Montreal groups demand the collection of race-based data during COVID-19 testing

Some ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Montreal have become hotbeds of COVID-19 infections. Community workers in those areas say key information has been lacking when it comes to COVID-19 testing, namely ethnicity, economic status and race. Global's Phil Carpenter explains.

Community groups in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods of Montreal are demanding that data on race, ethnicity and economic status be among the information collected from people during testing for COVID-19.

The groups say having that information would have been crucial in helping to stem the spread of the virus in places like the Montreal North borough, the latest hotbed of COVID-19 infections with just over 1,500 cases as of May 6, according to Montreal Public Health.

It’s just one of the boroughs, including Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (1,427 infections) and Ahuntsic–Cartierville (1,351 cases), where high density and low income are coupled with large case numbers.

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The other common factor among these boroughs is the high ethnic mix, especially in Montreal North.

“We have a lot of people from the Haitian Community, we have a lot of people from the Lebanese community, Italian,” said Wissam Mansour, a worker with Hoodstock, a Montreal North community group.

Community activist Will Prosper, who also works in the borough, explained to Global News that having that information is vital to help spot infection trends sooner.

“Because if we had that information beforehand in Montreal North, I think it might have given us a chance to react faster,” he said.

Concordia University professor of sociology Meir Amor agrees.

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“Collecting the data about those variables is crucial,” he stressed.

Without the data, he said it’s impossible to see how the disease is progressing and if there are groups being affected disproportionately because of economic circumstances or cultural habits, for example.

“Exactly as you need data for medical treatment, you need the understanding of social attitudes, social behaviour, social reaction in order to improve the ability to resist it,” Amor pointed out.

According to figures from Montreal Public Health, so far, more than half the number of cases of infected people in Montreal, are women.

Fo Niemi who runs the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations and is also pushing for the data, made it clear that having that kind of information could help to explain why.

“Women usually make less than men,” he said, “so there’s a social and economic dimension in the information related to race, to ethnicity, to gender.”

Quebec Public Health Director Doctor Horacio Arruda said Wednesday that health workers will start to gather information on race.  He admitted it’s important.

“Because especially if there is also risk factors from certain communities that could be related to genetics,” he told reporters.

He did not say if data regarding ethnicity and economic status will also be collected.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it is exploring the possibility of including race-based data in the information it collects on COVID-19.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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