Amy Go, president of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice (CCNC-SJ) said that she dreaded a rise in anti-Asian racism when the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Ontario in January 2020.
The CCNC-SJ was impatient to start promoting awareness and prevent a repeat of the racist behaviors that surfaced during SARS in the early 2000s. Back then, the first response by Canada to SARS was racism. People thought that desease rose from Chinese people because of the lack of hygiene. Some schools even had stated to their students that they should avoid the Chinese students in class.
However, Amy Go was starting to see that history was repeating itself now. She mentioned that anti-Asian racism and xenophobia (the feeling of dislike or prejudice against people from other countries) have a long history in Canada. Asian people have never been fully accepted as Canadians, despite Asians (e.g., early Chinese immigrants) arriving in the country before it became a nation.
Amy said, “Just because we look Chinese or look Asian, we’re suddenly not Canadian.”
Reports of discriminatory incidents tripled over the last year with the rising cases of COVID-19. Let alone the labelling of COVID-19 as the ‘Chinese virus’, ‘Kung Flu’, and the ‘Wuhan virus’, which has done enormous harm to the community.
Weiguo Zhang, a professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, led a two-year study to assess the prevalence of racial discrimination against Chinese immigrants and study the response of the Chinese-Canadian community when COVID-19 first arrived. Zhang alongside his team, launched an online survey with more than 700 Chinese respondents living in Canada.
When Canada had just eight confirmed cases, the study observed in February 2020 that the community was already taking precautions by wearing face masks and avoiding social and cultural gatherings. Since the start of the pandemic, around 11 percent of respondents indicated that they had experienced incidents of discrimination.
A second survey was also conducted in early 2021, which revealed a significant rise in discriminatory experiences, with more than 35 percent of respondents indicating that they had experienced an incident of discrimination.
However, there were differing attitudes about what constituted discrimination among several age demographics. Respondents in the age of 18 to 64 were more likely to identify incidents as discriminatory, while the seniors (aged 65 and above) were more reluctant to use that label. Most of them prefer to describe the experiences as ‘unfriendly gestures’.
Zhang notes that the middle-aged demographic often seek support or help with other racial groups who are also experiencing discrimination. In comparison, older community members usually cope with discrimination by trying to avoid it.
Zhang said, “We think that some people are trying to mitigate the impact by playing down the discrimination, so they do not get hurt as much, or avoid thinking about it.”
Gender, language abilities, and economic background also have no influence on the incidence of discrimination. Those occurrences happened solely because of their racial background and appearance.
This doesn’t mean that discrimination didn’t exist before the pandemic. It was simply less evident, and the pandemic was the moment when the racist behaviors started to come up to the surface again.
Back in 2019, Canada actually made a program to stand against racial violence against Asians. However, Chinese-Canadians were still calling for improvements to the government’s strategy. The foundational policy document failed to individually mention anti-Asian racism, and only cite anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Black racism as key targets.
Up to this point, more than 1,150 instances of anti-Asian racism were reported by the Chinese Canadian National Council’s Toronto between March 2020 until February 2021. The data was a compilation of results from surveys in Fight COVID Racism and Elimin8hate websites. Many of the incidents involve people being physically attacked and spat on.
Moreover, the Vancouver Police Department reported that there was a 717-percent increase in anti-Asian hate cases from 2019 to 2020. Those cases include threats, assaults, offensive graffiti, and property damage.
The government was trying to develop a hotline where more people can easily report racist incidents and receive support or referrals. Even so, it was not intended to replace emergency response services in dangerous situations. Data collected from the hotline will be used to support future anti-racism acts.
Nevertheless, people believed that the idea was not enough to protect Chinese-Canadians against racist attacks. They suggested some measures such as protecting the communities’ most vulnerable populations, like seniors and immigrants. Start off by placing the police near their residences, or educating the public to prevent misinformation about Chinese-Canadians.
New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Jenny Kwan has also been pushing the government to take stronger action against anti-Asian racism.
“We should all condemn these actions and then follow up with action to ensure that we address these issues in a holistic way,” said Kwan.
Words by: Victoria Liv
Picture cred: Reuters, ABC News
Sources: University of Toronto News, Toronto Star, CTV News, The Conversation, Global News, CBC