Adam Olsen (Black Press Media file photo)

Adam Olsen (Black Press Media file photo)

MLA REPORT: What is systemic discrimination, bias and racism?

A column from MLA Adam Olsen

Adam Olsen

MLA for Saanich North and the Islands

I am a member of the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act.

Parts of the Act have been amended over the years, but it has been decades since there were any major reviews of the entire legislation. With increasing pressure on the provincial government last summer to address systemic discrimination, bias and racism in policing, Minister Mike Farnworth called for the review and gave the committee a sweeping mandate.

Through January committee members have received informational briefings from several government ministries and agencies. In the coming weeks we will be expanding to wider stakeholder presentations from experts, community groups and the public.

What is systemic discrimination, bias and racism? In 2005, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal adopted a definition and Kasari Govender, B.C. Human Rights Commissioner, shared it with the committee. It offers an important frame for our work.

“Discrimination means practices or attitudes that have, whether by design or impact the effect of limiting an individual’s or a group’s right to the opportunities generally available because of an attributed rather than actual characteristics. It is not a question of whether this discrimination is motivated by an intentional desire to obstruct someone’s potential or whether it is the accidental by-product of innocently motivated practices or systems. If the barrier is affecting certain groups in a disproportionately negative way, it is a signal that the practices lead to this adverse impact may be discriminatory.”

READ ALSO: Peninsula businesses power the local economy

There has been no dispute from the dozen or so senior leaders that presented to the committee over the past few weeks that there is a problem in their provincial ministries and agencies. The question is to what extent?

It is a question they all have trouble answering because the provincial government does not collect comprehensive data, specifically race-based information.

It is not a complete void, of course. We do collect better information about Indigenous people in British Columbia – and that data helps us make vital policy decisions.

For example, because the Ministry of Health has some information about the disproportionate risk COVID-19 poses to Indigenous people, they were able to change their vaccine rollout strategy to reflect that. Noting the value of this information, it makes little sense that Minister Dix would push back against collecting disaggregated demographic data to better understand how the pandemic is affecting other diverse populations. Perhaps if we had that data the vaccine roll-out would look a lot more nuanced than it is today.

With better information we can make better choices. In the darkness of information vacuums, politicians can make decisions that align with their partisan needs, and then falsely claim their decision to be the best possible approach. In this context, it is no wonder our government systems are rife with discrimination, bias and racism.

Commissioner Govender offered a handful of recommendations for the committee reviewing the police act including, “require all police forces in B.C. to collect, disclose, and analyze race-based and other disaggregated demographic data across the full spectrum of police services.”

If this government, or any future government, wants to have a shred of credibility they would move on this recommendation, not just for policing, but across the entire institution.

– Adam Olsen is MLA for Saanich North and the Islands

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The construction zone remains for now at Clover Point, but plans for a new pedestrian zone and partially closed traffic loop were approved by Victoria councillors on Thursday. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Victoria council compromises with partial closure of Clover Point

Option preserves parking 14 spots facing ocean, creates more pedestrian space

A wind warning is in effect for Greater Victoria Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media file photo)
Strong winds predicted for Greater Victoria

Environment Canada issues warning for Thursday afternoon

Don Devenney is a Goldstream Gazette 2021 Local Hero as Community Builder of the year. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
West Shore volunteer’s efforts an exercise in adventurous pursuits

Don Devenney is the 2021 recipient of the Community Builder Award

Sergeant Francis Dion with the box containing HMCS Calgary’s new secret mascot costume. (HMCSNCSMCalgary/Facebook)
(Black Press Media file photo)
Trees Cannabis to reignite downtown Victoria location as licensed store

The dispensary will reopen its 230 Cook St. location on Saturday

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen as COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Most Read