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Addressing Fear and Racism Against the Asian-Canadian Community

By: Tu Uyen Nguyen

Living independently in a foreign country has never been easy, especially as a young person. But there is even more pressure when your safety is dependent on the race you are identified with.

“It was 11 in the evening when I just came back from work. I stepped out of the Atwater metro then he came. He said the F word and called me a Chinese.”, Chau Le (20) recalled her first time being a victim of racial harassment since she came to Canada. “It was terrifying, especially since he came from nowhere in the middle of the night.” The Vietnamese student was understandably frustrated and upset by what had happened.

Anti-Asian hate crime has been a serious social issue, particularly in the last couple of years as recent events have spurred unjustified attacks continually aimed at Asians and people of Asian descent. Since the covid-19 outbreak happened last year, people have been seriously mentally affected by the quarantine. Social isolation not only weakens the connection within the human community, but also causes serious anxiety in general. It becomes even more difficult for people of Asian descent since the stigma and accusations against Asians worsened during the pandemic. Even if you just go out for a walk, you have to be wary of the surroundings and try to avoid judging glances from someone. The streets have never seemed to be so bleak and terrifying. Chinatown, which used to be one of the most bustling spots in Montreal, is becoming increasingly abandoned. People avoided going there when the pandemic started because it is called "China" town.

On March 16th, a series of tragic shootings, which happened at three massage parlours in Atlanta, caused a number of deaths and injuries. Four of the victims were women of Korean descent. Following this incident, many protests and marches took place to appeal for the rights of Asian people who are living in the United States. In the three most populous cities of Canada, including Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, the Asian community also mobilized to denounce anti-Asian hate crime by holding demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government gathered opinions from the citizens who are most affected by racism and hate crime through online surveys, and decided on the establishment of a fund to combat the dramatic increase of incidents. As stated in the government's Anti-Racism Strategy, for the period of 2019-2022, $4.6 million will be invested for a new Anti-Racism Secretariat, which promises to work on accelerating to respond to any gaps, as well as to provide additional policies and services for racialized communities and Indigenous people. Disappointingly however, they did not mention anything specifically regarding the Asian community. People have seen a gap in the way the government is dealing with the situation of anti-Asian hate crime specifically, and are asking for more effective interventions and investment.

In fact, racism against Asians is not a new development. It has always been rampant in our society. Covid-19 is just a matchstick that triggered the burst of fire. During the initial outbreak of covid-19, the case of a Korean person who was stabbed by a white person in Montreal shocked the entire Asian community across Canada. This was an early alarm warning about the increase of anti-Asian hate crime, due to the prejudices about the origin of the virus at a national level. Additionally, the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapel also indicated in their covid racism report that they have received at least 1,150 reports related to racist attacks within only one year since last March. How much worse could it be?

“The problem was dangerous and should be taken seriously.”, Charles Xu, a member of the Chinatown Working Group, expressed his concern about the current anti-Asian hate crime situation in Canada. The Chinatown Working Group is a community which advocates and preserves the recognition of Chinatown’s values and heritage in Canada. He mentioned how Canada has always been promoting its multicultural identity, but at the same time the statistics have shown the grim reality. Indeed, according to Statistics Canada, in comparison to the rest of the population, the frequency of racial harassment and attacks against Asian community, including Chinese, Korean and South Asians, has been disproportionately large. While considering the perceptions of personal safety among population groups, 22 percent of Chinese and 21 percent of Japanese people felt the dramatic increase of crime in their areas ever since covid-19. A large number of Asians also have had to contact the victim services more often during the pandemic, in which 15 per cent were Filipino, 14 per cent were Korean and 13 per cent were Chinese. If this was not serious, they would not have felt so insecure.

Xu also brought in the issue of the bystander effect, which was said to come from fear and lack of education. It is well-known that there have been attacks going on publicly in the streets, but many people would rather ignore the problem than intervene. “They would stop or help if they knew what to do”, Xu pointed out the lack of appropriate education for how the bystanders could respond in particular situations. This issue can be improved if there are more efforts to promote educational information sites and resources regarding the anti-Asian hate crime issue.

When it comes to education, it is also necessary to discuss how victims could handle these situations. From Le’s position when she suddenly encountered the offender that night, she was not sure how to act properly, and just ignored the offender and tried to get out of the scenario without reacting. However, while this was a case about offensive speech, if the offender was more aggressive, then no one knows what could happen. Asian people in Canada, who could be victims of such actions, should have better access to resources and education on how to react in such a terrifying situation.

Online racial harassment is also worrying. “Everyone is online these days and people can be especially racist and open about it.”, Xu talked about his experience with racist behaviour online. “Especially in the comment section of news articles, when it's about covid or anything about China or Asians, we often see a lot of racial hatred.” He added that sometimes racism not only is expressed in direct words, but also in how Asians are treated differently from other people.

Thus, while looking at all of what happened, what is still happening, and what else can happen to the Asian community, much more effort is needed to raise awareness of this issue for society as a whole. The problem is not limited to Montreal or Canada - it is at a global level. It is an unacceptable infringement of human rights. If this issue is not resolved any sooner, it is truly impossible to know how many more Asians will continue to suffer such undue abuse.

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