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

Just Posted

Royal Bay Secondary School’s rainbow crosswalk was vandalized shortly after being painted but by Monday, coincidentally the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the crosswalk had been cleaned up and students had surrounded it with chalk messages of support and celebration. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
Royal Bay pride crosswalk restored following graffiti attack

Hate terms, racial slur, phallic images spray-painted at Colwood high school

Victoria police retrieved a number of stolen items May 15 after arresting a man and woman squatting in an empty building. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police look to return stolen items following arrest of squatters

Golf clubs, power tools, jackets, cell phones and a MacBook Pro were retrieved

Protesters seen here rallying against the injunction order on April 1. (Black Press Media file photo)
RCMP enforce injunction at Fairy Creek blockade

Protesters can remain but police will ensure open access for loggers

Dog trainer Sharon Labossiere at play with her dogs. AnimalKind, the BC SPCA’s animal welfare accreditation and referral program, has granted accreditation to Sooke's Hanging with Hounds. (Contributed - BC SPCA)
Hanging With Hounds digs its paws into AnimalKind accreditation

Local dog trainer earns special BC SPCA status

A building in the 300-block of Mary Street sustained significant damage Saturday night after a suspicious fire was started. Police arrested an arson suspect Sunday. (Courtesy of Victoria Fire Department)
UPDATE: Vic West shelter resident to be evicted following suspicious fire

Building in 300-block of Mary Street sustained significant damage Saturday night

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Sicamous RCMP Sgt. Murray McNeil and Cpl. Wade Fisher present seven-year-old Cody Krabbendam of Ranchero with an award for bravery on July 22, 2020. (Contributed)
7-year old Shuswap boy receives medal of bravery for rescuing child at beach

Last summer Cody Krabbendam jumped into the lake to save another boy from drowning

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the province’s COVID-19 vaccine program, May 10, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays below 500 a day over weekend

14 more deaths, down to 350 in hospital as of Monday

Royal Bay Secondary School’s rainbow crosswalk was vandalized shortly after being painted but by Monday, coincidentally the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the crosswalk had been cleaned up and students had surrounded it with chalk messages of support and celebration. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C. high’s school’s pride crosswalk restored following ‘hateful’ graffiti attack

Hate terms, racial slur, phallic images spray-painted at Greater Victoria high school

Terrance Mack would have celebrated his 34th birthday on May 13, 2021. Mack’s family has identified him as the victim of a homicide in an apartment on Third Avenue in Port Alberni sometime in April. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Family identifies Ucluelet man as victim of Vancouver Island homicide

Terrance Mack being remembered as ‘kind, gentle’ man

Nathan Zuk had left his mother’s residence in Whaletown on Cortes Island in mid-December 2020 in a 14’ skiff rowboat and headed to an unknown location near the Pryce Channel, Deer passage, or Toba Inlet. Photo courtesy RCMP
RCMP need help finding man who set off from Cortes Island in 14-foot rowboat

Nathan Zuk left in December, may have been last seen in Toba Inlet approximately three weeks ago

Emergency service workers at the collision scene along Highway 4 in Hilliers on Sunday, May 16. A motorcyclist was airlifted to hospital by BC Air Ambulance after sustaining life-threatening injuries. (Collin C photo)
Motorcyclist airlifted with life-threatening injuries after Mid-Island highway collision

BC Highway Patrol says impairment not a contributing factor in crash

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

(PQB News file photo)
RCMP on the hunt for serial Rathtrevor Beach flasher

Two separate incidents noted at provincial park on April 30 and May 14

Most Read