1st Session, 43rd Parliament
Volume 151, Issue 27

Thursday, June 25, 2020
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

The Senate

Consideration of Government’s Role in Combatting Racism in Committee of the Whole

On the Order:

The Senate in Committee of the Whole in order to consider the Government of Canada’s role in addressing anti-black racism, anti-Indigenous racism and ending systemic racism.

Senator McPhedran: Welcome to all ministers who have joined us, and thank you for taking the time to do that.

I’m very honoured to be able to ask you questions from Senator Jaffer before I get to my own questions. It is actually building on some of the questions that Senator Moncion just posed by colleagues.

I will read the comment from Senator Mobina Jaffer. It is initially directed to you, Minister Chagger:

As minister for diversity and inclusion, I am sure that working on policies to ensure inclusion is a top priority for you. With recent events, and Prime Minister Trudeau’s acknowledgement that systemic racism is a problem in Canada, we all have more work to do. My question to you is, will you be the lead minister in making sure that policies to eradicate systemic racism is out in place for implementation in different departments? and what is your immediate plan? Also, Would you consider adopting a Race Based Analysis, as a separate tool from the Gender Based Analysis Plus we currently have?

Minister Hussen, this is coming to you next.

Ms. Chagger: I will be quick, because I know time runs by quickly.

It is another tool in the toolbox. I am not leaving anything out of our toolbox right now. What I am doing is working with all departments and agencies, all ministers, any Canadian who wants to, to actually deconstruct our systems and look at what works, what doesn’t work, and maybe what’s mould infested and needs to go away. I’m looking at it as a renovation opportunity. With COVID-19, we have an opportunity to build back better and more inclusive.

I feel the roads have crossed at the perfect time. We are going to have to establish a new normal, so why not establish a new normal that’s more inclusive and actually works for more Canadians, if not all Canadians? If that is a tool that will permit to us get there, yes.

In the immediate term, I am asking for metrics, and I’m trying to get information as to who is getting to government, who is applying, who is to be considered. That way I can see who is missing and who we need to bring into the fold.

As we create new systems, I’m also making sure that they are lived by the diversity of Canada and lived experiences. I also always ask, “Great program, great idea. Where did it come from?” I will push.

Senator McPhedran: Thank you, minister. A supplemental to that — and it also gets added on when Minister Hussen responds — is the way in which gender-based analysis plus, including whatever race-based analysis is being done, is essentially kept secret and treated as something that is protected by cabinet privacy. Can you commit to making this information more available and thereby increase the accountability of the government and this important approach to dealing with systemic racism?

Mr. Hussen: Thank you, senator, for that important question. That’s part of the reason for the creation of the Anti-Racism Secretariat. It is supposed to coordinate action against systemic racism and discrimination across government; hold departments accountable.

One of the by-products of recent events has been a renewed emphasis and focus in all of us to do better and, as Minister Chagger has indicated, to deconstruct systems and see where we can have better outcomes, whether that is collecting better data, holding departments accountable, being bolder in our aspirations or listening to young people who are asking for building back better.

I agree with Minister Chagger. The recovery process from COVID-19 presents all of us with an opportunity to, not only rebuild, but rebuild better and not go back to normal, because normal was part of the problem, and to really reimagine our society and to include more people. That starts with listening to the lived reality of far too many Canadians who are simply not getting the outcomes that we wish them to get, whether it is in their interactions with law enforcement or in their access to services and benefits from various orders of government.

Senator McPhedran: Ministers, what about the secrecy?

Ms. Chagger: I come with a science background. Part of this conversation about disaggregated data I’m having a challenge with, because everyone is talking about disaggregated data, is what does it really mean, and what are we looking for? We have to do a deep dive as to what our expectations are.

Historically, data has also been used for evil. I want to make sure that data is actually used for good and to serve its purpose. I believe part of this conversation about disaggregated data should come with parameters as to how it is used and how it is made available to Canadians, first of all.

One step back, I would say the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force that has been established, they are working with provinces and territories and different departments at different levels of government to collect disaggregated data, so we’re getting a window into this world. We have an opportunity to set some parameters as to how it is used and is it siloed. Part of the challenge with the federal government — and I can’t speak to others — is that we silo information. If I ask for a list of everything that we’ve done as a government since we took office in 2015, it’s very difficult to get.

I’m going to give a shout-out to my senior associate deputy minister, Gina Wilson, who is actually working across departments to ensure this information is available. She is ensuring that when it comes to the Anti-Racism Secretariat, it is a resource, and when it’s not a resource — you know, add women, change the world — we are raising it, not at the table, but as the system unfolds. If that means we need to derail a conversation because it’s not taking the proper steps that we are putting into place for better outcomes and better actions, then we are going to do that. We’re committed to doing that work together.