Asian Canadians see flaws in federal anti-racism strategy

Not surprising. The challenge is that once you name one group, others understandably feel their circumstances should also be referenced, with recent increases in anti-Asian attitudes and actions prompting this latest call. Unfortunately, no magic bullets or solutions, just an all too long slog:

Advocates for Asian Canadians are calling for improvements to the federal government’s anti-racism strategy to confront a surge in anti-Asian racism.

Avvy Go, executive director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic in Toronto, said the strategy failed to specifically mention anti-Asian racism in its foundational policy document. The document does cite anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as key targets.

“It’s a serious flaw in the current strategy,” Go told CBC News.

“We hope that the government will amend the strategy and, more importantly, they will develop concrete actions to address racism of all forms.”

The call comes amid a reported surge in anti-Asian hate crimes across the country and abroad during the pandemic.

According to a report published in March by the Chinese Canadian National Council, more than 1,150 instances of anti-Asian racism were reported through two websites — and — between March 10, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021. Misinformation and racist beliefs related to the fact that the novel coronavirus first emerged in China are behind the surge in attacks, the authors wrote.

In Vancouver, the police department reported that anti-Asian hate crimes climbed from just 12 cases in 2019 to 98 in 2020 — an increase of 717 per cent.

And data from Statistics Canada released in July 2020 suggest that Canadians with Asian backgrounds were more likely to report increased racial or ethnic harassment during the pandemic than the rest of the population. The largest increase was seen among people of Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian descent.

Go, a Canadian citizen who was born in Hong Kong, said she’s had several frightening experiences herself.

Source: Asian Canadians see flaws in federal anti-racism strategy

Tackling racism against Asian-Canadians as multiculturalism turns 50

Legitimate concerns among Asian Canadians. Just as there are legitimate concerns among Black Canadians, Muslim Canadians, Jewish Canadians etc. My bias is for more programming that crosses all groups as the default, with any community-specific programming aimed at addressing issues that are truly unique to the particular community, as I think that the commonalities of racist behaviour are greater than the differences:

Fifty years ago, Canada became the first country to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy. Multiculturalism seeks to preserve the distinctiveness of individuals and cultures while recognizing that diverse ethnic groups can co-exist and contribute to the Canadian society. Over the last five decades, the policy has evolved from an ideal laid out in a policy document to a quintessential aspect of Canadian national identity. Not only is diversity our strength, we have come to celebrate our diversity and uniqueness – the mix of respect, humility and openness that define Canada’s image on the global stage stems from who we are at home. The diversity it promotes and helps institutionalize makes our country stronger.

Reflecting upon my own experience growing up in Toronto, multiculturalism was a fact of life. I arrived in Canada as a young girl from South Korea who barely spoke English. In Toronto, where over 180 languages are spoken every day, I was proud of my Asian heritage and it was absolutely normal for me and my student peers to celebrate the Lunar New Year, Diwali, Nowruz, Hanukkah, Christmas and Eid, and to try different cuisines packed by our mothers at lunchtime. My experience of growing up in Toronto – and later studying and teaching Canadian history at the University of Toronto – was largely inspired by curiosity and the conviction that every one of us has a role to play in shaping the Canadian society.

Much has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. I have recently returned to Canada after a few years of working and living in Italy. In the past year alone in Ottawa, I can recall about a dozen racist incidents where I was either yelled at, denied service, or verbally harassed. Despite working as a human rights advocate for the past decade, I found myself completely helpless when an angry stranger at the grocery store suddenly told me to get out, yelling “Go back to China.” In each instance, I was alone and often feared for my safety and rushed back home.

Sadly, studies show that my experience is not an isolated case – there has been a rise of anti-Asian racism and violence since the outbreak of COVID-19, with young Asian women being disproportionately targeted, particularly in Ontario and British Columbia. In Vancouver, for instance, hate incidents targeting East Asians increased sevenfold between 2019 and 2020. A recent study by the Chinese Canadian National Council’s Toronto chapter revealed more than 1,000 cases of racism against Asian-Canadians since the COVID-19 outbreak, and the actual numbers are likely higher considering that in East Asian culture, it is considered more appropriate to brush off these negative incidents rather than speak up.

The recent attacks in Atlanta, as well as various reports of physical, verbal and online attacks against Asians in Canada since the pandemic began, all point to a troubling reality of ignorance and hatred. These attacks are taking place in grocery stores, sidewalks, parks and restaurants in daylight, with bystanders behind their masks and perpetrators walking away unpunished, leaving victims with deep psychological and physical wounds. Many of the recent attacks targeted frontline workers such as nurses, transit operators, and small business owners, many of whom have risked their own lives and safety to serve Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canada, despite our celebrated history of multiculturalism, is clearly not immune to anti-Asian sentiment or the prejudiced misconception that Asia – or China – bears responsibility for the spread of COVID-19. Neither Donald Trump’s “China virus” reference nor general discontent with the Chinese government’s current policy stance justifies such harassment or the racist comments that Asian-Canadians face today. Canadians should know better. We have never been perfect, which is why we vowed to never forget painful incidents in our history like the Chinese Head Tax, the turning away of the Komagata Maru, the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War, and even post-SARS racism.

Tackling anti-Asian racism is not just a moral issue. It is also in Canada’s interest to recognize the important contributions Asian-Canadians have made to our economy. The largest source of immigration – the lifeblood of Canada’s economy – now comes from Asia, and Canadians with Asian heritage comprise the largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority group in Canada, at about 6 million. These are hard-working Canadians who have made enormous contributions to Canada and who will play crucial roles in our recovery post-COVID.

Asia is also the biggest source of international students in Canada – over 50 per cent of all international students come from India and China, followed by South Korea and Vietnam. In 2018, international students in Canada contributed an estimated $21.6 billion to Canada’s GDP and supported almost 170,000 jobs for Canada’s middle class, according to Global Affairs Canada. These are our neighbours, friends and colleagues who are facing threats, abuses and even violent attacks, simply because of the colour of their skin. An attack on one of them is an attack on fundamental Canadian values that took years of hard work by millions of Canadians to build a society of respect and inclusion.

As we reflect upon this important 50th anniversary of the advent of official multiculturalism, we must therefore face, head-on, the rising discrimination against Asian-Canadians. There are several concrete measures that can be undertaken immediately to confront the situation and renew our commitment to diversity and inclusion:

  • The Senate and House of Commons should strike a joint parliamentary task force to conduct a comprehensive examination of the current state of harassment and racism against Asian-Canadians and recommend legislative and policy measures. The task force should make diligent efforts to consult with provincial and municipal representatives in Ontario and British Columbia as well as key civil society organizations and community representatives to provide concrete recommendations.
  • The Department of Justice should sponsor a wide consultation with provincial and territorial attorneys general on possible amendments to section 718.2 of the Criminal Code with respect to sentencing for hate-inspired crimes to better define hate based on race. There is a serious lack of legislative and judicial guidance on how much impact hate motivation should have on the quantum of a sentence.
  • Private-sector actors such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google, as well as major media outlets in Canada should take initiative for a coherent public awareness campaign on the history of Asian-Canadians, as well as underling the unacceptable incidents of harassment in recent months, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of multiculturalism policy.
  • The federal government should provide a new funding package for the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat to monitor discrimination against Asian-Canadians across the nation, promote preventive measures and a hotline for victims to report incidents, and report to Parliament by the end of this calendar year on progress.
  • The Department of Public Safety should prioritize the enforcement of anti-racism policy as a key aspect of our national security.
  • History education across provinces must be amended to shed light on the evolution of multiculturalism and include specific references to the contributions of Asian-Canadians, as well as negative incidents from the past, so that we may better educate our next generation of Canadians.

The continued expression of empathy and support from political, business and public institutional leaders in the wake of the massive ramp up of anti-Asian slurs, harassment and violence is welcome. But the true measure of Canada’s response to the surge in anti-Asian racism will depend on how quickly serious policy measures are undertaken at various levels of jurisdiction, to educate the public, punish the perpetrators and provide a solid source of support for those who are affected.

We must not allow recent incidents to become media headlines and produce another policy paper that will be forgotten in the next election cycle. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” Instead of being paralyzed by fear and paranoia, we must stand up in solidarity with our Asian-Canadian neighbours and friends, and systematically examine ways to break the cycle of hate and violence and invest our energy and resources for a better future.

The time for this kind of leadership has come. The costs of avoiding that leadership are, on so many levels, deeply problematic for the nation we love and the values that underlie the future of Canada.


Physical assaults, spitting on older people and children among soaring number of anti-Asian hate incidents reported in Canada

Of note. Shameful, whether directed against Asian Canadians or other minorities. Still waiting for 2019 police-reported hate crimes data to see what they captured (only have general by motivation and most serious violation, no breakdowns by group or religion):

Avvy Go was walking home from work on a summer day in Toronto last year when a group of young people blocked her route on the sidewalk.

Without a word, one person spat at her, the spittle landing at Go’s feet.

Horrified, Go yelled, “Excuse me!” but the group continued on, laughing among themselves.

“I was just taken aback. I was just stunned,” said Go, director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. “For some of us, every time we step out, we have to worry if we will be targeted again.”

Go’s fears are common: anti-Asian racism has been growing across the country, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) Toronto chapter, which for the first time details the nature of attacks that seem to have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

From verbal insults to physical assaults, including being spat upon, 643 complaints were submitted to the council’s online platforms from March 10 to Dec. 31, 2020. Overwhelmingly, these incidents were fuelled by false and racist beliefs about the spread of COVID-19, according to the study’s authors.

“In addition to the ways we know COVID transmits, the spitting and coughing symbolizes a revenge, as if an act of ‘Go back where you came from, where the virus came from,’” said Kennes Lin, a social worker and co-chair of the CCNC Toronto chapter, who was one of the report’s authors.

The document’s release comes just days after six Asian women were shot dead at multiple massage parlours in Atlanta, Ga. The March 16 killings prompted protests against anti-Asian racism in major cities in North America, including Montreal.

Canada has also witnessed an increase in anti-Asian racism. Last July, Statistics Canada reported that more than 30 per cent of Chinese Canadians perceive themselves to be at a higher risk of possible violence or harassment. In February, data released by Vancouver police showed a 717 per cent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in the city last year.

While the majority of incidents in the CCNC report involved verbal harassment, close to 11 per cent of victims reported physical force being used against them and nearly 10 per cent said they were coughed or spat upon.

Notably, youth under 18 and adults age 55 and older were 233 per cent and 250 per cent more likely to be coughed and spat upon during a hate incident. Attacks described in the report range from a young child being thrown off a bicycle to an older woman being punched in the eye on public transit.

Other findings in the report include:

  • About 73 per cent of those who reported incidents said they suffered emotional harm or mental distress from what occurred. About eight per cent reported physical injuries. 
  • Individuals who reported an incident in a Chinese language as opposed to English were 34 per cent more like to suffer emotional distress from the incident and 100 per cent more likely to have experienced a physical assault.
  • Close to 50 per cent of incidents occurred in public spaces (park/street/sidewalk), while another 17 per cent took place in grocery stores or restaurants.

Though Go chose not to report the incident she experienced, as she felt nothing would come of it, hundreds of Asian Canadians have turned to community organizations like the CCNC and their partners to report racist incidents.

The council launched a web portal in March 2020 specifically because it was being inundated with calls about disturbing attacks across Canada in a way it hadn’t seen prior to the pandemic. Many said they were not comfortable reporting to law enforcement as there is a lack of trust or they feel they won’t be heard.

Another 507 hate incidents were logged on the site from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28 this year, but were not included in the analysis.

Go said the prevalence of spitting and coughing toward Asian people in Canada is due to the false, racist belief that Asian people are responsible for bringing COVID-19 to the country. 

“It’s almost like this is the way of saying: You give me the virus, I’m giving it back to you,” she said. Go was one of many individuals who provided an initial review of the CCNC report.

Spitting or coughing on someone deliberately, while a deadly virus continues to devastate the population, is done not only to infect Asian Canadians, but also to follow through on a warped sense of vengeance that feeds into long-standing stereotypes around Asian people and disease, said Lin.

“It means an intense level of dehumanizing, disrespect, scorn and disregard,” said Lin.

Building the railroad in the late 19th century in Canada, Chinese migrants had to live in crowded, substandard housing that led to people falling ill, fuelling stereotypes about Asian people being “diseased.” A head tax was in place from the late 19th to early 20th centuries to deter immigration, throwing migrants into poverty before they even arrived.

Meanwhile, the British had characterized Chinese people as “full of diseases” during the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century and those stereotypes rooted in colonialism show up in the hate incidents Asian Canadians are experiencing during the pandemic, said Josephine Pui-Hing Wong, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, who specializes in health disparities.

Wong says the Atlanta shootings last week evoked memories of racist incidents she faced growing up in Canada. She recalls classmates comparing her to sexualized Asian women in western movies, or men accosting her, claiming they had an “Asian fetish.” 

“(Racism) is in the Canadian psyche because for hundreds of years, white supremacy has constructed this kind of knowledge that racialized people are inferior,” she said. “But then when COVID-19 comes out, when the United States president says racist things, people feel that they’ve been given a permit to go out and be violent,” she added, referring to statements made by former president Donald Trump.

The fetishizing of Asian women and the targeting of migrant women, specifically sex workers, as some of the more vulnerable groups amid rising anti-Asian hate incidents is an element the CCNC is highlighting as well, said Kate Shao, a lawyer and board member.

The report shows about 60 per cent of the incidents have impacted Asian women. The Atlanta shootings, resulting in the deaths of Asian women, struck a chord on that data point, she said. 

“There’s an additional impact that women feel, and especially women in precarious immigration status. A lot of that is heightened because of the hypersexualization, fetishization that we’ve seen,” she said, referring to the treatment of women during the Vietnam and Korean wars.

Children are also emotionally impacted by the racism they’ve experienced in schools, said Lin. The CCNC had reports of hand sanitizer being sprayed at Asian children, she said.

In the wake of the Atlanta shootings, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce released a statement acknowledging that “anti-Asian racism is on the rise” and said he’s working to curb hate incidents occurring in the school community.

The CCNC report shows that most incidents have occurred in public places. For places like local businesses such as restaurants and grocery stores, their report recommends implementing specific anti-Asian racism policies to protect employees and customers, said Shao.

It’s disheartening that the Atlanta attacks are what has caused some institutions or groups to finally speak out on anti-Asian racism, when groups like the CCNC have been speaking on it for months, she said.

In order to create their data analysis, the CCNC used one-time funding from the Canadian government that ends this month.

“We have over 1,000 reports of racism, and where do we go from there?” she asked. “There’s a lot the government needs to do to step up and fill in these gaps.”


MPs, advocates urge more government action to combat ‘pandemic of anti-Asian racism’

Of note, both in terms of comments by activists and politicians, as well as some encouraging signs of a downward trendline:

Justin Kong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council’s Toronto chapter, doesn’t want focus paid to his own experiences of racism, which he says most racialized people have experienced, instead emphasizing the importance of the country coming together to make things better.

He, along with several Members of Parliament and advocacy groups, have called for more to be done by the federal government to combat anti-Asian racism, in response to the surging number of racist incidents affecting Asians in Canada—and those who look Asian to some—since the start of the pandemic.

A September report from Project 1907, a group which has been tracking incidents, found that more than 600 instances of racism have occurred in Canada since the onset of COVID-19, with a higher number of anti-Asian incidents reported per capita than the United States. Women were impacted the most, reporting 60 per cent of all incidents. The data expanded on the type of harassment, too, with verbal abuse occurring in 65 per cent of incidents, and nearly 30 per cent reporting assault or targeted coughing, spitting, or other physical forms of violence.

A July Statistics Canada report, meanwhile, found that discriminatory incidents were perceived to happen sometimes or often by 26 per cent of Koreans and 25 per cent of Chinese respondents. It also found that 43 per cent of Koreans, and 38 per cent of Filipino people reported feeling unsafe walking home alone at night. Strikingly, in a recent report presented to Vancouver’s police board, the increase in anti-Asian racism was up 717 per cent from the year before, going from 12 reports in 2019 to 98 in 2020.

Some standout incidents that Conservative MP Kenny Chiu (Steveston-Richmond East, B.C.) said he’s noticed in Vancouver include reports of vandalism and even one incident where an elderly gentleman with dementia was attacked.

For Lynn Deutscher Kobayashi, vice-president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians, these types of occurrences relate to the idea of Asians being untrustworthy foreigners no matter how long they’ve been in Canada.

“It’s just this inability of people to see you as Canadian because of the colour of your skin,” she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) has condemned racism in the past via news conferences.

Mr. Kong said the main impetus for more recent racism was COVID-19 and the political rhetoric circulating.

“Irresponsible politicians have scapegoated Chinese people as the cause of this virus,” he said.

Liberal MP Han Dong (Don Valley North, Ont.) noted that racism towards the Asian community is historic, and that continued, systemic issues, like around fair employment opportunity, plague the system.

Queenie Choo, CEO of B.C. social service agency S.U.C.C.E.S.S., described systemic racism as issues with policy that ignore privilege and create unfair inequities.

This system, Mr. Kong said, leads to issues like Chinese-Canadians being disproportionately represented under the poverty line, or having difficulties with accessing good housing or good education.

“The racism is systemic racism that puts racialized people in precarious working conditions and life conditions,” he said.

In Mr. Dong’s view, COVID-19 has simply created the setting for racist thinking to come out.

“It’s always been there, but the pandemic has created a perfect [mix] for some of these people to come out pointing fingers at Chinese-Canadians,” he said.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.) raised similar historical issues, pointing towards segregation laws and head taxes that existed in the past, which unfairly targeted Chinese- and other Asian-Canadians.

Also contributing to the issue is negative sentiment towards the Chinese government over issues like its crackdowns in Hong Kong and detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, with Mr. Dong noting that Canada-China relations have worsened over the last three years.

“I think this will sharpen the sort of racial view on Chinese-Canadians,” he said. “I think the racism against Asian-Canadians is deeper than what’s going on between Canada and China.”

Mixed opinions on level of anti-Asian racism since pandemic start

Mr. Kong said there have been consistent levels of racism since the pandemic started: “Whether or not it’s gotten worse, it’s bad, it’s really bad.”

He was also impressed with how many Chinese organizations and individuals got together as citizens and donated to help their neighbours and their community.

“That’s a real positive out of COVID-19,” he said.

Mr. Chiu echoed these sentiments, and said the trend appears to be going down.

Less satisfied with the status quo, Ms. Choo emphasized that racism will continue if nothing is done about it. While she said she’s glad the government is openly talking about racism, she said she wants to see more sustained efforts over time and continuous vigilant action.

Ms. Kobayashi, meanwhile, expected there to be a new wave of racism as a result of the Capitol Building storming in the United States, with white supremacists and extreme groups emboldened by the attack.

And in Ms. Kwan’s eyes, racism directed at Asian-Canadians has existed for a long time, with COVID-19 giving it a chance to re-emerge “with a vengeance.”

How the government can combat anti-Asian racism

For Mr. Kong, fighting the problem of racism requires the first step of recognizing that racial inequities exist. He said he wasn’t able to offer firm policy suggestions owing to an incoming report on the topic.

In Ms. Choo’s opinion, there should be more concrete legislation around hate crimes.

“Right now, we have no clear definition. What is a hate crime? Is it a hate crime online? Is spitting on people of colour [a hate crime]?” she said.

She further advocated for serious legislation to prosecute offenders in order to send a message to people.

Ms. Choo also said race-based data should be collected in consultations with the affected communities. “If we don’t even know who is targeted, who is affected, and what communities we are talking about, how are we going to take corrective action?”

To treat this “pandemic of anti-Asian racism,” Ms. Kobayashi agreed there should be support for people targeted by hate crimes, and that more funding should be provided for data collection efforts on racism.

In Ms. Kwan’s view, a hate crime unit should be placed in every single police department across the country. Alongside this, she said there should be high-level standards that ensure every single incident is investigated fairly.

“We can talk about we’re doing to get rid of racism and hate, but we need to match those words in action, and to properly resource a hate crime unit at every single department, I would think, is the bare minimum that we should be in,” she said.

Also critical is educating the Canadian public, Ms. Kwan said. Her comments were echoed by Ms. Choo, who said that teaching around historical and contemporary racism should be funded .

Some things that the Trudeau Liberal government has already done include shortlisting a Chinese-born Canadian, Won Alexander Cumyow, for appearance on the $5 bill and acknowledging the role of Chinease railway workers every year, said Mr. Dong.

Other concrete actions taken, according to Diversity and Inclusion Minister Bardish Chagger’s (Waterloo, Ont.) press secretary, Emelyana Titarenko, include the setup of an equity-seeking communities and COVID-19 taskforce, which asked East Asian communities about the impact of the virus, and funding for more than 85 different anti-racism projects, worth $15-million.

Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Man.) said Parliamentarians should call out racism whenever they can and said the government acts by providing grants to “all sorts of non-profits.”

Ms. Titarenko also noted that a multicultural, open, and inclusive society is always “a work in progress. It demands our effort, our attention and our care.”

Mr. Chiu, who has experienced racism himself, said it made him question whether he belonged in Canadian society when he was pointed and yelled at.

But he said he doesn’t think that the government is the only group with a part to play in fighting racism.

“In Richmond, for example, our community is already diverse and multicultural … my younger daughter’s best friend is a hijab-donning Muslim girl. They don’t see each other as different places, they see each other as friends, so I don’t know if the government can actually do anything to do that. It’s up to us as a society.”


How a racial reckoning and a pandemic opened the door for some Asian Canadians to talk about racism like never before

Of note:

Born and raised in a small Ontario community, Cindy Tran says she learned racism was something Asians endured.

Then, her beloved grandmother was assaulted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So Tran, a Carleton University student, unleashed her long bottled-up anger and frustration with a blog post, which became the talk of Pembroke, her small city of 15,000 northwest of Ottawa.

“It’s shocking that a town that marches for Black Lives Matter still breeds hate toward people of colour,” she wrote back in August, before describing the attack by a group of young teenagers on her 80-year-old grandmother, Thi Nga Doan.

“I grew up in this town, but I have never truly called it home.”

The journalism student’s decision to speak out and the ensuing reaction prompted the mayor to form a diversity committee to tackle racism.

It’s a situation, Tran acknowledges, that might not have unfolded without the collison of the coronavirus pandemic and the widespread protests against systemic racism sparked by the death of George Floyd in the United States.

“Race was not something that was discussed in Pembroke. My story and opinion piece got so much interaction and interest from people,” said Tran. “So much was happening with Black Lives Matter. In the midst of that, you see an 80-year-old elderly woman attacked in her own home. That’s what’s bringing everything together, unfortunately.”

It’s been widely observed that twin epidemics have dominated North American news in 2020 — the scourge of COVID-19 and that of racism.

The pandemic has found society’s weak points and exacerbated its fissures. The crisis had had a disproportionate impact on the working poor, often racialized people, bringing society’s existing systemic racism, whether anti-Black or anti-Asian or other, to the fore.

Against the backdrop of the health crisis, the killing of Floyd by police gave people stuck in lockdown fresh reason to reflect on systemic injustices, triggering an awareness that advocates hope will lead to long-lasting change. For many, the moment has stirred memories of the discrimination they faced early in their lives — and which they continue to see today.

“People’s consciousness was raised. If you can shift one’s consciousness, everything else will flow,” said Kiké Roach, lawyer, community activist and the Unifor National Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University.

“The two pandemics — COVID-19 and racism — touch all different people. We are in this moment together.”

‘They would interrogate us’

Canada has seen before the racism that can emerge amid a public health crisis.

But there’s been a progression in how political leaders and the media have responded to anti-East Asian incidents since the SARS epidemic in 2003, says Amy Go, president of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice.

As early as January, Toronto Mayor John Tory and medical officer Dr. Eileen De Villa stood side-by-side with Chinese community members to condemn emerging racism directed at Chinese Canadians and decry boycotts of Chinese businesses.

In May, government funding was quickly made available to support a community website, Fight COVID Racism, for alleged hate crime victims to file incident reports, trace documented cases through an interactive timeline and map in its response to the wave of hate crimes.

So far, more than 600 alleged incidents have been reported.

“During SARS, very few mainstream media would listen to our stories or they would interrogate us and ask, ‘How do you know it’s racially motivated?’” said Go. “With COVID, we didn’t have to justify we had been victimized due to our race.”

‘I was born and raised here’

Connie Lee was 14 during that SARS pandemic in Toronto. In school, a fellow student came up to her and said, in front of the whole class, that all Chinese people had SARS so she couldn’t hang out with her anymore.

Now 31, Lee was recently at a No Frills store in North York when she was yelled at by a white man, who not only cut in front of her in the checkout line but called her a “stupid b—–” for wearing a medical mask, then told her to go back to where she came from.

“SARS was severe, but it was short-lived. COVID’s scope is different in terms of how far it’s spread and its long time span. Anti-masking and anti-Asian sentiments are going together now,” said Lee, a municipal government administrator.

“I was born and raised here, but people don’t see me that way. Even though I identify as Canadian on paper, the way other people see me is different.”

Like Tran, who felt she had no outlets to talk about racism in school or at home, Lee said Asians are often caught in the middle between Blacks and whites.

“We’re a group used as model minorities. People think we can’t experience racism because some of us can be very successful, but we are used as a pawn, seen as good and bad, depending on how the politics go. We are not white enough and we are not black enough,” said Lee, who grew up in Toronto.

“This puts things into perspectives about Asians not having a voice.”

However, the current pandemic, she said, has given some Asians a framework to tell their stories.

“Before, if you wanted to talk about it, you didn’t have the context to talk about it. You’re seen as a troublemaker by saying anything,” said Lee, who has spent a lot of her time during the lockdown on virtual workshops about anti-Asian racism to “unlearn” some of the white supremacist views she said she internalized while growing up.

“Now you can see (racism) confidently because there’s a larger conversation about it. Previously you could talk about it, but you’d get dismissed as a one-off experience. Systemic racism has always been there but the pandemic has brought it to the forefront.”

‘Mutual friends do nothing’

Toronto’s Ian Hood, who is half Japanese and half Scottish, was taunted during his school days with racial slurs. As a young person, his coping mechanism was to toss slurs back at his classmates based on their European heritage.

Now an adult, he’s seen fresh racism related to COVID-19, which he says has brought out the worst even from a friend he grew up with in Aurora.

Since February, the friend has started posting anti-Chinese and anti-Asian Japanese comments on Facebook directed at him, with stories about how the Chinese and Asians brought the disease to Canada and why they should all go back where they came from. The worst part, Hood said, was how everyone in this friends’ group kept silent about it.

“He kept using the term ‘deal with it.’ In private messages, he called me (slurs) and went on with his tirades. At first, he thought they’re funny. When I spoke against it, he became angry. His humour seemed to be hiding his violent attitude and anger at Asian people,” said Hood, 42. “Mutual friends do nothing. They let him.”

The experience reminds him of his upbringing in Aurora, especially one incident in elementary school during a class about geography and heritage. His teacher repeatedly asked him where he was from, even though he was born and raised in Canada, until he responded that his mother was Japanese and father was Scottish.

“It was the recognition that I wasn’t like the others. She was trying to teach me that I wasn’t like the others. It’s a constant reminder that you don’t quite fit in like others,” said Hood, who is a program evaluation analyst with the Canadian Red Cross. “It hurt.”

During the pandemic, given the confluence of all the forces that have created an openness to discuss racism, Hood said he has felt encouraged to speak up and confront it.

“The experience during COVID motivated you to be more active in fighting racism and engage in conversations. The experiences we’ve had since this pandemic has motivated all of us to have these conversations,” he said.

“Personally, it has made me far more willing to talk about this. The ability to have a conversation about racism empowers me to stand up against it.”

Hood said the global BLM protests stemming from Floyd’s death helped open up people to look at systemic racism that cuts across ethnic boundaries affecting all visible minority groups.

“If we look after the most marginalized people in our society, we can only make the society better for everybody,” said Hood, who has since joined the new diversity and inclusion task force established at his workplace.

“COVID shows us that a lot of the inequity we are seeing has to do with socio-economic status, which in turn is related to race and ethnicity. They are intertwined.”

‘Black Lives Matter has triggered all these conversations’

Although South Asians, visibly appearing different from their East Asian counterparts, are not targeted in COVID-19-related racism, activist Shalini Konanur said their own experiences during the pandemic, such as job losses, have also served as a reminder of the systemic racism to which they’re not immune.

Some people in the community started to look at the role they themselves play in perpetuating racial stereotypes, biases and discrimination within the bigger system.

“They look at the disconnect and where the South Asians are in this,” said Konanur, executive director and a lawyer at the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, who is also part of a new online group called South Asian Allyship to build partnerships with other communities to address these issues.

“Black Lives Matter has triggered all these conversations. It has addressed the apathy piece in the community.”

The underlying thread of the pandemics of coronavirus and systemic racism is the breakdown of the system and the collective urge for people to confront the lack of accountability and transparency, said Ryerson’s Roach.

In both pandemics, she says, some people are bearing the brunt more than others and the crisis has prompted the much-needed public discussion around different ideas that had not been widely talked about, such as abolitionism and defunding police.

“You must understand it’s not a mater of a few bad apples and someone is being mean to another person. It is about understanding the way the system perpetuates the unequal distribution of power, inequitable representation of ideas, views and experiences from a cross section of diverse people. We need to look at the system and have hard conversations.”

‘You can’t be afraid’

Back in Pembroke, where her grandmother’s alleged assailants were arrested and charged, Tran says she has been flooded with emails and messages from people who didn’t feel they could speak up about their own experiences of racism.

“A lot of people who see my blog say, ‘You are so creative in writing this.’ They say, ‘You’re courageous.’ What makes a good advocate is you abandon your fear. You can’t be afraid of people calling you a liar or saying your issues don’t matter,” Tran said.

“It’s weird that there had never been a reckoning like this before but now there is. It’s an encouraging sign.”

Source: How a racial reckoning and a pandemic opened the door for some Asian Canadians to talk about racism like never before

Racist stereotyping of Asians as good at math masks inequities and harms students

Some good analysis of the diversity within and between different Asian groups, as is the case with all groups and the risks of all stereotypes, along with the importance of socio-economic status:

Some people stereotype Asian students as the “model minority” in math achievement: they generalize attributes of a so-called “minority” (racialized) community in a way that just perpetuates racism disguised as a compliment.

It is clear, however, that not all students identified as Asian are good at math. The word “Asian” is a category used to represent human beings who are, in fact, diverse and their differences are lost by their inclusion in the term. “Asian” includes 50 or so ethnic groups in a huge diversity of linguistic, socio-economic, political and cultural settings. Making judgments based on categories often leads to faulty or erroneous implications.

Both scholars and cultural commentators have highlighted the problem that the “model minority” label is sometimes used politically to divide those who are held up as so-called “model” groups and those who are not. Reporter Kat Chow notes that some white people have talked about Asians in North America in ways that positions Asians’ so-called “success” as a “racial wedge” that separates Asians from Black people or other racialized groups. Such framing distracts from necessary conversations about racism and structural inequalities.

We are involved in a study launched in 2018, “Behind the Model Minority Mask,” that seeks to understand divergent literacy and academic trajectories of Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking children in Canada. We wanted to explore how early factors such as home and classroom environments and larger cultural myths surrounding “Asian academic achievement” may be affecting children’s academic results.

Our research has found that holding up a “model minority” stereotype leads to destructive emotional stress for students. The “model minority” myth both encourages blaming students for failure, obscures the socio-economic factors that influence student academic achievement and also imposes significant psychosocial pressure on high-achieving students.

Breaking down the meaning of ‘ESL’

Our research into Asian students in Vancouver schools also revealed that there are also problems with the generalized use of terms such as “English as a Second Language” (ESL) learners and “English Language Learners” (ELL).

For example, we learned through a series of studies of about 25,000 immigrant students aged six to 19 who were categorized as “ESL” that a small number were in fact non-ESL. They were raised in families where they learned another language in addition to English from birth.

Of the students who did learn English after another language, there was a wide range of English-language skills, from those who spoke only a little bit of English to those who were fluently bilingual. The group included immigrants and refugees and those who were from low to high socio-economic backgrounds, and included speakers of 150 first languages and dialects.

The “ESL” or “ELL” labels, like the “Asian” label, however, are sometimes also used in ways that can misrepresent achievement, influence or realities of individuals. Some right-wing media commentators use the “ESL” label, for example, to argue that ESL students are responsible for a “strain on the system,” and “lowering” education.

Such reprehensible commentary is facilitated by studies or news reports that rely on generalized categories and pay insufficient attention to variables.

Roots of achievement patterns

In part of our study, Lee Gunderson recorded science, math, English and social studies academic achievement of 5,000 randomly selected students from grades 8 to 12 in 18 Vancouver secondary schools including Asian students. ESL students scored significantly higher than native English speakers in all academic areas except English and social studies in Grade 12. Mandarin speakers’ academic achievement was also significantly higher than that of Cantonese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese and other language groups.

While there were high achievers among this diverse group of Asians, many Asian students (even among the Chinese subgroups) also reported struggling academically and socio-emotionally in school.

Socio-economic status was also found to be an important variable: Mandarin-speaking immigrants were from more affluent families than the other ethno-linguistic groups. Mandarin-speaking families employed more tutors to bolster their children’s academic work than other groups. Indeed, among this group, some Mandarin-speaking university students worked as academic tutors.

The sample of native-English speaking students included a wide-range of families from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. By contrast, the Mandarin sample, as a result of immigration patterns, included more high economic status families than other groups.

When high economic status native English speakers were selected they scored significantly higher in all academic areas than Mandarin speakers at all grades. Socio-economic status is related to school success.

Early beginnings

With this same set of students, initial assessment results in the early grades revealed no significant differences in achievement between young Cantonese and Mandarin speakers. However, by Grade 12 there were differences with Mandarin speakers having significantly higher grades.

Mandarin-speaking girls were four times more like to be eligible for university than Cantonese-speaking boys. About two-thirds of the Cantonese boys did not have grades sufficient for admission to university. Cantonese boys were at-risk students. The other Asian groups scored lower than Mandarin speakers in all academic areas.

Understanding differences

The two largest groups of Asian immigrants, the Cantonese and Mandarin speakers, were from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. The language of instruction in their communities was not English, so we expected these children’s English skills would be nascent when they immigrated to Canada.

As researchers, we did not expect that these students’ achievement would differ at the end of their public school careers. We also didn’t expect to see gender differences in academic achievement when this difference wasn’t present when these children first entered Canada. Nor did we expect to see differences among the Cantonese and Mandarin speakers.

As our research continues, we predict the findings will provide critical knowledge that educators need to improve the learning of Cantonese-speaking boys or others who we find to be at risk academically or socio-emotionally in Canadian schools.

We also hope we will identify characteristics of supportive ESL environments and inform early intervention through effective ESL program design and teacher professional development. Our hope is to provide information that informs parents about how to effectively support their children in school and at home in their early years.

Sheema Khan: What Muslim Canadians can teach Asian communities about the discrimination that sadly lies ahead

I suspect the teaching can go both ways, given the historical experience of Asian Canadians with racism (e.g., Chinese head tax and immigration restrictions, Komagatu Maru being sent back to India etc):

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I remember making a frantic call to Dudley Herschbach, a former chemistry professor at Harvard, to make sure no one was on the Boston-based flight that crashed into the World Trade Center. The next day, he called me back to reassure me that everyone was safe. The relief of his words, however, was punctuated by his worry: that hate was about to be unleashed against Muslims, Arabs and people who looked Middle Eastern. I didn’t quite appreciate the gravity of his words – that is, until they were borne out.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic is unfortunately reminiscent of 9/11 – except that it is now Asian-Canadians (and in particular, Chinese-Canadians) who have become prime targets of xenophobia. There has already been an uptick in the number of hate crimes. Many in the Asian-Canadian community feel the spectre of racism while out in public.

I have spent almost two decades fighting xenophobia directed against Muslim communities in Canada, from hate crimes to discriminatory employment practices to state-sanctioned rendition policies. I was the chair of a grassroots advocacy group that worked with civil institutions – such as the media, human-rights commissions, school boards and the courts – to advocate that Canadian Muslims be treated fairly in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What I’ve learned might be useful for Asian-Canadian advocacy organizations needing to push back on current and future discrimination.

Such organizations should document incidents, no matter how small, because such data is vital for public policy initiatives. As such, there should be ample publicity in community publications about what constitutes an incident, and where individuals can report this information. Currently, the Chinese Canadian National Council has an online reporting form, and there should be open lines of communication with police forces to ensure that any incidents are promptly investigated.

These advocacy organizations should also educate community members about their basic rights as provided by the Charter. For example, no one should face discrimination in housing, education or employment simply due to their cultural heritage or ethnicity. Individuals have the right to be treated fairly at border crossings. Our organization developed a popular pocket “Know Your Rights” guide that is still highly useful today.

With the possibility of a “Cold War” with China, Canadian security agencies might begin interviewing Chinese-Canadians. These interviews can be traumatic, inducing fear. Community members should be educated about their rights prior to such interviews, along with their duty to speak truthfully. Recourse to legal assistance will be necessary. In addition, there should be lines of communication open between advocacy organizations and CSIS.

An important component is the education system. Efforts should be under way to contact school boards to ensure that once students return to the classroom, there will be heightened vigilance of anti-Asian discrimination. In the long-term, Asian Heritage Month in May can be used to educate students about the rich contribution of Asian-Canadians to Canadian society.

All of the above requires human resources and money. As such, members of the business and legal communities need to step up and offer funds and their time. Members of the law profession can provide assistance pro bono, to help community members navigate through the legal system. Many disputes involving discrimination are resolved through human-rights commissions, rather than through the courts. Community members will require assistance to proceed with their complaints.

Chinese-Canadian advocacy organizations should network with anti-discrimination organizations that have a wealth of expertise. Examples of national organizations include the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. A common goal should be the declaration of Jan. 29, the day of the Quebec City mosque massacre, as a National Day of Action against Hate.

However, not all of the burden should be placed on the Asian-Canadian community. Every one of us has a role to play to ensure that ours is a safe, inclusive society. Civic leaders have an added responsibility to speak forcefully in favour of inclusion, and any politicians who scapegoat Asian-Canadians for political gain must be denounced unequivocally.

Finally, the coming period will be another crucible for the continuing project of forging our Canadian identity. Post-9/11, Canadian Muslims asked themselves what it meant to be Muslim and Canadian. Without hesitation, we denounced terrorism repeatedly, along with the ghastly practice of “honour killing.” We became more involved in the fabric of Canadian society. We shared our personal stories with the wider public. We developed resilience along the way and gained strength from the loving support of wider society. Our journey is not over, but we extend a hand to our fellow Canadians who are of Asian heritage: we are with you, on yours.

Source: What Muslim Canadians can teach Asian communities about the discrimination that sadly lies ahead: Sheema Khan

Tung Chan: Recent increase in hate crimes toward Asian-Canadians is a shock and a shame

One of the better opinion pieces on anti-Asian-Canadian hate crimes:

Canada is a multicultural society. The majority of us are welcoming and accepting of new Canadians, no matter where they are from or what race they are. This positive attribute of Canadian society is universally appreciated by new arrivals and admired by people around the world. This is why the recent increase in hate crimes toward Asian-Canadians is a shock to all of us.

Some of my Chinese-Canadian friends are taking extra precautions when they are out in public, looking over their shoulders when they are walking alone on empty streets. Many Chinese-Canadian organizations are banding together to fight the rise in racism.

It is no wonder then that a national survey conducted for the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice found that as many as one in five respondents do not think it is safe to sit on the bus next to an Asian or Chinese person who isn’t wearing a face mask.

The same poll, conducted in the week of April 24 with a sample size of 1,130 adults randomly drawn from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, also found that nearly 13 per cent, or one in eight respondents, were aware of incidents of racial bias in their neighbourhoods since COVID-19.

One member of Parliament, Derek Sloan, took advantage of this latent hostility and questioned the loyalty of our chief medical officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, who, like me, is an immigrant from Hong Kong. To the political base where his dogwhistle was directed, a Chinese person is a Chinese person — chief medical officer or not, naturalized Canadian or not.

A television outlet went further with a story that painted a picture of the Chinese diaspora, including Canadian citizens, obeying orders from the People’s Republic of China and secretly buying up personal protection equipment and shipping it back to China.

The unfortunate perception left with viewers is that Chinese-Canadians cannot be trusted because they may be members of a fifth column, ready and willing to follow the People’s Republic of China’s orders against the interest of Canada.

The point is that the actions of a few should never be generalized to a group. Yes, there is an increase of assaults on Asian-Canadians, but the actions of those few should not generate fear of all.

Yes, some Asian-Canadians sent care packages to China to protect loved ones prior to COVID-19 reaching Canada. But it was also done in hopes of preventing the virus from spreading and reaching Canada.

Everyone is afraid of COVID-19, of losing family, of being without an income, of what tomorrow will bring. But we know the fabric of Canada is sewn with kindness and compassion.

Our civic leaders and elected politicians need to continue speaking up to condemn those who physically attack to cause bodily harm or those who verbally attack to create doubt about the loyalty of Chinese-Canadians. The perpetrators of these malicious acts must be made to understand that their actions and their words are not acceptable in our society.

For the sake of our country, let’s focus our energy on fighting the virus, not each other.

Source: Tung Chan: Recent increase in hate crimes toward Asian-Canadians is a shock and a shame

Asian Canadians launch letter campaign to address racism in their own communities

A reminder that racism is not just a white/black issue but that it exists among many groups.

One of the stronger legacies of former Minister Jason Kenney was his broadening the integration focus of multiculturalism to include such tensions between and among visible minority groups, not just between the “mainstream” and visible minorities.

Good initiative:

A group that represents young Asian Canadians is taking an anti-black racism education program to their parents, grannies, uncles and aunties to help break down longstanding tensions between the two minority groups.

In light of the backlash against Black Lives Matter, the aftermath of Toronto’s Pride parade and recent police gun violence in the U.S., hundreds of Asian Canadians plan to launch a letter campaign this week reaching out to elders in their own communities.

The campaign, which follows a similar effort in the United States, aims to create a space for “open and honest conversations” about racial justice, police violence and anti-blackness in Canada’s Asian diasporas.

“The letter is meant to help Asians start having conversations within their own communities about anti-black racism, and specifically, about the anti-black racism that Asians are complicit in,” said Ren Ito, a Japanese Canadian from Toronto and one of the organizers of the Canadian campaign.

“The reality, though, is that different Asian communities are shaped by race and racism in different ways. And this means that different communities have different needs when it comes to starting conversations about anti-black racism or even about racism in general.”

A similar letter effort by Asian Americans was spurred by the recent killings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota.

“For some of us in Canada and in Toronto in particular, the timing was also apt because we’ve had to deal with controversy and racist backlash against Black Lives Matter-Toronto for their actions during the Pride parade to hold Pride Toronto accountable for its marginalization of queer and trans people of colour,” said Ito, 28, who came here with his family from Japan at age 2 and is a PhD student at the University of Toronto.

The letters are being translated into Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Chinese, Hindi, Farsi, Punjabi, Tamil, Urdu, Spanish and Arabic to help supporters from these communities reach out to their peers and their own ethnic media, said Anita Ragunathan, another campaign organizer.

“I began the conversation about anti-black racism within our community with my parents following the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida (in 2012). It’s an ongoing conversation, and I am hopeful that this letter will help them understand why this is so important to me and others in our generation,” said Ragunathan, 27, who was born in Toronto to Tamil immigrant parents.

“To refuse to speak against racism is to be complicit in allowing it to happen.”

Another organizer, Sun, an artist and educator who has gone by one name for about 10 years, said anti-blackness is almost a given in many Asian communities.

“Many of our communities conform and internalize these ideas in very deep and unconscious ways. This is problematic, and we need to work towards unlearning these oppressive ideas so we can build healthier communities,” said Sun, who came to Canada from Korea when she was 5.

“The media is complicit in perpetuating these biases. Our parents turn on their televisions and see images of black men as ‘thugs’ and ‘criminals.’ Victims of police brutality are not treated as such. Instead of their humanity being the focus, we hear about their records alongside photos that are meant to make them look menacing. We are brainwashed to forget that these men and women are fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.”

Sun had first-hand exposure to her community’s anti-black sentiment when her father disowned her six years ago because she had a black partner.

Source: Asian Canadians launch letter campaign to address racism in their own communities | Toronto Star