In Question Period, I followed up on my questions for the Premier regarding race-based data collection in the NDP government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If we are not actively anti-racist in our pandemic policy development, we risk compounding the systemic racism that has long existed in B.C.
Despite a clear statement from the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner that it is “critical that the government of B.C. collect and analyze disaggregated data to identify inequalities and advance human rights in this province,” the NDP government still lags behind jurisdictions like Manitoba which have released clear reports showing how COVID-19 disproportionately affects Indigenous, Black, and other people of colour in that province. To this end, I asked the Premier why the collection of disaggregated race-based data has not been a priority.
S. Furstenau: We can’t turn a blind eye to the unequal impacts of this epidemic. If we are not actively anti-racist in our pandemic policy development, we risk compounding the systemic racism that has long existed in B.C.
As was just reported in the Vancouver Sun, the consequence of the race-based data gap has been especially stark during COVID-19. “Public health officials have been unable to definitively say whether racialized groups are infected with the virus at higher rates.” As my colleague from Saanich North and the Islands notes in that same article, if you don’t ask the questions, you don’t collect the data, you become colour-blind to the “nuances of the way policies are affecting outcomes for different people.”
My question is again to the Premier. In June of last year, he wrote to the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner and requested her advice on how to move forward with the collection of race- and ethnicity-based data, yet nine months later, no work has been done on the suggestions put forward by the commissioner, meaning we have no data capable of informing our vaccine rollout plan.
Why has this not been a priority for the Premier?
Hon. A. Dix: Thank you to the member for her question and for her interest. As with all pandemics and with all serious diseases and ailments that face people, they’re profoundly affected by what we call the social determinants of health, by income, by ethnicity, by race. Indeed, all of these things play a role.
Every case is important and every case is followed here in British Columbia. That’s why we’ve engaged in the program that we are engaging in to immunize those who are most vulnerable first. That includes, because the evidence shows this, our elders — in the case of this immunization, those in long-term care. It’s why we comprehensively immunized long-term care and assisted living. It was based on the evidence.
It’s why we are providing immunization in rural and remote Indigenous communities because of the vulnerability of those communities to pandemic. It’s why, with respect to Indigenous people, we’re immunizing 65 and above during the period when, in the general population, we’re immunizing 80 and above.
Our policies have been informed by who has been affected. Our policies and direction have been informed by the concerns of regions and by people, because every case matters. Every single case matters. We take it all, as you can imagine, very seriously, both at the provincial health office, the Ministry of Health and throughout the government.
Can we do a better job in future? Yes. But I think that our provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, our deputy provincial health officer, Dr. Danièle Behn Smith, the Premier and others have been very concerned about these very questions and responding to them, and you see that reflected in our immunization plan.
S. Furstenau: Hon. Speaker, the Health Minister does indicate that decisions are being made using data and evidence. But they’re being made by the data and evidence that are being collected.
Let’s look, for example, at Manitoba. Yesterday Manitoba released a report showing how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Indigenous, Black and other people of colour in the province. Why was this possible? It’s because Manitoba started collecting race-based and socioeconomic data in May 2020.
What does the data tell them? Despite being 35 percent of the population, Manitobans who identified as Black, Indigenous and people of colour make up over half of the total of COVID cases in the province. This is not a naturally occurring disparity. It is created by policy. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 is systemic, and it is seen in every jurisdiction, according to Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer of Manitoba. It’s not about people in communities making bad choices. COVID-19 infections are largely linked to pre-existing inequities, including housing and employment, factors impacted by government policy.
My question, hon. Speaker, is to the Premier. The best time to start collecting and sharing disaggregated data was a year ago. The next-best time is now. The Premier has directed his ministers to apply an antiracist lens in their work.
Will he now commit to collecting and sharing the data that will ensure that the ministers will have accurate information to be able to determine how COVID has exacerbated inequities in our province?
Hon. A. Dix: Hon. Speaker, we know, because every case matters, that COVID-19 has affected people differently in the province — first of all, our elders, but also in other communities. Some communities have seen a profound effect, both as regions and as communities of people. So we have taken action to address that. It’s why you see such a diversity of languages in our advertising, in our reaching out to people, and why we’ve continued to do the work that we need to do to keep everybody safe.
In June of this year, the member will know, as part of our antiracist commitment, we launched a commission into racism against Indigenous People in health care, which provided a comprehensive report in five months that we are acting on — all of the recommendations. These issues should be central to all that we do.
These issues affect all that we do, and we’re going to continue to do everything we can to ensure that those most vulnerable, those most affected by the COVID-19 crisis, are provided protection. That’s seen in every part of our immunization plan. It’s seen in all of our efforts to try and reach out to communities and provide the maximum protection possible.
There is no question that people’s circumstances make them more vulnerable to having COVID-19 transmitted to them, and people’s circumstances mean that the impact on it is greater in some communities. We saw, and we see — for example, in some of our lowest-income neighbourhoods in B.C. — the actions taken by public health to protect people, those systematic actions. I’m very proud of those, very proud of those communities and very proud of the actions taken.
Again, can we do more? You bet we can. Will we do more? Yes, we will, but I think the task and the job that we’re doing now reflects our commitment to the very issues the member raises.