Research Update: The Numbers Game: How Lack of Race-Based Data Collection During Covid-19 In Canada Has Highlighted Systemic Racism

Jayme Wong, Edmonton Social Planning Council
Description / Summary

The Royal Society of Canada established its Task Force on COVID-19 in April 2020 to “provide evidence-informed perspectives on major scientific challenges in response to and recovery from COVID-19” (p. 2). The result of the task force’s findings is Impacts of COVID-19 in Racialized Communities, a collection of eleven essays published in May 2021.

Racism existed before COVID-19. The pandemic simply created conditions in which racism became more apparent. The attitudes, policies, and practices created and reinforced by individual, systemic, and cultural racism resulted in disparities that could no longer be ignored by mainstream society. In the anthology’s introductory essay, “The Background to Racism in Canadian Society,” author Frances Henry explains: “It is the racism that existed in settler societies, the racism that led to the subjugation of people through colonialism and the expansion of Europeans into far off places in the world, which created the conditions that exist today” (p. 14). COVID-19 became a racial issue when the historical roots of racism, colonialism, and imperialism created unequal conditions among people living in Canada.

Canada has never really collected race-based data related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Certain provinces, such as Manitoba and Ontario, started to collect this data recently—though only in clusters (p. 25). The result is that Canadians cannot accurately determine the impact that COVID-19 has had on different racial communities. However, just because we cannot determine how people of colour were affected does not negate the irrefutable fact that visible minorities were far more affected by the virus than white communities.