Census 2021: Canadians are talking about race. But the census hasn’t caught up.

A good, nuanced discussion regarding nomenclature and methodology issues.

Census data, which links birthplace, generation, ethnic origin, visible minority status, citizenship to socioeconomic data provides a wealth of data that are used to highlight how outcomes vary between groups and cohorts, as well as providing a more quantitative assessment of systemic differences.

With more disaggregated data available (e.g., labour force survey, public service employment equity reports), the gaps are less significant than before.

Discussions around nomenclature can sometimes be easier than addressing the issues that the existing data sheds light on:

This May, Canadians will again be asked if they identify as a visible minority when filling out the long-form census. But it’s a concept and term increasingly out of step with the times.

The pandemic has laid bare racial inequalities, and racial justice activist groups, like Black Lives Matter, have put anti-Black racism high on the public agenda. Systemic racism, rather than visible minority status, is at the centre of debate. While Canadians are now talking more explicitly about race, the census has yet to catch up. 

“We’re going to have to ask ourselves, what do we want to do with that category now?” says Michael Haan, a demographer and member of a committee that advises Statistics Canada on ethnocultural diversity. According to him, the committee has had many internal debates about terminology. 

Indirectly asking questions

Canada’s anti-racism strategy, which draws on decades’ worth of research, states that race is a social construct. There is no basis for classifying people according to race, but racial bias and discrimination have very real effects. 

The question is: How do we get relevant data from the census and other surveys on the impact of systemic racism?

Statistics Canada tries to gather this information without directly asking about race. Race-based data is needed, says Jean-Pierre Corbeil, a diversity specialist at Statistics Canada. But he wonders whether that actually requires referring to race on the census.

Historically, the government has been reluctant to ask directly about race, which has led to a lack of disaggregated data. After the Second World War, the census used indirect methods of estimating the non-white, non-Indigenous population through racial proxies like language or ethnocultural origin.

That changed in 1996, says political scientist Debra Thompson, when Statistics Canada began asking Canadians whether they identified as a visible minority. The term, Thompson notes, makes it seem “that things are not about race when of course they absolutely are.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/YnGOR_W7Ca0?wmode=transparent&start=0Statistics Canada advertisement explaining the 2021 census.

Identifying as a visible minority

The question on visible minorities was added to the census because of the Employment Equity Act. In order to measure how the white versus the non-white population fares in the labour market as required by this law, the government needed to know who is a visible minority.

For the purposes of the Employment Equity Act, says Haan, the question works. But he acknowledges the drawbacks: “Is it a perfect facsimile of race or racialization? No, it’s not.”

Many criticized, and still criticize the government’s approach. The United Nations has repeatedly pointed out that the term “visible minority” lumps together diverse communities and threatens to erase differences among them. Corbeil says Statistics Canada is well aware of the criticism.

Not easily done

However, changing the terminology is politically sensitive. Moving away from it would likely require changing the Employment Equity Act, says Fo Niemi, head of Montreal-based Center for Research-Action on Race Relations.

Instead, Statistics Canada is trying to respond to the demand for more race-disaggregated data through special crowdsourced surveys and increasing sample sizes of marginalized people to allow for enhanced analysis. 

For example, with support from the federal Anti-Racism Secretariat, it has produced a socio-economic analysis on the Black population.

During the pandemic, census data has also been combined with other statistics to show that mortality rates are higher in neighbourhoods where visible minorities live.

“What people want is really to have information on Black Canadians, to have information on South Asians or Latin American Canadians,” says Corbeil. But those categories are controversial too. White, South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean or Japanese are options non-Indigenous Canadians can choose from on the census. “Other” is also an option, but many feel unrepresented by the list. 

Expand or shorten the list?

The population groups, as Statistics Canada calls them, have remained largely unchanged since 1996. The agency uses the list, which was developed through an inter-departmental process in the 1980s — according to Thompson, how the groups were chosen is “a bit of a mystery.”

They are now part of Canada’s national statistical standards and are widely used by the federal government, including in the monthly labour force survey, which began recording visible minority status as of July 2020

Statistics Canada has considered changing the list. One alternative was to expand it, but that risked making the answers too similar to the separate ethnocultural origin question. Another was to shorten the list and provide broader categories. Statistics Canada even tested this approach in a 2019 trial run of the census. Respondents had to choose their “descent” from seven options: North American; Latin American; European; North African; African, Afro-Caribbean or African-Canadian; Middle Eastern or West Asian; and Other Asian. 

But according to Corbeil, the problem there was that Statistics Canada couldn’t identify who was Black because Black Canadians are highly diverse and come from all over the world. That’s important, because the agency’s consultations indicate that “many people want to identify as Black Canadians,” says Corbeil. Because the test was inconclusive, the options have not been changed for the 2021 census.

Changing the census isn’t so simple

Dr. Andrew Pinto, a public health and preventive medicine specialist and family physician, is a researcher with The Upstream Lab, which has studied the collection of racial data by health-care providers, says that if patients understand that disclosing their race will be used to address systemic racism, they are willing to provide the information.

For now, Statistics Canada is reluctant to refer directly to race anywhere on the census. The agency is cautious and for good reasons, says Haan. In order to compare data over time, the questions and the answers need to stay the same. “The census is the gold standard,” he says, “so any modification is carefully considered.”

Thompson also cautions that simply having the data won’t solve the problem of systemic racism.

“Yes, we need disaggregated racial data. [But] we also need governments that are brave enough to create targeted policies.”

Source: https://theconversationcanada.cmail19.com/t/r-l-tltiqlt-kyldjlthkt-c/

François Legault sticks to position that systemic racism doesn’t exist in Quebec

In contrast to Ontario’s Premier Ford who walked back his initial comment.  Consistent with his general positions on multiculturalism and diversity, restrictive approach to immigration, and the head covering ban for public servants and teachers:

A day after demonstrators in Montreal criticized Francois Legault for his refusal to acknowledge systemic racism in the province, the Quebec premier held firm on his position.

Legault told reporters in Montreal on Monday he’s committed to implementing a plan to stamp out racism in the province and expects details in the coming days.

Thousands marched in Montreal on Sunday in an anti-racism rally, with some expressing frustration with Legault’s stance.

But Legault said he doesn’t want to get drawn into a war over the term “systemic,” nor does he want it to turn into a trial of Quebecers – the vast majority of whom Legault says aren’t racist.

The premier conceded that racism exists and called for a “quiet evolution” on the matter to deal with it – evoking the province’s Quiet Revolution in the 1960s that brought about social and political change in Quebec society.

Legault noted black members of his own caucus have recounted their own experiences with racism, and he repeated a promise to go beyond rhetoric and establish a provincial policy to fight racism.

“For me, we have Quebecers of different colours, different origins, but we are all human beings and we’re all equals, no exceptions,” Legault said. “But we must face the reality and the problems lived by some of our fellow citizens, and we must act.”

Demonstrators Sunday said Legault’s refusal to acknowledge the systemic nature of racism – biases, policies and practices entrenched in institutions – is missing the bigger picture.

“I don’t understand why people are trying to stick on one word. I think what is important is to say and all agree that there is some racism in Quebec, and we don’t want that any more,” Legault said on Monday.

He said the province could have cancelled Sunday’s march and one the previous weekend for public health reasons, but he decided they should be allowed to go ahead. Legault noted that francophones and women in Quebec have made advances to overcome discrimination, and he said the same must happen for racial minorities.

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, a civil rights advocacy group, said it is important to recognize that racism isn’t always direct and can be subtle.

Niemi noted that courts have recognized systemic discrimination and systemic racism for more than three decades, but there’s a level of intellectual confusion surrounding it.

“Systemic racism is not a general indictment of a society as a whole, and it’s important to stop using systemic as a tool to generalize or accuse an entire society in a sweeping manner,” Niemi said.

Source: François Legault sticks to position that systemic racism doesn’t exist in Quebec

Plan for hearings on ‘systemic racism’ in Quebec divides province’s political left

Good capturing range of perspectives, including blindness to the issue:

Quebec is being widely criticized for its plan to launch public consultations on systemic racism, even by those who agree visible minorities face many structural barriers in the province.

The debate has highlighted a deep divide among Quebec’s political left, with some people saying the consultations encourage an ideology of victimhood and demonize the province as inherently racist.

Some civil rights activists argue the consultations are meaningless unless the government is finally prepared to hold its institutions accountable for failing to uphold racial diversity.

Moreover, activists say they will increasingly use the court system to push through changes in society regardless of what comes out of the government’s consultations.

Michele Sirois, a political scientist and president of a women’s rights organization, believes there is no systemic racism in Quebec.

That concept, she explained in an interview, is imported from the United States, which has a history of structural racism against people of colour.

“The Americans had a slave trade,” she said. “We didn’t. Our problem is about the full integration of immigrants.”

Sirois recently penned an opinion piece in Le Devoir, a left-of-centre newspaper, and wrote that the term “systemic racism” reflects “an ideology of victimhood” and promotes the idea that only white people can be racist.

“The left is divided in Quebec,” Sirois said in the interview. “And there is an increase of people on the left who are saying, ‘stop these consultations, which will only increase racial tension in society.”‘

Quebec has asked its human rights commission to launch public consultations on systemic discrimination and racism.

Only discussion on discrimination involving race, colour or ethnic and national origin will be allowed when the hearings begin in September.

The goal, the government said, is to forge “concrete and durable” solutions in order to “fight these problems.”

The Canadian Press attempted to contact Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil, whose office is leading the consultations, but was told she would not be available to comment.

Weil said in July, when she first made the announcement, the consultations “are an occasion to mobilize all of civil society … to propose actions to eliminate the obstacles towards full participation of all Quebecers.”

Fo Niemi, executive director for the Montreal-based Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, said those on the right and the left who deny the existence of systemic racism aren’t looking hard enough.

One clear example, he said, is that Quebec’s human rights commission is so understaffed it can only render decisions many years after a complaint is lodged.

Niemi cited the case of a young man who waited seven years to be awarded $33,000 by the commission after he was racially profiled by Montreal police in 2010.

That case also highlighted the fact police are still not tracking data on racial profiling, five year after the force said it would start taking profiling complaints against its officers seriously.

“The system knows that going to the human rights commission is like going to a nameless graveyard,” Niemi said. “This is a systemic problem.”

Another example of systemic racism in Quebec society is reflected in the lack of diversity in the judiciary, he said.

Niemi pointed to a 2016 study published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy indicating that out of 500 judges in Quebec, three were visible minorities.

 He said if the percentages of visible minorities within institutions such as the public service, corporate boards of directors and the judiciary are lower than in regular society, that is a sign of systemic racism.

“It’s an indication,” Niemi said. “It’s a very important evidential element.”

Niemi said activists are increasingly going to the courts to force society to become more diverse, because nothing else seems to be working.

“It’s inevitable,” he said.

“It’s only a matter of time before some of these legal actions start to take place. Quebec is a bit slower in terms of this kind of litigation, but it’s coming and we are leading that movement for change.”

Source: Plan for hearings on ‘systemic racism’ in Quebec divides province’s political left | National Post