|Anti-Asian Racism: A traditional Chinese Lion|
sculpture as part of the Chinese archway architecture
located in the Broadway Avenue and Gerrard Street East
are defaced with paint.
Photo courtesy of Tyrone Maclean-Wilson
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed a multitude of unforeseen problems, but one of the most troubling side effects has been a spike in incidents of anti-Asian racism. The coronavirus was first recognized in Wuhan, China, and some people are using COVID-19’s origins as an excuse for racism (though the majority of Ontario’s cases can be traced back to American and European travellers). In order to properly document these incidents of racism and related intolerance towards people of Asian descent, as well as other People of Colour and Indigenous peoples, the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter (CCNCTO) and their partners has launched an online reporting tool designed to document incidents of Anti-Asian racism.
Efforts to combat Anti-Asian racism is especially important to the community of Regent Park. Of the Downtown East area (including Regent Park, Riverdale, and Moss Park), 8% of the population are Chinese or Southeast Asian. These communities are often comprised of new immigrants who may not be fluent in English, making it difficult for them to access healthcare and employment insurance--both crucial services in the pandemic. These residents are also vulnerable to incidents of racism.
We talked to activist Avvy Yao-Yao Go to learn more about the history of anti-asian racism in Canada and the issues the Asian-Canadians face.
Go is a lawyer and director of the
Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, which helps
Asian Torontonians access legal services. Asian people were often
mistreated by police and other government officials, but language
barriers made it difficult to get legal help. Most recently, she’s
been launching on a website that lets Asians report incidents of
racism they’ve experienced or witnessed. COVID didn’t cause
anti-Asian racism, but it certainly exacerbated it. As of July 9th,
there have been over 300 reported cases of public harassment, people
being spat on, vandalizing of business, assaults, and stabbings
perpetrated against members of Canada’s Asian communities. Tracking
these incidents lets Asian-Canadians share their lived experiences in
a safe and supportive place. Additionally, it creates a database that
Go hopes the government will use to address anti-Asian racism in
Systemic prejudice against Asian-Canadians is not a particularly new idea; anti-Asian sentiments have been around since the founding of the country. John A. McDonald, the country’s first Prime Minister, referred to Chinese people as “strangers” who didn’t share the “British instinct” of good morals. As a result, he disenfranchised the entire ethnic group by denying them the right to vote. Another example of racism is the “head tax” imposed on Chinese immigrants in the 1800s. After making Chinese labourers work in dangerous conditions for low wages while building the Canadian Pacific Railway, the workers were forced to pay exorbitant fees if they wanted to continue their life in Canada.
Unfortunately, the government has done little to combat anti-Asian racism, often refusing to even acknowledge it. Canada’s 2019 Anti-Racism Strategy mentions incidents against Indigenous, Muslim, Jewish, and Black communities, but does not mention the Asian community once. Each of these groups face their own unique challenges, and it’s harmful to equate and compare acts of racism. But the first step towards fixing a problem is identifying it, and Go believes that excluding the Asian community from the document minimizes the struggles Asians in Canada face.
Most people have prejudice, preconceived notions about people who aren’t like us. These differences may be based on race and ethnicity, or on other factors like gender, sexual orientation, age, or class. If you make an active effort to change the way you think, you can unlearn those stereotypes. But when prejudice becomes ingrained in our system, it becomes dangerous. As Go explains, systemic racism in our society works to hold down people of colour.
To change the way Asian-Canadians and other racialized communities are treated, we must hold our government accountable for their actions--or lack thereof. For more information about the online Anti-Asian racism reporting tool, visit www.covidracism.ca.
FOCUS Media Arts Centre