Anti-Asian Hate Is Skyrocketing in Canada. Here's How Communities Can Fight Back.

Cities across the country are reporting an increase on attacks on Asian Canadians. Experts and advocates are calling for more police accountability, and say that solidarity among community groups can help fight racism.
March 23, 2021, 5:10pm
Activists participate in a vigil in response to the Atlanta spa shootings March 17, 2021 in the Chinatown area of Washington, DC
Activists participate in a vigil in response to the Atlanta spa shootings March 17, 2021 in the Chinatown area of Washington, DC.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A disturbing new report from the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) Toronto chapter and other leading organizations says anti-Asian racism, from insults to physical attacks, has significantly increased during the pandemic.

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The report comes a week after a recent mass shooting killed eight people in Atlanta, including six Asian women, and in light of several high-profile attacks against elderly people across the United States.

The findings show that up to 1,150 cases of racist attacks were reported across Canada from March 10, 2020 to February 28 of this year, shedding light on an earlier national report which found that Canada has a higher number of anti-Asian racism reports per capita than the United States, with Asian women being disproportionately targeted. While verbal harassment is the most common type of discrimination reported, physical assaults increased by 50 percent from the early days of the pandemic up until last September. The most recent study said Asian-Canadians under 18 and adults over 55 were 233 percent and 250 percent more likely than other demographics to be coughed or spat on during a hate incident.

Ottawa and Montreal have reported dramatic spikes in anti-Asian hate crimes, while Vancouver has seen a 717 per cent increase from 2019 to last year, with crimes peaking in May, a few months after the pandemic was declared. 

These disturbing patterns have hit close to home for Dr. John Paul Catungal, assistant professor of critical race and ethnic studies at the University of British Columbia (UBC). 

“This has touched me in a particular way,” said Catungal. “The rise of anti-Asian racism in Vancouver post-COVID also meant that became part of my job—to recognize and support students who have well-founded fears about just being.”

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The recent spate of targeted physical attacks and hate crimes has prompted activists to demand police accountability for the criminalization of vulnerable groups and call on allies to stand up against anti-Asian racism. It’s also left Asian communities from all over wondering what they can do to build greater solidarity between themselves to fight COVID racism.

Experts like Catungal say there are many ways Asian communities can fight anti-Asian racism together, and a few places we can start:  

Challenge the model minority myth

While it’s no question the pandemic has fuelled anti-Chinese sentiments across North America, COVID racism has shown its potential to target anyone of Asian descent

“I always say, racists do not check to see whether or not you’re actually Chinese,” said Catungal adding that COVID racism shows how “incredibly precarious” the model minority myth is—as a stereotype that traditionally associates Asians in North America with socioeconomic privileges, while excluding the experiences of historically underprivileged groups. Southeast Asians reported the highest levels of unemployment among racialized groups since the pandemic, and Filipinos continually represent the highest proportion of frontline and essential workers in Canada and face a disproportionate risk of exposure to COVID-19.  

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“In the context of a new or renewed threat like COVID, no matter how privileged one might be, that can be yanked away because model minority status is replaced by one’s social construction as a threat,” Catungal said.

Atlanta Shooting Shows How Police Are Failing Asian Women

But the model minority myth can be challenged and rejected, in part, if Asian Canadians connect and build solidarity “with full recognition of each other’s differences,” said Catungal.  

“When people come together, there’s sometimes the assumption they’re doing so because they’re the same. But we can and should recognize our differences in order to be able to actually work together,” he said. 

According to Dr. Sherry Wang, researcher and associate professor of counselling psychology at Santa Clara University in California, pushing back against pervasive stereotypes that reduce Asians to a monolith is one way we can amplify our differences. 

“We have so many differences in terms of country of origin, language, religion, culture, and customs,” said Wang. “Others don’t see us as culturally diverse, so we have to fight even harder to remind ourselves, each other, and larger society that we’re not the same.” 

‘If you see something, say something’

While it’s important to report anti-Asian racism through community-reporting centres like Fight COVID Racism, Elimin8hate and Act 2 End Racism in Canada and Stop AAPI Hate and Stand Against Hatred in the U.S., so we have the “numbers to demonstrate our need,” Wang said this should not happen at the expense of those being attacked.

“It’s really problematic to tell people, ‘If you don’t report then you’re making our community look bad, and you’re continuing the stereotype that Asians are quiet and not willing to speak up,” she said. 

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“If you see something, say something. We should be implementing bystander interventions as opposed to telling victims you have to report.” 

Look inside your own community

As Asian Canadians build solidarity with each other, community organizers are pushing for more healing and understanding to take place across ethnic and cultural lines.

Victoria Yeung, project coordinator at the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, said start by building awareness of existing hierarchies that traditionally pit Asian communities against one other, including “inherited discriminatory beliefs brought over from different cultures, and colourism, which is a huge problem in all our cultures.” For example, “Sinofication,” which centres Chinese identities and experiences over other ethnic groups, can erase and marginalize certain Asian communities based on racial and cultural stereotypes about darker skin.

But certain members of the Asian diaspora have opportunities to use their privileges to amplify the stories of historically marginalized groups, including those that are “physically and economically vulnerable, newcomers, and people facing language barriers,” she said. 

“People in positions of authority and power, those that have more resources and especially, those who have been here for longer with a better understanding of Canadian systems and identities—these folks definitely have the power to help bridge these cultures,” she said.

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According to Yeung, this includes working and learning with those that serve the community’s most vulnerable members — including grassroots organizations, mutual aid groups, and groups working across “different Chinatowns in the country.”

Recognize groups already doing the work

If anti-Asian racism is nothing new, then neither are the foundations built to fight against it. Catungal points to broader support efforts like the C19 Response Coalition (which he has worked with), dedicated to providing credible and cultural-specific resources to Chinese, Vietnamese, and Filipino-Canadian citizens, as well as Project 1907, which draws from a history of severe anti-Asian and immigration riots that exploded across the Pacific Coast in 1907.  

SWAN Vancouver and Butterfly advocate for the rights of Asian and migrant sex workers, while providing culturally specialized and frontline support. 

“These (efforts) don’t come out of thin air. They drew on already existing efforts, pre-COVID-19,” Catungal said. “It’s important for us to amplify, not only that there’s a need for solidarity, but that solidarity is already happening.”

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