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Re: Requiring public sector organizations to collect race-based data

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September 20, 2017
Hon Michael Coteau
Ministry of Children and Youth Services / Anti-Racism Directorate
14th Floor
56 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2S3

Dear Minister Coteau:

Re: Requiring public sector organizations to collect race-based data  

I hope this letter finds you well. I am pleased that the Anti-Racism Directorate (ARD) has been actively consulting with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) on developing race-based data standards and guidelines. I am writing today to call on the government to build on this important work by requiring select public sector organizations to collect and analyze race-based data, especially in key sectors such as health care, corrections, law enforcement, education, and child welfare.

The OHRC’s recent consultation report entitled Under Suspicion documents numerous concerns about systemic racial discrimination in the above-noted sectors. The OHRC and the ARD share the goals of eliminating systemic racial discrimination and promoting equality and, for many years, the OHRC has called for the collection of human rights data, including race-based data, because we know that it is crucial to advancing these goals.

Last month, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) echoed these calls, and provided strong support for data collection. In its Concluding Observations on Canada, the CERD noted with concern that, without comprehensive disaggregated statistical data, it could not fully evaluate whether African-Canadians, ethnic groups, Indigenous peoples, and non-citizens enjoyed civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. It called on Canada to “systemically collect disaggregated data in all relevant ministries and departments to improve monitoring and evaluation of the implementation and impact of policies to eliminate racial discrimination and inequality.”

This month the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent will present its report on Canada to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The report, based on a visit to Canada last year, notes: “[T]here is a serious lack of race-based data and research, which could inform prevention, intervention and treatment strategies for African Canadians. The authorities acknowledged that disaggregated data along racial and ethnic lines was necessary to understand the human rights concerns of African Canadians.”

With this context in mind, we have appreciated the opportunity to provide input into the draft data collection standards and guidelines pursuant the Minister’s requirements in the Anti-Racism Act. To be effective, however, the finalized standards and guidelines must be put into action.

Currently, the Anti-Racism Act does not require any public sector organization to collect data consistent with the standards. Relying on individual organizations to collect data at their discretion is inconsistent with the ambitious goals of the Anti-Racism Act and the recent comments of the CERD or UN Working Group. On a more practical level, given that implementation will require expertise and resources, it is unrealistic to expect organizations to opt-in to doing so. Without action on the part of government, many organizations will fail to identify and monitor systemic racism and fail to eliminate racial disparities, which may lead to violations of Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

For example, given recent studies that highlight the “streaming” of Black students into non-academic programs and the high rates of suicide amongst First Nations youth, it is imperative that racialized students across the province benefit from concrete actions to tackle discrimination, including race-based data collection, regardless of where they live. That is why we were dismayed to learn that, to date, only 16 of the 76 publicly-funded school boards have voluntarily committed to collect human rights-based data (despite the Ministry of Education’s recently released Equity Action Plan). The government can and must close this gap.

To realize the potential of the ARD’s data collection standards and guidelines, and demonstrate leadership both nationally and internationally, we urge the government to implement a regulation that requires public sector organizations to collect, analyze, and report on race-based data. In particular, we call on the government to require, by way of regulation pursuant to subsection 6(5), that public sector organizations, including health care, corrections, law enforcement, education, and child welfare organizations, collect, analyze, and report publically on race-based data.

The regulation must outline the specific data that should be collected in each of these sectors, which will require consultation with the respective ministry or public sector organization, community and advocacy groups, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, and the OHRC.

Thank you for considering this matter. If you wish to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact me. In keeping with the OHRC’s commitment to public accountability and its duties in serving the people of Ontario, this letter will be made public.

Yours sincerely,

Renu Mandhane, B.A., J.D., LL.M.
Chief Commissioner
Ontario Human Rights Commission

cc: Hon. Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario

Hon. Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General of Ontario

OHRC Commissioners