Alberta NDP proposes anti-racism bill to identify gaps in provincial services

Edmonton City Centre NDP MLA David Shepherd outside the Alberta legislature on Dec. 1, 2019. Global News

Alberta’s Health Critic David Shepherd tabled proposed legislation on Thursday that would establish an anti-racism office and a commissioner to help identify racial inequalities in the province.

The bill will require public bodies to collect race-based data and use that data to conduct impact assessments, report findings to the commissioner and report on the progress of recommendations from the commissioner.

It will also require the government to establish regulations, data standards and impact assessment scope for those institutions to collect and analyze the data.

Read more: Pandemic has disproportionate effect on mental health of Black British Columbians: research

“Racism exists. It is systemic. Systemic racism is often caused by policies, practices and procedures that appear neutral on paper but in practice disadvantage racialized groups,” Shepherd said at a press conference on Thursday.

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Alberta currently does not collect race-based data at a provincial level. This is in stark contrast to provinces like Ontario and British Columbia – the latter published research on the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of Black people in the province on March 5.

Shepherd said the COVID-19 pandemic showed that systemic racism is a persistent reality in Alberta.

Click to play video: 'What have been the experiences of Black British Columbians during the COVID-19 pandemic?'
What have been the experiences of Black British Columbians during the COVID-19 pandemic?

His comments echo those of Bukola Oladunni Salami, an associate professor at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Nursing. She said data from Toronto shows Black people have higher levels of COVID-19 infections.

“Canada is becoming more and more diverse, and so is Alberta. It is important that Alberta’s services are responsive to the needs of immigrants and racialized populations,” Salami said.

“Racism and race are determinants of health… Data about COVID-19 transmission and infection shows that race is the strong social determinant of health.”

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But these concerns are not new. In 2020, experts said Canada’s lack of race-based COVID-19 data is hurting Black Canadians.

Read more: Canada’s lack of race-based COVID-19 data hurting Black Canadians: experts

An analysis by the Associated Press in April 2020 found 42 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. are Black people.

“It is our duty as government to use every tool we have at our disposal to ensure we are representing all Albertans properly… To not tap into this vital tool would be negligent, and be a huge disservice to racialized groups,” Shepherd said.

“Knowing how every single Albertan is affected by the world around them will help us shape better lives for every single Albertan.”

Click to play video: 'Research identifies systemic racism in Alberta’s health system'
Research identifies systemic racism in Alberta’s health system

But the UCP accused the NDP of playing petty politics.

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During question period on Thursday, Labour Minister Kaycee Madu said the NDP did nothing to address systemic racism in the province when it was in power.

“On this side of the aisle, we are not interested in petty and foolish politics. We are interested in actually solving the problem,” Madu said. “Racism and discrimination is a big issue, but the last thing we want to do is to let NDP play politics on this serious matter.”

Read more: Evidence of racism against Indigenous patients is growing: Is a reckoning in Canadian health care overdue?

In response, Shepherd said the bill is not a bipartisan one. He said the bill was drafted in consultation with Black and Indigenous peoples who have repeatedly expressed the need for race-based data in Alberta.

“This is something that comes from our caucus in Alberta undertaking a series of conversations with Indigenous and racialized Albertans in solutions to combat racism in Alberta,” he said.

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