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Burnaby anti-racism organization welcomes RCMP race-based data collection

“We see this as a great step,” says Burnaby Together Coalition

In late March, the RCMP announced the start of its race-based data collection pilot in Burnaby. Since the beginning of April, Burnaby RCMP has been collecting information about the interactions RCMP members have with racialized people. 

The pilot project comes after two years of research and discussions with communities throughout Canada. With over 50% of Burnaby residents born outside of Canada and no ethnic majority, Burnaby was selected as one of five Canadian cities to join the project in its first year. 

“We had gone across the country in 2022, engaging with communities, engaging with members and detachment leaders in six divisions and 11 detachments,” said Mai Phan, acting director of the RCMP Anti-Racism Unit in Ottawa. 

The pilot was also an answer to repeated calls by racialized communities throughout Canada for the RCMP to start collecting this type of data. 

“Communities have been calling for race-based data for decades. In Canada, there’s been a dearth of data. Without data, we don’t have a robust information set to really understand what is happening. We’re way behind other countries in that regard. So we need to catch up,” Phan told the Beacon. 

Burnaby residents celebrating Hats Off Street Fest. Burnaby is one of the most diverse cities in Canada. Photo: Shutterstock

Some anti-racism organizations in Burnaby are welcoming the new project. The Beacon spoke with members of the Burnaby Together Coalition, which the non-profit Burnaby Family Life runs. 

“We see this as a great step, and we’re so proud to be in Burnaby and working with the RCMP here in Burnaby as they’re looking at a systemic shift,” said Navreen Gill, executive director of Burnaby Family Life. “We learned that for all of the work that’s being done out there, we need to really be shifting those systems and this is a good first step from another organization.”

Before starting the project, Phan’s RCMP researchers approached Burnaby Together to discuss the pilot in Burnaby. 

“We were consulted when they were starting the process...When we were approached around four months ago, they asked us, what do you think about this idea? Would the community be interested? We said yes,” said Ana Maria Bustamante, strategic initiatives, community engagement, and development manager at Burnaby Together. 

The RCMP delegation gave a presentation, and the Burnaby Together team pointed out challenges they may face. “I think the most important thing is that they’re open to hearing from community members,” Bustamante added. 

Burnaby RCMP detachment. Photo: City of Burnaby

Gill and Bustamante both said they felt optimistic about the pilot, especially after meeting the researchers from the RCMP. Gill said that even though the data collection process would be internal, the diversity of the research team was a positive aspect. 

“The lens of the individuals that they have brought together on this team has multiple voices and perspectives,” Gill said, adding that the RCMP team asked Burnaby Together to guide them toward other community groups they can consult on the pilot. Gill told the Beacon the researchers’ willingness to engage “showed a very collective process and a very research-based approach and openness as well.” 

Bustamante said that while she feels optimistic about the pilot, one project will only solve some racism-related problems. This is especially true with changes in government or leadership of the RCMP. Training and continuous education are necessary to maintain these positive steps. 

“I feel that we’ll all have a role to play,” Bustamante said. “The best thing we can do is to try to tell everybody you need to learn how to step into somebody else’s shoes.” 

The two Burnaby Together members said they are looking forward to what the data-collection pilot will uncover. 

“It will be interesting. None of us can predict what it will look like, but we have the mechanisms and platforms in place to respond. We’ve got brilliant minds around the table,” Gill said. 

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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