Back in the summer, I wrote a blog post calling for the federal government to adopt a strictly Race-Based Analysis, which would include but not be limited to the collection of racially disaggregated or race-based data. Many months later, this vision is much closer to coming to fruition.
For the past couple months, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which I have the honour of chairing, has been hard at work studying Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying). Bill C-7 proposes changes to the existing Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) regime.
These new changes are in response to a 2019 legal decision from the Québec Superior Court which found that the original Bill C-14 was discriminatory to people with disabilities as it did not allow those with “reasonably foreseeable death” to access MAiD.
The committee’s work showed that MAiD affects our most vulnerable and our most sick, but MAiD is not a treatment option, nor should it be treated as such. However, one aspect was overlooked. It is how this bill might affect racialized Canadians.
During our study of Bill C-7, the committee heard from the Minister of Justice who explained that no analysis or consideration of race was taken into account during the drafting of this bill as the data required to do so was unavailable.
When I asked representatives from both the ministries of Health and Justice about this neglect of racialized Canadian’s lives, I was told by Abby Hoffman, Senior Executive Advisor to the Deputy Minister of Health Canada that:
“as far as the federal monitoring regime is concerned, we are not collecting race-based data or other information with respect to ethnicity.”. She followed up by saying,
“If you’re talking about race-based data related to MAiD or access to health services more generally at the federal level of a comprehensive nature, I would say the answer to that is no.”. That means the government currently does not make any efforts to ensure the data of almost one in four people or 25% of people in Canada is collected. To say I was shocked to hear this would be an understatement.
I was left wondering, how are legislators and parliamentarians supposed to make informed decisions while also ensuring that correct and meaningful policies are being put in place, without any data? How do we even begin to solve our problems and prevent them from festering, without any information?
So, I moved an amendment to Bill C-7 that, if passed, would extend the powers of Health Canada to allow for the collection of race-based data to be systematically collected on a national level. The amendment also called for the data to be used to identify race-based inequities and how race intersects with other forms of systemic inequality in medical assistance in dying.
I was moved when my amendment passed by a voice vote with virtual unanimity, meaning all my honourable colleagues supported it, excluding one abstention from Senator Gold, Government Representative in the Senate.
The next step is ensuring this equitable amendment is adopted in the House of Commons. Whether that happens or not, there is no question that I will continue to fight systemic racism and to ensure that the voices of all Canadians, of all races, are not only heard, but represented in all levels of government.