UBC prof in Filipino grassroots group calls on province to collect COVID-19 race data

A UBC professor at a Filipino grassroots organization is calling on the province to collect race data during the COVID-19 pandemic as ethnic communities feel disproportionate impacts of the coronavirus.

John Paul Catungal, an assistant professor at the UBC Social Justice Institute, and RJ Aquino of Tulayan Filipino Diaspora Society co-hosted a press conference this morning about the need for data collection about BC’s ethnic minorities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Good data is essentially good medicine at this point,” said Aquino at the conference. “We can’t fix what we can’t see.”

Canadian politicians have stressed that the virus doesn’t discriminate, and Provincial Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has called race an “incredibly important marker.” Racial minorities, including Filipinos, are more at risk for COVID-19, especially given that, as Catungal explained, ethnic minorities are overrepresented in essential and front-line work.

Notably, 70 per cent of employees at the Cargill meat processing plant in Alberta are Filipino. Cargill is the site of Canada’s largest COVID-19 outbreak, and many of the workers, even those cleared by local health authorities, are facing discrimination.

While BC has discussed the possibility of collecting race data, there are no plans for collection in place at the provincial or federal levels.

Aquino stressed the importance of race data for the creation of evidence-based policy that considers how different communities are impacted by the pandemic.

“You can’t have one blanket policy and expect it to be as successful across all communities,” he said.

A problem that race data could remedy is a lack of COVID-19 messaging that is translated into languages accessible to ethnic communities. Catungal added that if data shows that a certain community isn’t being tested as much as others, race data could support government policy to increase messaging about the pandemic that targets that community.

“Some of the translations are not just in terms of technical language or public health messaging, but also culturally appropriate representations,” he said. “So that is an ongoing effort to respond from the bottom up.”

In response to a question about privacy concerns, Catungal said the data should be collected in aggregate and individuals won’t be identifiable.

Above all, he said that race data should be used “ethically and responsibly” and merely speaks to issues that already exist.

“Even without the data, we already know communities are being targeted,” said Catungal.