Community in Edmonton says it has concerns about collecting race-based data

Police commission recommending that the province develops a strategy for collecting race-based data

Edmonton Police Commission. APTN file

Across the country, police might soon be collecting race-based data at routine police stops, or other situations where the public interacts with officers.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police spoke about their initiative to collect race-based data nationwide at the Edmonton Police Commission on Thursday.

“The purpose of this initiative is to provide sustainable, inclusive and transparent disaggregated race-based data collection…and support the delivery of fair, transparent and equitable policing across Canada,” said Sarah Mirenzi, policy analyst for the RCMP at her presentation to the committee.

For the Edmonton police, there was a motion to send a letter under the signature of the police commission chair requesting that race- based data be a priority.

“We took the opportunity to bring experts to the table and think through something rather than trying to wing it on our own,” said Erick Ambtman, chair of the commission.

This is a change from a previous meeting where the commission was suggesting a person’s race be on their driver’s license.
“Today we edited that motion to say the province should come up with a strategy to say how we should collect race-based data,” said Ambtman to APTN News.

There were concerns among the commission about the collection of race-based data after the Toronto Police Service acknowledged in June 2022 that based on their own collection of race-based data officers continued to disproportionally use force and other actions against members of the Black community.

“It went really poorly when data was released in Toronto. It really harmed the relationship between community and the police service,” said Ambtman.

Wally Sinclair, a commissioner who is also a member of Sawridge First Nations, and a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces said that when data is collected, the people who the data belong to deserve to know why it is collected. He also talked about the importance of plain language.

“Please come and correct the word ‘race-based’ when you come and talk to us in the bush,” said Sinclair, adding that the concept is difficult to explain in Cree.

The chair of the police commission said that it will be important to build relationships in the community for when the findings are released here.

Edmonton Police Service Chief Dale McFee

“We want the community to know that the service is going to actively work to address the issue [of systemic racism in policing] and what steps have been taken,” Ambtman said.

The commission heard from the Edmonton Race-Based Data Table, a group that is doing local research on perceptions of race-based data.
Ese Ejebe who is a part of the group and the director of anti-racism for End Poverty Edmonton told APTN that it was a positive step to have the commission change their view after hearing community concerns.

“I am very happy with the change to the present motion…we need to have this conversation about collection and standardization in race-based data.”

Ejebe said that there were significant concerns about having driver’s licenses list race.

“People want to know that the information is being collected for anti-racist purposes,” said Ejebe.

Edmonton police chief Dale McPhee said that the change was good because there needs to be “a consistent standard” when collecting data.
“I always think that whatever we do needs to resonate and act local,” said McPhee.

“You also have to think of the Indigenous community I mean you hear people say ‘I already have a Treaty card’,” he added.

RCMP race-based data

The RCMP plan to start with data collection in March 2024. They will begin the rollout with pilot sites.

In August 2020, the RCMP “committed to address systemic racism and advance the collection of race-based data.”

“Done correctly our position is that our [race-based data] will help us better understand the nature and the impact of systemic racism in community safety,” said Mirenzi, who presented virtually to the commission.

According to the 2022-23 departmental plan, the RCMP is hiring more full-time employees for the “development of a regime to collect, analyze, and report on race-based data, and the implementation of an anti-racism training curriculum.

In 2017, Ontario passed the Anti-Racism Act that requires government and public sector organizations to identify systemic racism and “advance racial equity in policies, programs and services”.

Many of the standards for developing how they will obtain this information come from the Ontario legislation “Anti-Racism Data Standards” which was a suggestion from the Nova Scotia Wortley Report Committee.

The Wortley report found that Black people in Halifax were disproportionally targeted by street checks.

British Columbia and Nova Scotia have passed anti-racism data acts requiring the government to develop race-based statistics.

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