Wednesday, July 6, 2022
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British Columbia introduces law to collect racial data of citizens

The government of British Columbia has proudly announced “the country’s first ever race-based data legislation in the country,” stating that it plans to collect data on the races of all its citizens in order to combat systemic racism and better provide government programs.

Along with Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives Rachna Singh and other officials, NDP Premier John Horgan launched the province’s Anti-Racism Data Act earlier last week.

“Our province is shaped by diversity with people from all over the world choosing to come to B.C. to build a better life,” said Horgan. “But for too long, systemic racism and the long-lasting effects of colonialism have unfairly held people back when it comes to education, job opportunities, housing and more.”

At a news conference on Monday, May 2, Horgan emphasized the honour of introducing the identity-based legislation, identifying himself as the son of an Irish immigrant and a man reared by women.

“It is with a significant amount of pride that I know Minister (David) Eby will stand in a few short minutes, and be recognized by the first ever South Asian speaker in the legislature of British Columbia to introduce that legislation,” he said to applause.

“And when he does so, he will be surrounded by the largest collection of non-Caucasian members that have ever sat in the B.C. legislature.”

A claim made by the government of B.C. says more than 13,000 submitted input towards the law, apparently more than 90% of the responses from visible minorities believe that collecting more personal data on people including faith, race, ability and gender identity may bring a positive change to B.C.

“This is just the first step on the road to building the anti-racist British Columbia we all want to see,” Horgan said.

The legislation follows an investigation by the British Columbia Human Rights Commission into incidents of hatred during the pandemic.

“Through the pandemic, we saw disproportionate impacts on racialized communities but felt powerless to advocate for our patients,” said Birinder Narang, a family physician and member of the legislation’s steering committee.

“The anti-racism data legislation will help to remove barriers, reduce systemic racism and increase equitable access to health-care services going forward for all in an evidence-informed manner.”

When asked about privacy concerns and potential abuses of the collected data, the province claimed that there would be “safeguards” in place to protect the information and keep it from being misused.

The government also insisted that ministries follow strict guidelines before publicly disclosing any statistical data – but also that statistics be released annually to support and advance racial equity.

When asked how the success of the data’s uses could be measured, SFU associate professor June Francis admitted that there could be no progress if there were no milestones.

“But I do want to say a few things about data,” she added. “We have a tendency to use the colonial understanding of data.” 

“Data is not just about numbers. Data is about knowing – Indigenous ways of knowing. Racialized communities have different approaches through storytelling through many of the metrics that would help us to figure out if we’re getting there.”

Earlier in the news conference, Francis, who identified herself as Jamaican, praised the government’s law allowing reclamation of B.C. by non-European peoples.

With the government looking to collect even more personal data previous questions and concerns come to mind of many British Columbians of where the data will be stored.

On April 7 there was a committee meeting about the privacy of British Columbians information. NDP Lisa Beare was unable to answer if the BC Government would store personal information of British Columbians outside of Canada if it was cheaper.

BC Liberal Bruce Banman was persistent and kept pressing for an answer saying British Columbians deserve the rights to know. He expressed concern from British Columbians that if the personal data is stored in another country it will no longer be protected by Canadas privacy protection laws.

“Does the minister agree that if no regulations are forthcoming that there will be no protection for personal information disclosed outside of Canada. I think that supersedes any budgetary concern we may have. We’re now talking about people that some of the most private and personal information that people have. Does the minister agree that if no regulations are forthcoming, there will be no protections for personal information disclosed outside of Canada? I think British Columbians deserve an answer that question” said Bruce Banman

Expressing concern British Columbians most private personal data if stored outside of Canada “could potentially make their information subject to viewable by that country’s legislation” he said, adding “homeland security for instance had the right to go through anybody’s personal data that was being stored within the United States”

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