Montreal community groups call for race-based data on COVID-19 once again

Almost a year after the pandemic hit Canada, community groups in Montreal are still pushing all levels of government to collect and release data on how COVID-19 is affecting how disproportionately racialized minorities and low-income city residents.

“Montreal, as a city, needs this information so that we can work together to send resources where they are needed most,” said Dr. Jill Hanley, professor of social work at McGill University, who led his own study last year on the impact of COVID-19 on ethnocultural communities in Montreal. He found that low-income, multi-ethnic neighborhoods were particularly vulnerable.

In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Hanley said that while the researchers were able to gather some information on their own, public health officials could go further and allow policymakers to take more targeted action to resolve the problem.

Marvin Rotrand, independent advisor at Montreal City Hall, introduced a motion to urge authorities “to collect and report disaggregated data, including race, income, disability and other social determinants of health care that will inform evidence-based health care and social programming interventions. . “

Rotrand said provinces such as Manitoba, which collected data based on race, used it to determine how to help marginalized communities.

Geneviève Jutras, spokesperson for Mayor Valérie Plante, said in an email that the mayor’s office agreed “with the principles” of the motion, which is due to be debated on February 22.

“We are already having discussions with public health about this,” she said.

Asked about the issue of collecting race-based data, Quebec’s director of public health, Dr Horacio Arruda, said he didn’t think it was the most relevant social factor to consider.

“We use that for certain diseases when there is a racial effect of the disease because of genetics. But most of the time, it is not the race which is the problem, it is the conditions of the person: poverty. , overcrowding in the houses. And I think these are the elements that are most important to me: income, number of children, university level. For me, these are the factors that can explain why these communities are more important. [affected]. “

Walter Chi Yan Tom, lawyer and human rights activist, said that at this point in the pandemic, public health should have already collected this information and made it public.

He cited the example of the presumed high infection rate among members of the Filipino community in the densely populated district of Côte-des-Neiges.

“We can speculate, but we need reliable data so that the authorities treat it correctly,” he said.

Data could inform vaccination decisions

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Action Research on Race Relations, who was also present at the press conference, said the information would be helpful in tackling the next challenge: vaccinations.

He pointed out that Canada’s National Immunization Advisory Committee released new guidelines earlier this week, recommending that adults in racialized communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic be given priority for injections in the second stage. of the vaccination campaign.

An analysis conducted last June by CBC News found that Montreal’s most racially diverse neighborhoods have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

Of the 24 socio-economic factors tested by CBC News, the strongest correlation was between cases per 100,000 population and the percentage of black residents.

Sharon Nelson, vice-president of the Jamaican Association of Montreal, said it was not too late to commit to finding out exactly why.

“Not just for today with COVID, but as we move forward,” she said.

For more stories about the experiences of black Canadians – from anti-black racism to success stories within the black community – check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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