When it comes to data, Canada seriously lacks it.
Earlier this year, the Globe and Mail wrote a fantastic article on Canada’s data deficit, especially when it comes to its own citizens. This column will in part summarize that article.
At a time when there’s a raging debate between pro-vaccinators and anti-vaccinators, we do not know vaccination rates in most towns and cities. Nor marriage or divorce rates, how often Canadian workers get injured, the number of people evicted from their homes or how far Canadians drive.
We don’t even know how many people die on Highway 1 going over Rogers Pass.
Recently, I was going over fatality data sent to me by ICBC and the Ministry of Transportation. I had asked them to break it down, one counting the vehicle fatalities from Revelstoke to Golden and the other Salmon Arm to Revelstoke along Highway 1.
According to the RCMP, ICBC is the official holder of fatality data and provides it to the ministry. However, the numbers differed.
ICBC said there were no fatalities on Rogers Pass in 2017, yet the ministry said there were four. Neither could say with certainty why they differed.
I knew there was at least one because that same day I interviewed a widow who had lost her husband in a head-on collision with a semi in 2017. She had just started a petition demanding mandatory training for truck drivers.
But according to ICBC, the accident never happened.
When I reached out to ICBC, they assured it would have been counted in the provincial total tally.
While ICBC and the ministry had the same provincial numbers at 276 for 2017, the B.C. Coroners Service had 298. Each said their own was correct and neither would say which numbers are used for making policy.
For journalists, numbers are everything. It’s how we find stories or strengthen them. They need to be solid.
Canada is about to enter election season for the federal government. They’ll make promises—better health care, happier seniors, stronger education and so on. However, the data for their policies may not exist or be lacking.
By comparison with other countries on publicly available data, Canada doesn’t even rate. We know very little about ourselves.
Ireland publishes comprehensive data on the well-being of children, Denmark tracks every aspect of gender equality, Britain breaks down many social-welfare indicators by ethnicity and Australia publishes national workplace injury rates.
Canada does none of that. Even when Canada does have data, it’s extremely hard to get as it’s held in facilities called Research Data Centres, which some researches call “data jails.” It can take years for researches to access them—if at all.
In 2013, Obama signed an executive order making government data open by default, which Donald Trump just signed into law. A treasure trove can be downloaded by anybody, with names/address removed, to be analyzed.
Canada has a long way to go. We aren’t even certain how many people die each year going over one pass on the number one highway.
If we can’t keep track of the dead, how will we keep track of the living?