A National Policy on the Collection of Race-Based Statistics


Fo Niemi, Executive Director, Centre for Research-Action in Race Relations (CRARR)

Scot Wortley, PhD, Assoc. Professor, University of Toronto, Centre for Criminology, Ontario
Maria Yau, Project Coordinator, Research & Information Services, Organizational Development,Toronto District School Board, Ontario
Valerie Pruegger, Research Social Planner, Community & Neighbourhood Services City of Calgary

Context for the Dialogue

Collecting regular, accurate and reliable data on the relative socio-economic status of racial and ethnic groups and other dimensions of their identity, including gender, can be instrumental in confronting and eliminating racism and racial discrimination. The collection of race-based statistics can assist institutions, organizations, communities, policy makers, etc to identify and better understand the scope of the problem and the measures to effectively address racial discrimination in employment, housing, education, law enforcement, access to government services, etc.  Data collection is necessary to broaden the knowledge base on discrimination, set targets and benchmarks to measure progress towards equality, inform policy choices, influence budgetary allocations and monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of policy interventions.

In Canada the discourse on, and practice of, the collection of data based on race and/or ethnicity, nationality is an evolving area of focus and has been fraught with much debate; and has met with resistance within and among communities, governments, public institutions and other sectors.

Given the debate on this issue, the increasing representation of racialized peoples in Canada's population, and the increasing support within the international community for the collection of disaggregated data (including race), the CRRF believes that the collection of this type of data can provide a useful tool in the struggle to eliminate racism. 

The panel addressed the technical, social and political implications of collecting  race-based data with a view to informing policy development in this area.

The Case for the collection of race-based data

There is a need and a want to create a National Policy to collect information and data related to Race and Ethnicity.  WHY?

  • With data, needs-analysis can be done and the gap(s) that exist can be identified.
  • Benchmarks can be established which  provide a source for comparison for all the information that are gathered in the future; evaluation of program effectiveness, etc.   This has implications for communities, organizations' delivering services, funder, everyone.
  • It will help to identify trends, share data, utilize resources (mainly $$) more effectively, and potentially eliminate duplication, and provides a reliable data source for future community building and national policy. 
  • Information collected from the data can be used at a very high level, in terms of identifying national movements and development and also can we used in very specific ways that can affect the population at a community level.
  • Using both quantitative and qualitative data helps to truly create a  knowledge-based approach upon which, policies can be formulated and programs designed and implemented.   In the absence of such data, there is more reliance on assumptions, fragmented research and other non-scientific means. 
  • (point made) It is very difficult to measure progress based on a set of moving criteria that change especially with a change in leadership (mainly elections)
  • Undertake broad consultation, before we start creating policy, to fully understand the needs and identify some of the barriers to collecting race-based data
  • Must consider all environments (as it relates to data collection) - political, operational, legal, privacy and human rights
  • We will have to learn how to make this process as all-encompassing for the cultures who might feel threatened by the process (White middle class)
  • The creation of uniform definitions to define race and ethnicity.  This also  relates to creating definitions of why and how we want to collect the data
  • Promote the benefits of data collection and sharing - this can help us identify trends at the national, provincial, municipal and community levels which can be used in circumstances where the variable might closely align
  • Clear communication and transparency - not only for the data-gathering process but post-collection of the information as well.
  • Consider the techniques of countries such as Great Britain and not necessarily the U.S.
  • Race-based data collection is for the benefit of all Canadians and to give us an accurate view of our current racial climate. 
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