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Should Ontario institutions collect race-based data?

Last Updated Oct 21, 2016 at 8:00 pm EDT

CityNews asked Kike Ojo and Irwin Elman, two experts in youth and child care in Ontari, whether more institutions, including schools, child welfare services and police, should collect race-based data. Here are parts of their answers:

Ojo is the Program Manager of One Vision One Voice: Changing the Child Welfare System for African Canadians

Q: You’re an advocate for compiling race-based data in terms of child welfare services. Why is that?

A: I think we have to define the problem in order to address it. For decades the community has been saying that there’s a problem in terms of representation but there wasn’t proof and there wasn’t evidence and we’re in a time of evidence-based research and certainly child welfare is a part of that movement

Q: There’s no question that collecting race-based data is a little bit of a touchy subject. On the police side of things, it’s been called racial profiling or racism. Why do you ultimately think it’s a good thing under the context of the child welfare system?

A: I’m glad you said under the context. Under the context of Ontario today where peoples anecdotal stories about their experiences with systems, whether it be police, or child welfare, it can give evidence that something systemic is going on. That systemic racism is at foot. And really, collecting race-based data is a tool for the community, whereas once it might have been used to say, “well see, you all are showing up more often than not in the system,” now we already know we’re in the system in an over represented fashion but we want to know exactly to what extent. So I think that it has really become a tool for the community.

Elman is Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth

Q: Why do you believe in collecting race-based data whereas others may not be so favourable towards it?

A: For me, it’s really important because it will underpin support the voice of young people and data will support what they’re saying. It will legitimate them. It will tell them that no, you’re not going crazy, this is happening to you. When I was getting briefed about the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre, which is the largest youth custody facility in the province, just in Brampton, they were telling me about their educational programming there. And they made this comment: in this big youth centre, the average age of a person is 16 and a half years old. The average 16 and a half year old in Ontario, I’m told, has 16 (high school) credits. The average black young person has two credits.

Q: Have you received any reluctance to collect this data?

A: I think there’s been some reluctance. One of the problems is that it just can’t be about collecting data. If it’s just about collecting data it’s bound to fail. It’s not going to create any change. It’s about commitment. It’s about what are we going to do with the data. It’s about leadership and how to analyze and understand the data. It’s about a public conversation about systemic racism. It’s about a commitment to families and children in this province.