Montreal will push Canada to collect race-based COVID-19 data

Marginalized communities face some of the highest COVID-19 infection rates

Montreal city council voted on Feb. 23 to push the federal and provincial governments to collect and publish race-based COVID-19 data, which would entail registering ethnic and socioeconomic information from those who have tested positive for the virus.

Minority communities have faced increasingly higher COVID-19 case numbers across Canada, according to studies cited in the motion. The goal of the initiative is to better understand systemic disparities in marginalized communities and to develop effective health measures to address social inequalities.

Developed in cooperation with the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), the successful motion was proposed by Marvin Rotrand, independent city councillor for the district of Snowdon.

This initiative would be the first of its kind in the country, and for co-author of the motion and researcher at CRARR, Kathryn Nicassio, a necessary step to address inequalities among vulnerable communities.

“These groups tend to be racialized groups, people who are poor, or struggling in other ways,” said Nicassio.

In Montreal, Nicassio cites disproportionate COVID-19 infection rates in largely racialized communities, such as the Côte-des-Neiges and Ahuntsic boroughs, that have seen over 9,000 and 8,000 cases respectively. Comparatively, the affluent suburb of Westmount, with fewer racialized groups, saw just a little over 600 cases.

“We have some data, we know that this is happening, but [we] don’t know the extent of it, and we’re not collecting it at the scale we need to be collecting it,” said Nicassio.

This disproportionate impact on minority communities echoes the findings in the August 2020 SHERPA report cited in the press release, which found there was a greater impact of COVID-19 in racialized communities who faced an “intersection of multiple economic and social factors.”

These issues include poverty, racism, working in areas with higher exposure to COVID-19 (such as long-term care clinics), language barriers, lack of health insurance, and precarious immigration statuses. Ultimately, gathering race-based COVID-19 data would be integral to designing effective health policies that would account for these discrepancies.

“We need the hard data to be able to identify the root causes of system disparity … because we have to be able to inform our actions by addressing these root causes and to come up with more effective responses,” said Concordia Public Affairs and Policy student and CRARR intern Eva Rokakis, who also contributed to the motion.

Going forward, Rokakis said CRARR is working on a project to bring this initiative to the federal government.

“We have to keep fighting for it,” said Rokakis.

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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