Racism led to a rise in anti-Asian hate in the pandemic. What the community wants to see in Canada’s next leader

More anecdotal than systemic treatment of hate:

Canada has faced a rude awakening around the rise of anti-Asian racism. The COVID-19 pandemic brought along a surge of attacks on Asian-Canadian seniorsand vandalism of many Asian-Canadian businesses. As a result, the Chinese-Canadian community continues to silently live in fear, isolation and anger.

On the eve of the 44th Canadian federal election, they’re now speaking out about what they demand from the federal electoral candidates.

“Canada is a multicultural country with people from all over the world. Our politicians should strive to make it a vibrant nation where everyone is treated with respect and dignity,” Shiwei Mao, a Chinese-Canadian retiree, said in Mandarin, the only language she speaks besides her native Shanghainese. “But what did they do? It’s been almost two years of COVID-19 and our politicians have made a mess. Our society and economy has undergone profound disruptions, with chaos and racism everywhere!”

Mao has encountered racism herself. Early on in the pandemic, before mask mandates, she wore a face mask on public transit. “As soon as I sat down on the bus, the person next to me got up and changed seats. It made me feel very uncomfortable,” she said. “We Chinese understood the importance of wearing masks as the pandemic started in our country. But everyone else was looking at us strangely for wearing masks.”

In her late seventies and living with her husband in Scarborough, Mao is angry that the pandemic has become a political issue and has changed her idea of saftey. She believes that pandemic measures should have been led by experts and scientists instead of politicians who have “little knowledge and training in public health and epidemiology.”

As a direct result of COVID-19, Mao has not been able to go out much. “My husband, who is 86, is of reduced mobility and uses a wheelchair. Every time we want to go out, it’s a huge hassle, as we don’t have a car and use public transit,” she explained. “It’s extremely inconvenient for us that there is not enough public transit and that its schedule is inconsistent. I want more accessible public transit with a more regular and consistent schedule.”

Another issue is accessibility to health care. Though Mao and her husband were able to find a Chinese-Canadian doctor who gave them information on how to protect themselves, she is aware that not everyone in the community is so lucky. “It’s hard for a lot of Chinese people to find a doctor that speaks their particular dialect. I believe the percentage of doctors in Canada who are of certain cultural backgrounds should match the percentage of Canadians who are of that same background,” she said.

Amy Go, the president of the Chinese-Canadian National Council (CCNC), thinks that this pandemic has highlighted wealth disparities in our society. “The pandemic really highlights the differential access to services of racialized seniors and seniors who don’t speak English” she said. “On top of an already scarce amount of culturally adapted services, COVID-19 has disrupted the few services there were. Chinese-Canadian seniors who rely on home-care to get their daily basic needs met and who need regular health care have been hit extremely hard.”

Go has heard from many seniors who have struggled through the pandemic. “They were so afraid because of all the assaults. Many of them made heartbreaking comments such as ‘We moved to Canada in order to build a better life for our children. But now we are questioning that decision and hope our children won’t have to move again,” she said. “Seniors go out and see people treating them differently. They know it is wrong, but they don’t know what to say, as they don’t have the English skills to say anything.”

CCNC has submitted questions to the federal parties regarding these matters, but received no response. The Conservative party, the Liberal party, and the New Democratic Party did not return requests for interviews either.

Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy said that since its establishment in 2019, “the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat has since been leading a whole of government approach to tackling racism and discrimination in all of its forms in Canada, including anti-Asian racism.” In March they set up a task force to work with “government organizations and diverse communities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic… including Canadians of Asian descent, to ensure that our response to COVID-19 is informed by lived experiences.”

But for some, the lack of politicial representation leads to a lack of understanding on how to best care for diverse populations which require a more targeted response.

“We need Chinese-Canadian politicians to represent us at the House of Commons so that our demands can be put forward” Ru Xie, another Scarborough resident who lives with her husband and her daughter said. “I believe that in a multicultural country like Canada, it is the federal government’s responsibility to intervene when there is racism.”

Though COVID-19 has largely kept Xie in her home due to safety concerns, she ventured out to participate in an anti-Asian racism protest after seeing reports of attacks circulating on WeChat, a Chinese social network.

Dr. Henry Yu, a professor of Asian-Canadian and Asian Migration studies, believes that this past year and a half has forced Canada to face its history of anti-Asian racism. “Our communities are looking for some commitment from all party leaders that’s not empty. Saying, ‘We’re not racist in Canada’ won’t cut it, because you say that doesn’t mean it’s true. Because this is happening in Canada,” he said. Dr. Yu strongly believes that Canada needs to take a hard look at itself and ask why is it that this nation scapegoats the Asian-Canadian population to solve structural issues rather than simply enact superficial measures.

“What needs to be implemented across the board is to collect more disaggregated data, especially in the context of COVID-19, about who’s being served in the mental health system, and what access is like for people who are linguistically diverse or marginalized and other ways,” said Cindy Quan, a researcher at the University of Victoria. She believes that part of the solution lies in getting disaggregated data on anti-Asian racism, because Canada historically has not been vigilant collecting data to address its issues with racism.

“We need greater accountability at various levels of government, tougher hate crimes and discrimination laws, better crafted legislation along those lines, and clear consequences for engaging in racist behaviour,” she said.

Source: Racism led to a rise in anti-Asian hate in the pandemic. What the community wants to see in Canada’s next leader

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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