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Statistics Canada and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) announced on Wednesday that they will collect data on ethno-cultural and Indigenous groups when gathering information on victims and people accused of crime.

The federal agency acknowledged the importance of these statistics in gaining a better understanding of the issues that ethno-cultural minorities face in Canada, according to a news release.

"The need for quality data about the experience of Indigenous peoples and ethno-cultural communities with Canada's criminal justice system is paramount to understanding the extent to which people from these communities are represented in Canada's criminal justice system, beginning with their interactions with the police," said Co-Chair of the CACP's Police Information and Statistics Committee Stu Betts.

This decision comes at a time when concern over systemic racism and police brutality has been brought to the forefront, following recent Black Lives Matter protests that have resonated with people both globally and in Canada.

This is not a new issue, however: Indigenous people — particularly women and youth — are overrepresented in the Canadian criminal justice system. In 2017, the rate of Indigenous people accused of homicide was 12 times higher than the rate of non-Indigenous people, according to a recent study from Statistics Canada.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Department of Justice has stated that data sources on this topic remain scarce or incomplete.

Until now, Ontario was the only province in the country to require that racial data be collected when police force had been used on an individual.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario's Minister of Health Christine Elliott called for similar measures to be implemented in health care, with the aim of better protecting people of colour, who are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In some countries, like France, such practices are widely criticized in favour of a so-called "colour blind" approach.

According to several Canadian human rights organizations, however, the refusal to "see colour" is problematic in that it makes it difficult to identify racial discrimination and to find appropriate solutions to it.

"Colour-blind approaches to health only serve to worsen health outcomes for Black, Indigenous, and racialized people because we can't address what we can't see," British Columbia's Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender told CBC. 

In its news release, Statistics Canada noted that crime data collection will require close collaboration with local communities and partners to ensure its quality and reliability. 

Betts says this cooperation will be crucial in better understanding how Indigenous and racial minorities interact with Canadian police forces, as well as how they are represented in the criminal justice system.

According to Statistics Canada, this topic will continue to be discussed throughout the year.


Demand Equity

Canada Commits to Collecting Race-Based Crime Data

By Sarah El Gharib