‘There is no playbook in dealing with the pandemic’: how StatsCan has mobilized around urgent COVID-19 data collection

Of interest:

With the majority of people at Statistics Canada still working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency has been working to become more agile in its collection of disaggregated data and the disproportionate effects of the crisis on vulnerable communities, according to Tina Chui, acting director of diversity and social statistics.

“There is no playbook in dealing with the pandemic,” said Ms. Chui. “I think we’ve become a lot more agile, and StatsCan has been undergoing modernization for a number of years, which allowed us to springboard into more innovative ways of doing things.”

The impact of the pandemic has been spread unevenly across the Canadian population, particularly pertaining to people from vulnerable communities and marginalized groups.

“Because of that, we have really mobilized to collect as much information as possible,” said Ms. Chui. “We have been investing our efforts in a number of modernization initiatives for a number of years already, which actually helped us to prepare for the pandemic response.”

Ms. Chui said that during the initial stages of the pandemic, senior management within Statistics Canada took “calculated risks and made some tough choices” to adapt the agency’s response to urgent data needs, including everything from information around mental health to the impact on businesses to enable people to better navigate the impact of the damage.

Crowdsourcing, web panels used for COVID-19 data collection

The agency has engaged in a number of crowdsourcing pushes throughout the pandemic, with first results on the impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians coming in between April 3 and April 24, followed by a focus on the impacts of the pandemic on postsecondary students from April 19 to May 1.

The focus then shifted to the collection of data surrounding the mental health of Canadians from April 24 to May 11; Canadians’ perceptions of personal safety from May 12 to May 25; trust in government, public health authorities and businesses from May 26 to June 8; as well as the impact of COVID-19 on Canadian families and children from June 9 to June 22.

Most recently, crowdsourcing was used to analyze the impacts of the pandemic on Canadians living with long-term conditions and disabilities from June 23 to July 6, finishing with a push to determine Canadians’ experiences of discrimination from August 4 to August 18.

Web panels have also been used from March 29 through to September 20 to collect data around the impacts of the pandemic, resuming economic and social activities, information sources consulted by Canadians, as well as technology use and cyber security.

From Jan. 25 to Feb. 1, the agency will be looking into substance use and stigmatization within the context of the pandemic as well.

“We really used those two sources in the last few months to collect very timely information,” said Ms. Chui. “Since the lockdown in mid-March, we worked very quickly to put some new surveys through crowdsource and web panel methods to collect data.”

‘We had to mobilize very quickly’

The federal government introduced its anti-racism strategy in June 2019, designed to unroll from 2019 to 2022 at the cost of $45-million.

Statistics Canada’s role within that strategy is to “support the data and evidence pillar,” said Ms. Chui. “Fast forward to the pandemic: we do need this real-time [data], we had to mobilize very quickly, so how can we leverage the existing work to monitor how Canadians are dealing with the pandemic?”

Calling the agency’s Labour Force Survey their “mission critical program,” Ms. Chui said new questions have been recently added to get a better sense for the impact on visible minority populations.

“That’s how we can find monthly data of COVID on employment,” said Ms. Chui. “Unfortunately we’re still deep in the second wave, but when we’re going through the recovery, certain communities will have a lot more to gain back, so with the monthly survey, we’ll be able to better monitor the situation.”

According to the most recent Labour Force Survey that reflects labour market conditions as of the week of Nov. 8 to 14, growth was “variable across demographic groups.”

Among Canadians aged 15 to 69, according to the report released on Dec. 4, the unemployment rate of those designated as a visible minority decreased 1.5 per cent to 10.2 per cent in November.

Beginning in July, the survey now includes a question asking respondents to report the population groups to which they belong. Possible responses, which are the same as in the 2016 census, include, White, South Asian (e.g., East Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan), Chinese, Black, Filipino, Arab, Latin American, Southeast Asian (e.g., Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Thai), West Asian (e.g., Iranian, Afghan), Korean, Japanese, or Other, according to Statistics Canada’s website.

Long-form census scheduled for 2021

In his mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) office, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains is responsible for preparing for the long-form census in 2021, including the collection and analysis of disaggregated data.

Ms. Chui said the census is the government’s “best source for disaggregated data.”

“For instance, when we look at socio-economic outcomes of women, we cannot just look at women, because socio-economic outcomes are tied very closely together with age, because age is a proxy for lifecycle,” said Ms. Chui. “So we have to look at the combinations of sex and age, and we can still drill further [into regions]. Then you can further drill into women in their prime working age, who are members of a visible minority.”

“The census is such a big data source that it will allow us to drill down into that level of detail, while also allowing us to protect the privacy and confidentiality of respondents,” said Ms. Chui.

According to the department, the census will contain new content to better identify individuals’ sex at birth, gender, veteran status, religion, registered members of Métis organization or settlements, as well as those enrolled under or a beneficiary of an Inuit lands claim agreement.

Pandemic has highlighted ‘pre-existing inequalities in our society,’ says expert

Malinda Smith, a professor at the University of Alberta who has also sat on Statistics Canada’s Expert Working Group on Black Communities in Canada, told The Hill Times that the pandemic has highlighted the pre-existing inequalities in our society, and “aggravated them for people who are on the front lines, people you see were marginalized, but now we recognize are essential.”

University of Alberta professor Malinda Smith says ‘what Statistics Canada can do from a national point of view is provide clear categories and a coherent strategy where we have data that is collected and comparable.’

There was a need for better race-based data prior to the pandemic in relation to policing, according to Prof. Smith—a need that has been amplified as result of the pandemic.

“What this has all shown is that across the country, across the provinces, is very uneven data collection, and what Statistics Canada can do from a national point of view is provide clear categories and a coherent strategy where we have data that is collected and comparable.”

“And this is as, if not more important—the information will be able to help evaluate initiatives and programs and policies to assess their differential impact, and then to design interventions that will properly address them,” said Prof. Smith.

“Right now, a once-size-fits-all strategy doesn’t allow you to do that, and the uneven data collection doesn’t allow you to even identify hotspots,” said Prof. Smith. “My view is that even though this is framed as an anti-racism strategy, it might just as well be framed in terms of a systematic commitment to what an equitable, inclusive society looks like.”

Source: ‘There is no playbook in dealing with the pandemic’: how StatsCan has mobilized around urgent COVID-19 data collection

New StatsCan data ‘indispensable’ for understanding systemic anti-Black racism, says professor

Some good commentary by Malinda Smith, Afua Cooper and Carl James. My one note to Afua Cooper’s comment about Canadian Blacks being a voting block is that the very diversity of the Black community, more so than other communities, combined with their relative distribution across ridings, make it less simple than that:

Data released by Statistics Canada over the past year and a half could help to dispel the myth of a single, uniform Black population in Canada, and will be “indispensable” for researchers studying systemic racism in the country, say professors from three universities across the country.

Statistics Canada has released a spate of data on the Black population in Canada in stages since February, 2019, to honour the International Decade of Peoples of African Descent, which runs from 2015 to 2024. The studies span a 15-year period beginning in 2001 and use data from the census, the general social survey, academic studies, and more.

The data shows the diversity of the Black population is often “obscured” by anti-Black racism and stereotypes that lead to a view of a “single” Black community in Canada. That belief exacerbates the effects of systemic racism, and leads to policies and practices that fail to account for the unequal effect of certain policies or practices, say Canadian researchers.

“This data…is really important for us to see the implications of racism and stereotypes on the life chances and outcomes for the Black Canadian population. Regardless of background, educational achievement, who they are, the stereotype prevails,” said Malinda Smith, professor of political science at the University of Calgary and the vice-provost of equity, diversity, and inclusion at the school.

Prof. Smith served on an advisory council created by Statistics Canada to help interpret the data. The data, Prof. Smith continued, “is indispensable for understanding systemic racism. What it helps you to see is the disproportionate impact of a certain practice on specific groups.”

Both the “breadth” and “depth” of the Statistics Canada studies make them particularly valuable, said Afua Cooper, an historian, sociology professor at Dalhousie University, and the coauthor of the university’s report on Lord Dalhousie’s history on slavery and race. Prof. Cooper also served on the Statistics Canada advisory panel.

“I’m going ‘wow’ all the time,” Prof. Cooper said, adding that the studies have been incorporated into her teachings

The breadth of the new data allows for change, or lack of change, to be accurately observed over a longer period of time, said Carl James, professor of education and senior advisor on equity and representation at York University.

“It would be good to look at this again five years from now, so we can see if there have been changes. What accounts for those changes if there are changes? How can we know the extent to which issues we identify now have been addressed? We can only know that if the data exists,” said Prof. James, who was also a member of the panel.

Statistics Canada began releasing the first set of data during Black History Month in February 2019. Titled “Diversity of the Black population in Canada: An overview,” the  study focused primarily on demographic characteristics and sought to “highlight the diversity of the Black population in terms of their ethnic and cultural origins, places of birth and languages,” the document reads.

The studies collected data from people who self-identified as Black on Statistics Canada surveys.

The first study shows that the Black population in Canada doubled in size between 1996 and 2016, to 1.2-million people—roughly 3.5 per cent of the population. The Black population is about a decade younger, on average, than the population as a whole, with a median age of 30.  It also showed that just more than half of Black adults in Canada were born in another country—170 different countries in total.

The second release came a year later, also during Black History Month, on Feb. 25, 2020, a few weeks before COVID-19 lockdowns were imposed. It included two studies, both focused more on socioeconomic factors such as education, employment, and income.

The first study, titled “Canada’s Black population: Education, labour and resilience” said that “compared to the rest of the population, employment rates remain low and the prevalence of low-income is more common among the Black population.

“Despite these challenges, Black individuals have high rates of job satisfaction and high rates of resilience,” the study reads.

The study showed that from 2001 to 2016, the Black population had unemployment rates about four percentage points higher than the rest of the population. The finding was consistent for both men and women. Even when an individual had  postsecondary education, in 2016 the rate for the Black population was 9.2 per cent compared to 5.3 per cent in the rest of the population.

Prof. Smith wrote on Twitter that the resilience finding “does not surprise me. It might surprise those inclined toward deficit stereotypes. There’s a fierce optimism among the Black community in Canada.”

“There’s a lot of negative stereotypes of Black people as angry or violent. The findings of the resilience study was that Black people were more likely to be optimistic about the future. They thought about the potential for change,” Prof. Smith told The Hill Times.

“Black youth have desires to get into university, however they didn’t think it was going to happen because of discrimination and bias. But they have the highest aspirations. I don’t think many Canadians think of Black youth as having high aspirations for education,” she continued.

The study also said that “challenges facing the Black population may present themselves differently within specific groups” such as differences between immigrants and non-immigrants in terms of postsecondary education. Black women born in Canada were more likely than women in the rest of the population to get at least a bachelor’s degree, but Black immigrant women were significantly less likely than women in the rest of the population to get a postsecondary degree.

The second study focused on the socioeconomic outcomes for Black youth. It found that Black youth were as likely as other youth in the rest of the population to have a high school diploma, but that Black youth were less likely to have a postsecondary diplomas or degrees. It also found second- and third-generation Black youth were less likely than a first-generation Black child to have a postsecondary degree.

“The gap between postsecondary graduation rates for Black youth and other youth remained after accounting for differences in socioeconomic and family characteristics. Other factors not measured by the Census of Population could be the source of these differences,” the study reads.

“The education system was designed for particular kinds of students in particular ways. It was not designed in a way that would address, welcome, and make inclusive the experiences of Black students,” Prof. James said.

For Prof. James, the explanation lies in the fact that Black youth tend to have worse educational outcomes the longer their family has been in Canada.

“That means those who have gone through the education system and have been socialized in Canadian society do not do as well. That tells us something must be dealt if we’re going to address the issues of Black students,” he said.

The most recent Statistics Canada release came on Aug. 13, and looked at the changes in socioeconomic outcomes of the Black population by generation, immigrant status, sex, and country of origin compared to the rest of the Canadian population between 2001 and 2016. It provided many of the same findings as the previous studies but was disaggregated to include more information, such as immigrant status, on the same questions.

Taken together, Prof. Cooper said, these studies send a message to Canadian political leaders and gives them a base of evidence to work from.

“The 2016 census tells us that there’s 1.2-million Black people. That’s a voting bloc. In terms of political survival, you have to take the Black population seriously,” she said.

Despite the clear political incentive, Prof. Cooper said these data sets show that Canadian politicians and other institutions have a duty to “ensure that Black people may be brought into the Charter.”

“How are we going to make this data work and matter? It has to matter in the day-to-day material life of Black people in this country. [Statistics Canada] has built a wonderful document. What kind of commitments do the federal government or other Canadian institutions [have] to ensure that Black people may be brought into the Charter? In criminal justice, in health, in education, [which] we have not experienced,” she said.

“Is this just going to be another report that sits on the shelf? It has to matter in the lives of Black people,” said Prof. Cooper.

Source: New StatsCan data ‘indispensable’ for understanding systemic anti-Black racism, says professor

Inside Statistics Canada’s efforts to improve diversity data

Good account. Some of the data on breakdowns between different Black groups can be found and analysed through of mix of ethnic ancestry, place of birth and generation status (approach used I believe in the StatsCan overview of the Canadian Black community.

The issue is less with respect to basic demographic and socioeconomic data and more with respect to specialized data sets that can identify, highlight and quantify inequities in areas such as health, education, policing etc:

When the Liberals announced the Centre for Gender, Diversity, and Inclusion Statistics in 2018, the government said it would have a “particular” focus on Black Canadians, recognizing a gap in data collection that academics and organizers say is so large it renders promises to address anti-racism “meaningless.”

For the centre to effectively offer information on Canada’s diverse Black population, understand how it’s doing and create policy to address inequality, both it and Statistics Canada need much more funding than the Liberals have allocated, according to one of its academic advisors on Statistics Canada’s Expert Working Group on Black Communities in Canada, and on immigration and ethnocultural statistics.

For months now, as COVID-19 swept across Canada, advocates and researchers have been calling for race-based data on the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities. In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests across the world and Canada, advocates have redoubled that call.

With its “very poor” disaggregated data Canada can’t properly address systemic experiences around racism, including disparities of income and health, said Malinda Smith, a University of Alberta professor.

“You can’t address them without good data. It doesn’t get measured, it doesn’t get done,” she said. “My view is any politician, policy maker, university president making a statement about a commitment to address anti-racism and yet are not collecting data, are not consulting the Black population, I think those commitments, those statements become meaningless.”

Over the last week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) spoke of systemic racism in Canada, promising to change “the systems that do not do right by too many Indigenous people and racialized Canadians.”

In the 2018 budget, the Liberals announced $6.7-million over five years to launch the centre. That funding is applied to both the centre and across various units at the agency to fulfill the mandate, said Statistics Canada spokesperson Peter Frayne by email. It has 10 people whose salaries are at least 50-per-cent funded by the centre, but who also have other duties, he said. In 2019, the Liberals’ anti-racism strategy set aside another $4.2-million, he added, so it could expand data collection in four areas: the general social survey, potential changes to the uniform crime reporting survey, supporting a new advisory committee on ethnocultural and immigration statistics, and added analysis of existing data to include racialized communities.

That funding is “peanuts,” said Prof. Smith who said these gestures give the ”appearance of addressing the problem.”

For the Nova Scotia-based Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute, it can be difficult to get important details about Black Nova Scotians, said its executive director Sylvia Parris-Drummond.

It’s evident Black Canadians face systemic racism across the board, she said, given they are disproportionately low income, have poorer health outcomes, and lower wages. Black people represent 8.6 per cent of the federal prison population, despite accounting for 3.5 per cent of Canada’s population.

“We know all those things exist, we would know them more deeply if we could get the disaggregation of data more strongly done,” she said, and the gap necessarily means policy making is coming from “a less informed place.”

Centre’s work on Black Canadians ‘key,’ says centre specialist

Since 2018, the centre and Statistics Canada have undertaken “major work” on the Black community, said Jean-Pierre Corbeil, the centre’s assistant director and chief specialist.

“Clearly the work on Black Canadians is key,” he said in an interview with The Hill Times about the centre’s work over the past two years, including four projects focused on the population.

After the 2018 budget announcement, Statistics Canada struck an ethnocultural advisory committee, which met that summer and into the fall. During Black History month in February 2019, it published an infographic demonstrating the growing diversity in Canada’s Black population and a 20-page overview of how it had changed over the decades. It showed that Canada’s Black population doubled in size between 1996 and 2016.

It was important to showcase the diversity of Black population, Mr. Corbeil said, and it was the first of its kind at that level of detail and “very well received.” In the early 2000s, the agency offered a few portraits of ethnocultural groups, but not to that level.

Using census data, he said it presented statistics in an accessible way, including portraits of differences between provinces, like Nova Scotia, where the Black community is for the most part third generation, compared to recent immigrants in Toronto and Montreal.

It also showed that cities like Edmonton and Calgary have more than 50,000 Black residents, noted Ms. Smith, which is consistent with the fact that the Prairies have a fast-growing Black population in Canada. Lethbridge, Alta., and Moncton, N. B., were two of the fastest growing populations.

“Diversity has escaped much attention and analysis,Prof. Smith said, adding it may be surprising for people to know that before 1981, more than 80 per cent of the Black population immigrated from the Caribbean, but since 2001, it’s shifted to more than 62 per cent from Africa.

“There’s a tendency to treat it as a homogenous group,” she said, and Canada’s lack of data has helped make that so.

In February 2020, the centre released another report called “Canada’s Black population education, labour, and resilience.” In this study, the centre integrated the 2006 census with the 2016 census for the same person, making it possible to look at education attainment and the educational characteristics of Black youth in Canada and look at labour market integration 10 years later.

It showed that Canada’s Black population is younger than average, and though more Black youth aged 15-25 (94 per cent) reported wanting to get a university degree, only 60 per cent thought it would happen, compared to 79 per cent of the rest of that age range in Canada.

Labour force ‘pilot’ survey to include visible minorities

In July, the labour force survey will include a question about visible minority status for the first time. These mandatory monthly surveys have a 56,000-household sample, so there will still be limitations in the technical analysis, but Mr. Corbeil said it’ll be a first for tracking employment.

Mr. Frayne said the pilot to expand the survey makes up part of Statistics Canada’s response to the data needs stemming from the pandemic. The agency has “enhanced crowdsourcing survey instruments to enable reporting for key vulnerable populations,” including immigrants, Indigenous people, and visible minority groups.

“Statistics Canada recognizes that the social, economic and labour market impacts of COVID-19 have not been equally felt by all Canadians,” he said, adding the agency is also developing techniques to add information by race and visible minority status to previously released data.

Also, in the coming months, the centre plans to release a comprehensive report on changes to the socioeconomic situation of Canada’s Black population, from 2001 to 2016, Mr. Corbeil said, noting there’s a “very, very big appetite” for this analysis.

And, through Canada’s anti-racism strategy, announced in 2019, the centre received an additional $3-million to expand the sample size for the next social identity cycle of the General Social Survey—a smaller, annual themed survey. The survey typically has about 25,000 respondents, while the 2020 survey will be expanded to 80,000 respondents and will allow StatsCan to track perception of discrimination and belonging.

Mr. Frayne added by email that an advisory committee on immigration and ethnocultural statistics has been formed and met once, with another meeting this week.  There is also work underway to improve information on hate crimes by linking police data to courts data, he said.

Canada is long overdue in developing better data on its Black and broader visible minority populations, said Prof. Smith, far behind the United States and United Kingdom. In Britain, researchers can break down racialized students attending post-secondary institutions, but Canada is unable to do that.

“Frankly, we need a Royal Commission on visible minorities in order to examine more systematically and thoroughly the different experiences of the nine groups within that category,” she said, saying it remains shocking to her that the Black population is considered one category despite remarkably different immigration routes and experiences. There are more than 170 different places of birth for the Black immigrants in Canada.

Over the next three years, the centre is also planning to release new indicators, consulting with the agency’s expert advisory committee on ethnocultural and immigration statistics to develop a conceptual framework on ethnocultural diversity and inclusion to better track relevant “inclusion” indicators over time.

“This is a great opportunity to identify data gaps,” Mr. Corbeil said, and when some surveys do not have a large enough sample, it’s an opportunity “to send the message” if more information is needed. Asked if the centre had enough resources, including staffing and funding, he said following the 2018 budget it was “clearly” a key initiative from the government to assign resources to address gaps.

“This is where the emphasis right now is put, trying to get the funding to have the oversampling and all the efforts to integrate the information with different data sources,” he said.

Source: Inside Statistics Canada’s efforts to improve diversity data