Traditionally social work has been concerned with socially, economically, culturally or politically disadvantaged populations. Intervention has varied depending on the nature of the discipline, be it clinical casework, social planning, social policies, research, community action or advocacy. In the context of impoverishment and of cultural, social, economic and political change, human rights advocacy has played an increasingly important role in the selection of tools at the disposal of social work practitioners who constantly refer to the justice system in the course of their practice.
Simultaneously, lawyers are perplexed by the increasing social dimension of their profession. As the state has extended its intervention in civil society, fundamental rights have been inscribed in the Charter of Rights in Quebec, Canada and similar documents throughout the world. These rights, however, are often complex and very difficult to exercise, and these complexities are compounded by reductions and restrictions to existing social programs. Attempts to assert and advocate for rights increasingly characterize the practice of social work and have made it necessary to build bridges with the legal system. In essence, the law and particularly the Charters of Rights have become important means of action for community organizations who advocate for the most disadvantaged clientele, both in Canada and abroad.
This legal advocacy must be matched with community action in order to succeed; therefore, organizations have been compelled to develop multidisciplinary strategies. In this context, MCHRAT is an essential and unique resource for research, training and the dissemination of information aimed at assisting practitioners and organizations in their endeavours.
The challenge of access to rights is further complicated by rapid shifts in the demographic, social and economic fabric of Canadian society and the global community especially with respect to the growing diversity, size and structure of ethnic groups. While Canada’s ethnic diversity and contributions to Canadian society have been acknowledged in government programs, access to data with which to examine the changing dynamics and structures is limited. In particular, the data included in the National Censuses is not readily available to researchers or community organizations.
A comprehensive approach to demographic studies is required to compile identical data for both national and local communities, to avoid duplication, to maximize access and to minimize costs, and to involve local and national communities in both the design of the database and the interpretation and popularization of the findings. In order to understand ethnic communal life in Canada, emphasis is placed on developing standard information that is equally beneficial to large ethnic centers such as Toronto and Montreal and to smaller ones such as Windsor and Halifax. To this end, MCHRAT constructs databases which ethnic communities can utilize without having to recruit personnel to conduct the analysis which all too often requires prohibitive financial and technical resources.
In order to be truly effective, such a database must operate from a broad base encompassing the demographic requirements of these groups for social and economic development purposes, especially those communities which are least able to make effective use of the material extracted from the census. These expanded databases also provide a research tool to meet the needs to planners and scholars of ethnic groups across Canada.