The B.C. government has proudly introduced “the first ever race-based data legislation in the country,” saying it intends to collect information on the races of all its citizens to fight systemic racism and better deliver government programs.

NDP premier John Horgan announced the province’s Anti-Racism Data Act earlier this week alongside Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives Rachna Singh and other officials.

“Our province is shaped by diversity with people from all over the world choosing to come to B.C. to build a better life,” said Horgan. “But for too long, systemic racism and the long-lasting effects of colonialism have unfairly held people back when it comes to education, job opportunities, housing and more.”

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Horgan emphasized the honour of introducing the identity-based legislation, describing himself as the son of an Irish immigrant and a man raised by women.

“It is with a significant amount of pride that I know Minister (David) Eby will stand in a few short minutes, and be recognized by the first ever South Asian speaker in the legislature of British Columbia to introduce that legislation,” he said to applause.

“And when he does so, he will be surrounded by the largest collection of non-Caucasian members that have ever sat in the B.C. legislature.”

The government claimed that more than 13,000 British Columbians had provided input towards the law, saying that more than 90% of the responses from visible minorities expressed a belief that collecting data on people’s race, faith, ability and gender identity could bring positive change to B.C..

“This is just the first step on the road to building the anti-racist British Columbia we all want to see,” Horgan said.

The law comes on the heels of an inquiry by the B.C. Human Rights Commission into incidents of hate during the pandemic. As previously reported by True North, the Commission makes no mention of issues surrounding vaccination status or masking in its definition of hate incidents.

“Through the pandemic, we saw disproportionate impacts on racialized communities but felt powerless to advocate for our patients,” said Birinder Narang, a family physician and member of the legislation’s steering committee.

“The anti-racism data legislation will help to remove barriers, reduce systemic racism and increase equitable access to health-care services going forward for all in an evidence-informed manner.”

When questioned about issues of privacy and potential abuses of the collected data, the province said that there would be “safeguards” to protect the information and prevent it from being used for harm. 

The government also insisted that ministries would be required to follow careful guidelines before sharing any statistical data publicly – but also to release statistics annually to support and advance racial equity.

When asked about how the success of the data’s uses might be measured, SFU associate professor June Francis admitted that there was no progress without milestones.

“But I do want to say a few things about data,” she added. “We have a tendency to use the colonial understanding of data.” 

“Data is not just about numbers. Data is about knowing – Indigenous ways of knowing. Racialized communities have different approaches through storytelling through many of the metrics that would help us to figure out if we’re getting there.”

Earlier in the press conference, Francis — who identified herself as Jamaican — welcomed the government’s legislation in terms of a reclamation of B.C. by non-European peoples.

“I got to look at those pictures — you know, the ones on the walls of the legislature?” she said. “We expecting those colours to change.”

During a 2020 election debate, Horgan came under fire for answering a question about systemic racism by saying, “(while growing up) I did not see colour; I felt that everyone around me was the same.”

“And I’ve brought that through my entire adult life, and I’ve instilled that in my children.”

Horgan recanted the statement immediately afterwards, however, facing pressure to admit “colourblindness” as a form of unconscious racism.

While B.C. is the first province in Canada to introduce legislation to collect race-based data, other provinces have introduced comparable anti-racism laws. 

In Ontario, Bill C-67 seeks to amend various provincial acts with respect to “racial equity,” including Ontario’s Education Act, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act and the Ontario College of Teachers Act.

The bill would, among other measures, mandate “anti-racism and racial equity training” for teachers, as well as “fines for persons who disrupt or attempt to disrupt proceedings of a school or class through the use of racist language or activities.”

The bill had passed second reading and was under committee review as of the start of the 2022 Ontario provincial election campaign on Wednesday. 

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