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QUESTION PERIOD — Health

Race-based Data Collection--Economic Disproportionality

May 15, 2020


Honourable senators, my question is a two-part one for the Government Representative in the Senate. The first part is in alliance with Senator Bernard.

African Canadians are seeing a detrimental impact of COVID-19 on their communities due to a higher prevalence of pre-existing health conditions, exposure to the virus in essential workplaces and other disparities in social determinants of health. Community leaders, researchers and organizations such as the United Nations and the Canadian Institute for Health Information have long asked for disaggregated data by race in Canada. Disaggregated data applies to all policies being made including health, employment, housing and education.

Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec and individual health organizations have been collecting race-related data to be able to direct services toward black communities in need, and to fully recognize the detrimental impact this pandemic has had on these communities as we build our country. Failing to mandate collection of race-based data is another form of systemic discrimination.

In addition, this week Minister Hajdu called for collaboration between federal, provincial and territorial governments in order to “move from a place of guidelines to a place of standards” for long-term care of seniors and vulnerable individuals. I commend the government for adopting this position in recognition of the need to remedy decades of evisceration of health, economic and social safety nets.

As we have all experienced during this pandemic, too many in Canada were made immediately vulnerable at so many levels, and too many caregivers were left struggling to survive while simultaneously continuing to provide essential services.

My two questions to you are: Why has the government not mandated race-related data from the beginning of collecting data on health of Canadians during this pandemic, and when will they mandate collection of this information nationally?

Second, what steps will the government be taking to continue the dialogue with provinces and territories to develop the sorts of national standards we all now recognize as necessary to ensure all vital and under-resourced aspects of our economic health and social well-being — from health care, to housing, to support and care services for children, the elderly and those with disabilities, to adequate wages and benefits — are provided for all? Thank you.

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ - ]

Thank you for your questions. There’s no simple, one-line answer because there’s a lot in those questions. Let me start with the latter part of your question.

The Government of Canada has been working regularly, as you know, with provincial and territorial governments in all aspects of the crisis that has befallen us. I’m advised it is engaged in discussions with the provinces and territories with regard to the very tragic situation that seniors find themselves in, in the long-term care facilities. It has a particular salience for all of us, and for me, coming from the province of Quebec which has been so hard hit.

As we know, the Canada Health Act does not include long-term care as part of its definition within its ambit. I have no doubt that is a subject that is of active discussion amongst the federal, provincial and territorial counterparts. But as for what will emerge from these consultations, I really don’t know. Frankly, important though the question is, and it’s a timely question, it is too early to have the answer as those discussions are ongoing.

With regard to your first question, I’ve been in touch with Senator Bernard on this issue. It’s clear that maintaining an accurate and clear picture of the impact of this on our communities is critical from a public health point of view. The government recognizes that certain populations, including African Canadians and Indigenous communities, may very well be, and appear to be, disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

The government further recognizes the added value that would be provided by accurate disaggregated data to support all communities within Canada. I’m advised that Statistics Canada is coordinating efforts with the provinces and territories to address any data gaps, including these.

My office has been working with the office of Senator Bernard to arrange a meeting with the Minister of Health so that Senator Bernard’s important considerations and concerns can be discussed directly with the minister.

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