Website launched to track, report COVID-19 related attacks against Asian-Canadians
TORONTO, Canada – In the midst of an “incredible and disturbing skyrocket” of COVID-19 related hate crimes, discrimination, stigmatization and racism against Asian-Canadians, Chinese-Canadian organizations across Canada launched Fight COVID-19 Racism [www.covidracism.ca], a web platform for tracking and reporting such incidents.
Between February and May, Chinese-Canadian NGOs have gathered 138 self-reported incidents, 80% of which affected Canadians of East Asian descent, according to Justin Kong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) Toronto chapter.
“Racist attacks have happened to Chinese and Asian Canadians of all ages, in multiple cities, amongst all ages,” said Kennes Lin, co-chair of CCNC Toronto, during a press conference held via Zoom.
“We have seen these interpersonal forms of violence at work in public places, grocery stores, and online.” Forms of violence range from shunning to name-calling, beign coughed at and spat on, being barred from establishments, being denied service, and even horrific physical assaults and attacks,” she said.
Three out of four victims said that they suffered emotional harm as a result of these attacks, said Kong. About 65% of the victims are women, illustrating the gender dimension of these incidents, he said.
“It’s about targeting someone who you think can’t fight back; taking out hate and anger against them,” said Henry Yu, historian and professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.
Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission welcomed the initiative, which is funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage, calling it “an important tool to confront racism” in Canada.
Saying that “an attack on one community is an attack against all of us and the fabric of our society,” Landry urged all Canadians to stand behind Asian-Canadians.
“We all have a responsibility to speak out against racism, hatred and intolerance. It is toxic, and it threatens our society’s peace and prosperity,” said Landry, who attended the launch.
“Being silent and not speaking out makes us complicit.” Bigotry is “now mainstream, it no longer lurks in dark corners,” lamented Landry “It’s on our phones, in our feeds, in our faces.”
She warned that “hatred, left unchecked, can lead to violence with horrific consequences.”
Katherine, a Canadian-Chinese nurse and frontline worker, who has publicly spoken out about her experience of being attacked in Toronto in April, said she did so because not many people are aware “of how many are suffering silence.” Someone struck and yelled at Katherine, and spat into her eyes as she waited for her food outside a restaurant.
The incident forced her to take some time off work and await possible COVID-19 infection, said Katherine, who moved to Canada from Hong Kong in 2003. She said another colleague was also yelled at and spat upon while taking the subway, and had to take off from work as a result of the incident.
“We know there are other undocumented and unreported cases, whether because of language barrier, stigma or fear,” she said. Katherine said she hoped the tracking tool could become “an instrument of dialogue, regardless of culture and background.”
Lin said that while the attacks are hardly surprising, what makes them “especially triggering is because it invokes our collective memory of similar mistreatment and discrimination we’ve faced throughout history.”
She cited the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants from 1885 to 1923, and the Chinese Exclusion Act which barred Chinese immigration from 1923 to 1947, and physical harassment endured by Asian-Canadians during the SARS outbreak in 2003.
Tracking these incidents is “key to understanding the racism that Chinese-Canadians and Asian Canadians are facing during this pandemic,” she said.
Assault on Filipino-Canadians
Filipino-Canadians have not been immune to these attacks. In March, Mernie Manalo, a research technologist in a Toronto hospital, was verbally assaulted by men who told her to “go back to China,” in two separate incidents that left her shaken and unable to leave her home for days.
In High River, Alta., Filipino-Canadians reported being banned from some local stores after a coronavirus outbreak at the Cargill meat plant, where a majoirty of workers are Filipinos, said Migrante Alberta, an NGO advocating for migrant workers.
Amy Go, president of the Canadian National Council for Social Justice, meanwhile, called on all levels of Canadian government to adopt “meaningful and effective measures” to combat racism.
She also urged Canadian police services to support victims “and immediately lay down charges against perpetrators, or explain to the public why charges are not laid.” She noted that some victims who have reported incidents to the police are still waiting to hear results from investigations.
High-profile incidents include the physical assault in Vancouver of a 92-year-old Chinese-Canadian man with dementia.
As a Chinese-Canadian, Go said she now lives “on high alert” not only to protect herself from the virus, but also from potential verbal and physical attacks. “Every time I venture out for walks or grocery shopping, I have to do a risk and threat assessment first,” she said. “Which streets do I take? Which grocery can I go to?”
Unfortunately, she said, “I am not alone.” She urged all Canadians not to ignore the additional emotional, physical and mental toll that Asian-Canadian individuals and communities have had to carry during the pandemic.
Yu, meanwhile, underscored the importance of “cross-cultural solidarity,” saying the anti-Asian attacks are tied to Canada’s own history of colonialism and treatment of Indigenous people.
People need to understand how these attacks “tie into white supremacy that help build Canada and still affects Indigeous people.”
He noted how Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Philip issued a statement against racism in general after an Indigenous Vancouver woman was mistaken for being Asian, and attacked.
“There needs to be harsher consequences undertaken against the perpetrators of these vicious assaults on women of colour,” said Phillip. “Racism is a reality that demands greater accountability. We’ve seen the failures of society. Racism will continue to manifest itself for as long as there is a higher tolerance for that type of behavior.”
Philip “stood out for those suffering and understood what’s going on,” said Yu.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to non-Chinese Asian-Canadians that they, too, are being targeted, said Yu. “It’s not a mistake. It’s not just an issue of being Asian. That is what racism is, you’re being blamed for something that’s not your fault.”
Yu said there needs to be a broader understanding of why racist attacks periodically happen. It’s important not to be caught off guard all the time,” he said. “When, if and hopefully this passes, there will be another time, maybe a year or two,” when another round of attacks will take place.
Racism is “almost a virus that can break out anytime, they’re part of a broader context,” said Yu, adding that when people look for easy answers to problems, they lash out or scapegoat those they deem vulnerable. – Rappler.com
Marites N. Sison is a journalist based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @maritesnsison.