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Canadian Public Health Association

CPHA calls for culturally safe collection and use of socio-demographic and race-based data

The Canadian response to COVID-19 to date has further revealed and amplified cracks in our health surveillance systems and some of the perpetual challenges of our federated model with its delegation of authority for health to the provinces and territories. Key among these is its capacity to collect race-based data and enhance the collection of comprehensive socio-demographic data as a means to focus response activities better. In order to contain COVID-19 and mitigate its long-term societal harms, we need to work with equity-seeking communities to understand and address underlying inequities that disproportionately affect certain communities and impact all Canadians.
In order to enable an evidence-based approach to public health that supports impacted communities, we strongly urge municipal, regional, provincial/territorial and federal decision-makers to ensure the harmonized collection and responsible use of socio-demographic and race-based data in all aspects of health surveillance and monitoring across Canada.
Canada remains a nation where public policies and institutions create harm for individuals and communities based on race, religion, culture or ethnic origin. These public policies and institutional practices result in inequities in social inclusion, economic outcomes, personal health, and access to and quality of health and social services. These effects are especially evident for racialized, Black and Indigenous Peoples, those at the lower end of the socio-economic gradient, women and gender-diverse people, people with disabilities and other equity-seeking communities. Ongoing reports during the COVID-19 pandemic show a rise in overt acts of anti-Asian racism.

In its December 2018 position statement on Racism and Public Health, CPHA called on all agencies and organizations involved in the provision of health and social services in Canada to enhance public health surveillance systems by collecting and analyzing race and ethnicity data in an appropriate and culturally safe manner. CPHA expands that call to include the collection of socio-demographic data to facilitate public health officials and decision-makers in all jurisdictions to understand fully who is affected disproportionately by this pandemic, so that appropriate actions can be taken in collaboration with impacted communities.
As reported in Learning from SARS: Renewal of public health in Canada – Report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health:

Well before SARS appeared in Canada, the Auditor General highlighted the challenges faced by the nation in operationalizing an infectious disease surveillance system through existing F/P/T processes. The Auditor General's reports in September 1999 and September 2002 were highly critical of the failure of the F/P/T process to establish the needed infrastructure and concluded that these failings were impairing Canada's ability to detect and respond to such outbreaks.

Despite the recommendations included in Learning from SARS, little has changed in the past 17 years. We are aware of only four jurisdictions that are now collecting or have indicated they will be collecting some race-based and other socio-demographic data. However, data collection remains inconsistent across these jurisdictions.

Recognizing CPHA’s commitment to health equity, anti-racism and reconciliation, we advocate for a nimble response to collaborating with and being accountable to communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 to ensure the collection and responsible use of race and socio-demographic data that will enable appropriate service response during this and upcoming waves of COVID-19.