Statistics Canada says it plans to start collecting race-based crime data — a step that comes amid mounting criticism of how law enforcement agencies across Canada police marginalized communities.
The national statistics agency and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police will begin working with partners and stakeholders this year to figure out how to collect sound data when reporting on victims and people accused of crimes, says a news release sent Wednesday morning.
The CACP is a non-profit that represents about 1,300 police chiefs from federal, First Nations, provincial, regional, transportation and military police services across the country.
Stuart Betts, deputy chief of the London Police Service and co-chair of the CACP’s statistics committee, said while conversations about the collection of police data have been going on for a while, this move was spurred by the death of George Floyd in police custody in the United States.
“It’s an important subject and it’s an important topic,” said Betts.
The move is something advocates have called for to get a better sense of how crime affects different communities — though some have cautioned that data collection alone won’t solve the problem of racial profiling by police.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and groups such as the Canadian Race Relations Foundation have pushed for this kind of data collection, the release says.
Data collection ‘a starting place’
The announcement comes as police forces across Canada face a reckoning over how they police marginalized communities following a number of high-profile deaths.
“There’s a lot of concern in the community. We owe it them,” said Betts. “And we owe it to policing to have a better idea of who it is that we’re dealing with. We can’t rely on anecdotes …”
The data will be used for Statistics Canada’s uniform crime reporting survey, which measures crime levels in Canadian society.
Betts said StatsCan won’t necessarily record use-of-force incidents or mental health checks unless they involve a criminal offence. Ontario is only province to mandate race data collection when police use force on an individual.
“When we talk about criminalizing ethno-cultural groups or communities that feel that they’ve been criminalized, this gives us a starting place with which to have that discussion,” Betts said. “Long overdue.”
Anil Arora, StatsCan’s chief statistician, said this kind of data collection could affect policing decisions going forward.
“Statistics Canada is committed to working with the CACP to ensure Canada’s official police-reported crime statistics reflect indigenous and ethno-cultural groups,” he said in a statement.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki committed to working with the federal privacy commissioner on the collection of race-based policing data during a committee meeting on systemic racism in policing last month.
“Providing a clearer picture of police interactions with racialized communities is vital to maintaining the trust and respect of Canadians,” she tweeted Wednesday morning, reacting to the Statistics Canada announcement.