suppressed (for privacy reasons, she was told). All she could glean was information on people who were “white” or “non-white.” She couldn’t determine whether health outcomes within racial groups varied.

“We’re left with a muddy picture. We are left not knowing whether there is a problem that is specific, widespread, changing over time, whether we need to be doing more or less with some groups.”

Health care could use more accurate information. One paper last year that looked at ethnicity and breast cancer noted that data about race or ethnicity “are rarely collected” in a systematic manner in Canada’s health-care settings.

That data deficiency “certainly does not mean that ethnoracial inequalities do not exist in Canada; indeed, lack of data often limits the ability to accurately and adequately identify health inequalities and inequities,” wrote Dr. Aisha Lofters of the University of Toronto.

In Halifax, Dr. Britton, who has four degrees, including a doctorate, has found that a dearth of data on African Nova Scotians has hurt efforts to push for racial equity in the province. “With no data being collected, what does that mean? No funding” to address specific health issues in communities.

Researchers have hit similar roadblocks trying to analyze employment outcomes, incomes or wealth by race.

One missing piece of the puzzle is jobless stats on indigenous reserves, which the government doesn’t collect on a monthly or even yearly basis. Another piece is about wages. A widely reported study released last week in the U.S. – which found the wage gap between white and black Americans is worse today than in 1979 – isn’t currently possible to conduct in Canada, says Sheila Block, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

In the justice system, data is lacking on the ethnicity of homicide victims and fatalities from police encounters.

People are often grouped as “visible minorities,” in the justice system. The catch-all term is “problematic,” noted U of T’s Akwasi Owusu-Bempah in a 2011 report entitled Whitewashing Criminal Justice in Canada. Lumping people together “obscures racial differences by averaging groups that are overrepresented with those that are underrepresented.”

The absence of detailed data may be hiding inequalities that, ultimately, harm police effectiveness and hurt community relations, he said.

Source: Canada’s racial divide: Confronting racism in our own backyard – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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