For the past week, my colleague Sonia Furstenau and I have been focused on data collection and how data is informing the decisions government is making about the COVID-19 pandemic. We agree with statements made by the Minister of Health that vaccine response should go to the most vulnerable people.
However, if government is not collecting comprehensive, disaggregated data then the question remains, does government have a clear understanding on who are the most vulnerable populations in British Columbia?
For my question today I’d like to start with a quote from Dr. Alicia Sasser Modestino, who is a public policy professor at Northeastern, PhD in economics from Harvard University. This week on CBC she stated:
“It’s no secret that unless you measure something, you can’t really talk about it and you can’t fix it as an issue. Throughout our society, as we are collecting data, there’s bias in who we are collecting that data on, how it is interpreted and who gets studied. If you are excluding groups from your field, then you’re going to have that bias creep in, and you’re not going to be able to fix the problems that face vulnerable populations.”
My question is straightforward and to the Premier. Does the Premier agree with the statement?
Hon. D. Eby:
Thank you to the member for the thoughtful question. We, as a government, and the parliamentary secretary who is leading this work around the importance of data to inform government decisions, to inform our policies and the importance of disaggregated race data to understand our blind spots and to understand whether the initiatives that we have put in place are disadvantaging a particular group or are not addressing underlying concerns….
I agree with the quote — that what we measure and how we measure it is critically important. I’ll put a caveat on it. We asked the Human Rights Commissioner to advise us about how best to move forward in this area.
She cautioned us. This is the second and third sentence of her executive summary, “By making systemic inequalities in our society visible, data can lead to change,” as the member is suggesting. “But the same data used or collected poorly can reinforce stigmatization of communities, leading to individual and community harm.”
So we need to collect this data, but we need to be in partnership with communities that are affected to make sure that we avoid the caution that’s been given to us by our Human Rights Commissioner.
This is the second and third sentence of her executive summary. “By making systemic inequalities in our society visible, data can lead to positive change,” as the member is suggesting. “But the same data, used or collected poorly, can reinforce stigmatization of communities, leading to individual and community harm.” So we need to collect this data, but we need to be in partnership with communities that are affected to make sure that we avoid the caution that’s been given to us by our Human Rights Commissioner to avoid individual and community harm in our efforts to do that.
The member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
I thank the Attorney General for that thoughtful response. I appreciate the agreement with that statement.
There is a cost to delay. There’s a cost to every moment that there is a delay. While the government sits on the sidelines with this issue, we have to ask the question: who is paying that cost? Certainly, there is cost to this government, no doubt. There is going to be increased cost by not fully understanding the picture that is in front of us.
However, the real cost of inaction is on those vulnerable populations that my colleague and I have been talking about for weeks, the vulnerable populations that Sasser Modestino refers to being negatively impacted by bias creep and exclusion from decision-informing data sets.
As the Attorney General pointed out in his response to my first question, in June of last year, the Premier 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. As the Attorney General pointed out, there was a response from the Human Rights Commissioner. Yet nine months has passed. Nine months has passed, and every day that’s passed since then, there have been negative impacts on British Columbians.
I ask my question again to the Premier. What substantial progress has your government made in nine months that puts us in a different place than when that letter was drafted back in June?
Hon. D. Eby:
Thank you, again, to the member for drawing attention to this very important issue. The member asks what steps our government has taken, and he quotes a human rights commissioner who didn’t exist before we were elected into government. I thank the member and the agreement that we had that re-established a human rights commissioner so she could give us advice on important issues like this.
We’ve worked with communities across the province to re-establish a Resilience B.C. Anti-Racism Network. We’ve almost doubled funding for that program to provide even more support for community groups responding to racism.
The member knows we’re working to reform the Police Act. Fighting anti-Indigenous racism in health care. We’re stepping up even further with the COVID-19 rise in hate-related incidents that we’ve seen, especially anti-Asian racism, with $1.9 million in new recovery money to support important community work around that. We’ve increased multiculturalism grants. We have upcoming anti-racism public education programs.
I understand the member wants to move quickly. Everybody wants to move quickly on this. But I also want to emphasize the challenge of moving quickly by yourself and the importance of going a long distance in partnership, which is slower but necessary and critical in this realm.
Again to the Human Rights Commissioner: “As experts in their own lives, community members are the ones best equipped to identify priorities and risks in potential data collection projects.” This will happen, but we will take the necessary time to ensure the affected groups are direct, involved partners in this.
I know the member agrees with that, and I know he understands that. Thank you again for raising this issue.