Before the pandemic, racism has been an issue in Canada. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination towards East Asians in Canada and across North America.
According to an article released in March 2021, University of Toronto researchers have found that reports of anti-Asian discrimination have more than tripled over the past year. For example, there have been incidents of Asians being attacked in stores, kicked in the head, spat on while walking on the sidewalk and verbally harassed in public places.
Image source: CTV News
There were more than 1000 cases of racist attacks towards Asian-Canadians between March 2020 and March 2021, as recorded by the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC). The report also states that nearly 40% of the attacks happened in Ontario.
Unfortunately, due to language barriers and other factors, these crimes are often unreported. The number of cases of racial violence is actually higher than reported.
“It really highlights the seriousness of anti-Asian racism in Canada as well,” said CCNC executive director Justin Kong.
“Our per capita instance count is even greater than the United States — so while we often sometimes think anti-Asian racism only happens in the United States, in this instance, you can see in terms of the per capita rates, it’s even more serious than the United States.”
A Brief History of Anti-Asian Racism
There has been anti-Asian racism in Canada and the U.S. as far back as the late 1800s. For example, Chinese Canadians were banned from voting, and the Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigrants from entering the country.
According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, “Although migration into Canada from most countries was controlled or restricted in some way, only Chinese people were singled out completely from entering on the basis of race.”
“Public spaces have a long history of segregation and racism… In 1907, the Asiatic Exclusion League was formed, with the goal to exclude Asian immigration and create a ‘white Canada,’” said a CTV News article.
“That same year, violent anti-Asian riots led by white-supremacists vandalized businesses in Vancouver’s Chinatown and Japantown.”
A poster from the 1880s. (Image source: NBC News)
In February 2020, some Asian-Americans were discriminated against for wearing masks. Early in the pandemic, the public was told not to wear masks because they did not help prevent the spread of the virus, but this was later contradicted.
President Donald Trump’s racist language, referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese flu” and “Kung flu”, did not help the situation either. As someone in an influential position, his words influenced society and encouraged these verbal accounts of racism. Instead of using the scientific term for COVID-19, he chose to use a term that put the blame on China and Chinese people. This racist behaviour isn’t his first either; Trump’s racism dates back to as far as the 1970s.
How Has This Affected Asian Youth?
The pandemic has been a difficult time for many people, but for Asian youth, the rise of anti-Asian racism only adds to the already stressful circumstances.
For example, Asian-Canadian youth may feel worried about the safety of their family members or are even afraid of going outside. According to CTV News, children “reported significant mental and emotional trauma in rates that outpaced all other age groups.”
“We must remember that behind every number is a human being whose life, and the lives of those around them, have been changed forever by the gross violation of their rights,” Avvy Go, clinic director of the Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, said in a statement.
“Collectively and individually, these racist incidents have resulted in deep and long-lasting impacts on the Asian Canadian community as a whole.”
Asian youth are affected in other areas of their lives as well, such as returning to school. In both Canada and the U.S., anti-Asian racism has increased at school and in the workplace as well, not just in public.
What Can You Do to Help?
- Educate yourself on the current anti-Asian racism occurring.
- Learn about the events in Asian-Canadian history.
- Report incidents of racial discrimination and violence, whether you are a witness or the victim.
- Check on your Asian-Canadian friends and other people you know.
- Debunk false information, myths and negative stereotypes about Asians.
- “Call out and challenge racism when you see it” and “stand up for victims of racism”.
Image source: CTV News
Eventually, the pandemic will end and events will return to normal; however, the impacts of anti-Asian racism caused by the pandemic are long-term and lasting. No vaccine can cure racism. It’s up to us to combat racism and hate.