Race matters, sometimes in ways not readily apparent, recent events suggest

Immigration and Visible Minority Status Shape Toronto Election Turnout, Study Finds
Desmond Cole, Torontoist October 22, 2014

Kudos to the Torontoist and Ryerson profs, not only for the interesting insight, but for actually paying attention to the details. Unfortunately, due to the remarkably unreliable results of the 2011 National Household Survey – the voluntary survey conducted in place of the cancelled long-form Census – the Ryerson profs’ analysis made do with the 2006 Census results.

It’s worth mentioning comments received in response to the Globe and Mail’s facebook post asking: Why is Canada so afraid to ask about race?  Popular responses included (variations of)

“Oh, I don’t see / care about race.”
“We’re all part of the human race.”
“Race is just a (divisive) social construct.”

Notably, not a single one of those comments came from a racial / ethnic minority (either white majority or anonymous / no pic).

Events over just the past week suggest:

– Canadians seem to notice and care about race… when there’s a negative connotation or inference to be made. Following tragic events in Ottawa last Wednesday, media attention immediately turned to the race of the perpetrator. In a peculiar turn, Aboriginal / First Nations – officially identified as a separate (ie, not ‘visible’) minority for sensitive political reasons – bore some of the initial impact of the poor media coverage.

– Just because the white majority (see referenced facebook commenters) supposedly doesn’t see race doesn’t mean racial minorities themselves don’t see and feel its impact, as the Toronto election results demonstrate. There are serious issues when Canada’s most populous municipality and financial / business hub has such a spectacularly low voter turn-out, possibly resulting from the lack of racial minority representation on the ballot. To mix metaphors, Toronto is the 800-pound gorilla in the Canadian coal mine.

– The loss of accuracy in the immigrant and vismin stats (owing to the loss of the long-form Census) likewise matters in areas where it seems less obvious. Despite the Torontoist article not mentioning it, the 2011 NHS data – for which public-use microdata was released several months ago – wasn’t used for a reason. StatsCan itself has already admitted the data is flawed, especially when it comes to immigrants, and, by extension, racial / ethnic minorities; the 2011 NHS immigrant estimates differ significantly from those published by Citizenship and Immigration. While the maps illustrate what appears to be strong correlation between Toronto voter turn-out and racial minority representation, the true impact of race on the race (punny) is impossible to tell with any degree of precision.

The longer Canada goes without accurate data on race / ethnicity, the more difficult it will become to determine the impact this core demographic variable has on all sorts of social and economic outcomes. Sometimes in ways that aren’t readily apparent, as the Toronto election results help demonstrate.

If the long-form Census isn’t re-instated, then racial / ethnic identity should be moved to the mandatory short-form, along with age and gender. Race is a core demographic variable and has a far greater impact on socio-economic outcomes than language – which was moved from the now voluntary long-form to the mandatory Census (short-form), despite not being a core (inherent physical / biological) trait.