MONTREAL -- In late July, Toronto Public Health released data proving that COVID-19 was disproportionately affecting people of colour there.

People here in Montreal, and elsewhere in Quebec, want to be able to answer the same question at home. After promising to collect similar data, however, health authorities didn’t follow through.

Earlier this month, they added an update: they're not planning to do it at all.

“It's sensitive data and some groups would explain that we are discriminating based on racial processes and everything,” said Quebec public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda on Aug. 3.

Many groups representing people of colour—the very groups to which he seemed to be referring—say they’re not quite sure what he means, and they are not happy about the decision.

“I mean, it’s sensitive to who?” asked Thierry Lindor, the founder of a new group called the Colors of COVID. 

“I think it’s going to paint a clear picture of who’s suffering.”

Black community groups helped build the Colors of Covid online platform. It’s a digital survey that is meant to track how the pandemic is affecting marginalized communities.

It goes beyond health, said Lindor.

“We're not just asking questions such as ‘Are you contracting COVID, have you lost somebody to COVID?” he said. 

“We're asking [about] mental health, have you lost income due to COVID, are you at risk of losing your housing?”

Researchers will analyze the data and make recommendations.

“We’re trying to develop an equity response to this pandemic, and an equity response basically recognizes we're not all going to be affected by this pandemic equally,” said Alicia Boatswain-Kyte, a professor at McGill University. 

Despite being in the strange situation of trying to collect their own public health data, without the help of public health departments, the researchers hope people will trust them enough to fill out the survey and believe their data won’t be misused. 

The involvement of community groups may actually be a help, they said, because of the “direct relationship” they provide.