There are potential challenges when deciding to collect data based on Code grounds such as race, disability or sexual orientation. Some questions and concerns organizations may encounter, in the employment or service delivery context, include:
“Will this data result in ’reverse-discrimination‘ and less qualified people getting hired and promoted?”
In organizations that have traditionally employed dominant groups, it is common for equity-enhancing measures to be resisted and subject to criticisms of “reverse discrimination” – often, the perception that equity programs and policies cause discrimination against White people. Equity-enhancing programs are recognized, under subsection 15(2) of the Charter, as an important means of ensuring substantive equality for disadvantaged persons and groups. As well, meaningful, effectively implemented equity measures can improve the efficiency and productivity of organizations and society as a whole, by diversifying labour pools and skills, among other benefits.
To proactively reduce and address perceptions of “reverse-discrimination,” organizations should clearly communicate the purpose, goals and methodology for collecting data, explain how the recruitment, hiring and promotion process will be transparent, fair and based on merit, and highlight how collecting data can benefit all staff and the organization as a whole. Inviting questions and incorporating feedback from key internal and external stakeholders is recommended, to encourage broad-based support for and participation in a data collection project. Training could also be developed for staff, particularly those involved in recruiting, hiring and promoting, to support a clearer understanding of the positive role equity-enhancing programs can play in fostering an inclusive, respectful workplace that complies with human rights legislation.
Collecting sensitive information can create feelings of anxiety or distrust, and raise concerns about privacy and confidentiality.
Organizations can overcome such anxiety, distrust and concerns by:
- clearly communicating the rationale, method and benefits of collecting data
- clarifying who has access to the information and why
- outlining how the information collected will be handled and stored confidentially in compliance with privacy, human rights and other applicable legislation
- surveying all employees or service users, rather than just staff or service users representing or perceived to represent targeted groups
- consulting with affected communities and other appropriate individuals/organizations.
Where there are well-documented concerns about discrimination or a history of previous data collection initiatives reinforcing discrimination or stigma, community involvement and oversight may be needed. Consulting with community representatives and other appropriate individuals/organizations can help foster an informed understanding and dialogue, so that data collection initiatives are well supported and effective.
In addition, as a best practice, organizations are recommended to survey all employees or service providers rather than just staff or service providers representing or perceived to represent targeted groups to proactively address possible feelings of being stigmatized or singled out. Depending on an organization’s resources and other factors, hiring a trusted external consultant to collect, store, analyze and report back on the results of the data gathered may also be an option.
“Data collection is a highly technical, complex and expensive process.”
Yes, data collection can be a technical, complex and expensive process, but may not need to be in all cases, depending on the size, resources and needs of the organization, as well as the reason for collecting the information. For example, for organizations with fewer than 40 employees that have fewer resources and are facing less complex issues (such as accommodating the needs of employees caring for older or disabled dependents), collecting and analyzing data may involve one person gathering information and interpreting it. For larger organizations dealing with more complex issues (such as creating targeted services and facilities for LGBT homeless youth), a team of knowledgeable people or an external researcher may be needed.
Despite the potential challenges, collecting data for a purpose consistent with the Code can be a very useful and often essential tool for achieving strategic organizational, human rights, equity and diversity goals.
The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board experience
The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (KPDSB) is spread over 70,950 square kilometres of land in northwestern Ontario. It serves over 5,400 students, 38% of whom self-identify as Aboriginal. Meeting the needs of this growing student population was one of the key factors that motivated the KPDSB to develop the Voluntary and Confidential Self-identification for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Students Policy (the Policy), in partnership with the Kenora Catholic District School Board. One of the major challenges in gathering the data was gaining the trust and support of Aboriginal families and their communities, who have had negative experiences with data collection in the past. In combination with efforts such as extensive community consultations and targeted communication strategies, the encouraging results of the data gathered to date have helped KPDSB to:
confirm that an academic achievement gap exists between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students
- design and implement targeted programs and supports for Aboriginal students, their families and communities
- show that Aboriginal students are perfectly capable of achieving at the same level as non-Aboriginal students
- foster the development of effective, respectful working relationships with key Aboriginal stakeholders and the broader community.
 Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial Discrimination, (2005), online: www.ohrc.on.ca
 METRAC, “Final report of the METRAC Consultants: Section 1 draft for feedback purposes only” (2009) [unpublished] at 46.
 “Sexual orientation” is not specifically defined in the Code. However, the OHRC recognizes that sexual orientation is a personal characteristic that forms part of an individual’s core identity. It covers the range of human sexuality from gay and lesbian, to bisexual and heterosexual orientations. Sexual orientation is different from gender identity, which is protected under the ground of "sex." The OHRC recognizes that terminology is fluid, and what is considered appropriate tends to evolve over time. As well, people within a group may prefer different terms to describe themselves. However, it is useful to identify terms that are considered most appropriate to avoid compounding a person’s experience of prejudice, harassment or discrimination. It is generally best to use terms by which individuals self-identify, such as “bisexual,” “gay,” “lesbian” and “two-spirit.” In contemporary times, “gay” usually refers to men, although it is also used as a general term instead of “homosexual.” Some women may identify as “gay,” but may prefer the term “lesbian,” which refers specifically to women. Aboriginal lesbian, bisexual or gay people may describe themselves as “two-spirit” or “two-spirited.” Individuals may use other terms to describe their sexual orientation; however “gay,” “lesbian” and “bisexual” are usually accepted as neutral, general terms. The term “homosexual” was popularized through medical usage, and has often been used to denigrate and stereotype lesbian and gay people, as well as a range of behaviours and practices ascribed to them. It is sometimes used as a general term, such as in legal documents and medical texts, and some individuals may identify as “homosexual”. However, many lesbian and gay people feel the term is clinical or offensive, and bisexual people may also see it as exclusionary. It is therefore often better to avoid using the term “homosexual”, particularly to refer to an individual, and to use instead the terms by which people self-identify. See Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy on Discrimination and Harassment because of Sexual Orientation (2006), online: www.ohrc.on.ca. The OHRC defines “transgender” as people whose life experience includes existing in more than one gender. This may include people who identify as transsexual and people who describe themselves as being on a gender spectrum or as living outside the gender categories of “man” or “woman.” See Ontario Human Rights Commission, Gender Identity: Your Rights and Responsibilities (2009), online: www.ohrc.on.ca.