Budget funds tackling anti-Asian racism a ‘symbolic’ move, says expert, but foundation’s plans still in flux

Of note (significant for the CRRF as previous governments have not provided such funding if memory serves me correctly):

A “groundbreaking” boost to the Canadian Race Relations Foundation to help address the rise of anti-Asian racism is a welcome and “symbolic” investment, says one expert, but details of how it plans to spend the $11-million remain up in the air.

The federal government’s 2021 budget, tabled on April 19 by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.), earmarked $11-million for the foundation over two years, starting in 2021-22. Funds are designed to help the Crown corporation “scale up” its capacity and establish a “national coalition to support Asian Canadian communities.” A fund to support “all racialized communities directly impacted” by a spike in racist attacks during the pandemic will also be created, according to the 724-page document.

Mohammed Hashim, executive director of the foundation (CRRF), said the group is currently working on creating an anti-Asian racism strategy that it hopes to launch in the fall.

“We recognize that there is no one Asian community. There are many Asian communities, and we need to be able to work with all of them to make sure we’re doing things that are appropriate within each of those,” said Mr. Hashim. The summer will be filled with “a ton of consultations” with groups doing anti-Asian racism work, which will help inform “what a coalition could look like.”

By the fall, the foundation plans to release its organizational strategy in full, detailing different grant streams that will be available to external groups. Work is still underway internally to determine how much of the funding will be set aside to boost the foundation’s capacity—though Mr. Hashim said a “good portion” will be dedicated to ensuring the corp can “function as a national entity”—and how much will be handed to organizations fighting Asian racism. Membership of such a “coalition” is also still being discussed, he said.

Bill C-30, the government’s budget bill, has not yet passed and is being studied by the House Finance Committee. The Senate Finance Committee also launched a pre-study of the legislation.

Mr. Hashim, who was named to the post for a five-year term last fall, underscored the significance of the boost, noting it’s the first time the Crown corporation has seen money earmarked as a line item in the budget. Typically, the organization has relied on its endowment income and fundraising, but Ottawa’s “groundbreaking” investment will go toward helping it “embolden” its programming, he said.

The foundation, which falls under the portfolio of the Heritage department, “can play a national leadership role in anti-racism efforts,” said Mr. Hashim, adding the allocation signals the government has “confidence” in it to become just that.

Avvy Go, a director with the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic in Toronto (CSALC), agreed it’s a “good thing” that anti-Asian racism has been listed as a budget item for the first time, as it carries “symbolic” weight.

“But my question is whether $11-million is really enough. The Asian community is a very large community,” she said. According to the 2016 census, nearly 1.8 million people of Chinese origin alone live in Canada, amounting to five per cent of the population. For the Asian diaspora, that figure could climb to just under 20 per cent, she predicted. “So maybe $11-million, if we think of it as seed funding, that’s OK. But if that’s the total amount going forward, then we’ll probably fall short in addressing the complexity of the problem,” she said.

While she supports a coalition being formed, Ms. Go said funds need to be directly and quickly shared with groups that have “very strong track records” with members of the community, including hers and the ChineseCanadian National Council for Social Justice (CCNC-SJ).

“These organizations, some are run by volunteers, so if funding stops, some of the work may have to stop,” she said. “So it would be good for the government to continue to support them.”

The CCNC-SJ recently launched a campaign urging the public to “open its eyes” to anti-Asian racism, which includes a two-minute video that can be shared on social media. It features prominent members of the Asian community, like environmental activist David Suzuki, ice skater Patrick Chan, and Ms. Go herself.

Last year, the CCNC-SJ and South Asian Legal Clinic helped launch an online tool encouraging the public to log their experiences of racism. Heritage provided more than $300,000 for the project to help Ottawa in its efforts to tackle false and misleading information, and the racism and stigma that follows.

The grassroots initiative, which also partnered with other national groups, produced  preliminary results, reporting 138 cases between February and May 2020, with the vast majority (110) registered in May. (At the time, officials said the tool would be in place at least into 2021, and it still appears to be active.)

In the council’s final report, released in March, the organization found most of those who used the tool to report incidents felt they were being scapegoated for the pandemic. A total of 643 incidents were logged, 73 per cent of which included verbal harassment, 11 per cent that involved physical aggression or unwanted contact, and 10 per cent that involved being coughed or spat at. The budget frames the $11-million to the CRRF as an investment in recognition of this “especially disturbing trend.”

Keep the door open for more funding, says expert

Ms. Go’s group is among the “important partners” that will be consulted in the summer, said Mr. Hashim. “This is a groundbreaking investment for the organization from the federal government, and I think it’s one that we’re hoping to rise to the challenge to prove the organization deserves long-term funding,” he added.

To help inform its work on the file, Mr. Hashim said the group is hoping to take part in a virtual national summit on anti-Asian racism, organized by the University of British Columbia. (That event is from June 10 to 11, with the first day open to the public and the second day reserved for “sector leaders.”)

Mr. Hashim said he’s well aware that groups have been working on the ground for years. “There’s a lot of community groups that have a lot of interest in this and we don’t want to get ahead of them by saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ ” he said. “They are certainly leading the charge and we want to make sure we are working in tandem with them.”

As the foundation works to iron out details for its funding, there appears to still be a gap in the government’s overarching anti-racism strategy, unveiled in June 2019.

Last summer, Ms. Go noted this blueprint does not carve out specific efforts to tackle anti-Asian sentiments, though it does make reference to anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, Islamaphobic, and anti-Semitic discrimination. The recent budget does not outline any new funds for this strategy, but Ms. Go said she hopes “the door is still open.”

Over the last year, her group has been talking about the uptick in reported incidents with the anti-racism secretariat, which was established through the strategy and is headed by Peter Flegel. The feds appear to be working toward a definition of anti-Asian racism, she said, which could help “guide” work under its overall strategy, including the creation of specialized funding streams. “I’m hoping that as these conversations continue, there will still be an opening for the government to think about other streams of funding,” she added.

Ottawa ‘behind the eight ball,’ says Kwan

NDP MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.) said there are “a lot of unknowns” about how the foundation will spend its money, and pressed Ottawa to step up in a “key area” and directly assign funds to non-government organizations.

“The fact of the matter is, they have the trust and relationships with the people on the ground and they can also break down the cultural and language barriers,” she said. Ms. Kwan, who was born in Hong Kong, said she is worried the money will be project-based or temporary, instead of “dedicated, stable, and predictable funding” for the groups to better tackle anti-Asian racism.

“We can’t expect NGOs to be doing this work off the side of their desk,” said Ms. Kwan, adding she wondered why the feds took the route of providing the foundation with money instead of what “it normally does,” which is dole out funds directly to groups. (The overarching anti-racism strategy falls under Heritage, with the department responsible for evaluating and accepting proposals through its various funding streams.)

While the pandemic has seen a rise in anti-Asian hate and reported incidents, “it’s not like this is new to us,” said Ms. Kwan. “It’s always been here, and it comes and goes in different cycles at different times. Some sort of incident or some sort of interaction might spur some activities,” she added. Ms. Kwan recounted herself being subjected to such incidents, at times hearing the virus being referred to as the “Kwan-avirus.”

“Right from the beginning, this was happening. People were being attacked. So the government’s been talking about it for a year, about how to define anti-Asian racism? And they still haven’t figured it out?” she said. “That makes me want to weep.”

It’s clear the government is “behind the eight ball,” said Ms. Kwan, when anti-Asian racism is not captured in the feds’ overall strategy and it’s still talking about defining it. The timeline of “deliverables” is also up in the air, like when the funds will start flowing from the foundation to the groups.

Former Liberal Senator Vivienne Poy, whose appointment in 1998 made her the first Canadian Senator of Asian ancestry, said the foundation’s funds could go toward outreach efforts to younger Canadians.

“Racism is learned. Nobody is born with it,” said Ms. Poy, who spearheaded a motion designating May as Asian Heritage Month, which was ultimately adopted by the Senate in 2001.

“They can spend hours and hours consulting with whatever group, but the most important thing” is unlearning on the part of perpetrators, said the retired Senator, and helping them “learn about the positive sides of different cultures” to better understand the people they are attacking are Canadians too. “You can’t legislate and pass laws telling people how to behave.”

Source: Budget funds tackling anti-Asian racism a ‘symbolic’ move, says expert, but foundation’s plans still in flux

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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