Half of Chinese-canadians victims of racial slurs during pandemic: poll
‘There’s a fear in the community it’s going to escalate’
A recent poll suggesting half of Chinese-canadians have endured racial slurs since the COVID-19 pandemic began should be a wakeup for the country, an Alberta human rights activist says.
The online survey of 516 Chinese-canadians conducted June 15 through 18 also states 61 per cent of its respondents had changed their daily routines in an effort to avoid backlash over the deadly virus, which originated in China.
“My assistant is afraid to go to the grocery store,” said Serena Mah, spokeswoman for the group Act2endracism, which sprang up in response to what its organizers call a recent spike in bigotry towards Asian-canadians.
“There’s a fear in the community it’s going to escalate ... it’s so heated out there.”
The poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with the University of Alberta also found 43 per cent of those surveyed felt threatened or intimidated since the pandemic began more than three months ago and that nearly two-thirds believe North American news coverage fosters negative stereotypes about them.
Of the 57 members of her group’s network, about half have said they’ve experienced some form of racism over the past few months, Mah said, adding she’s frustrated with the level of denial among Canadians.
“We spend so much time trying to convince people racism exists,” she said.
Mah said racist incidents are under-reported by those who don’t fully trust government or don’t know how to go about it.
“My own mother wouldn’t want to report it, she wouldn’t want to be a burden on police,” she said.
Some observers also cite as a factor anger toward China over that country’s 18-month detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in what many believe is a diplomatic dispute.
That hostility has led many Chinese-canadians to feel they ’re not viewed as belonging, human rights activist Teresa Woo-paw said.
Only 13 per cent of the poll’s respondents say they believe they’re accepted as Canadians all the time.
“People continue to see Chinese-canadians as foreigners but there’s a great deal of diversity in the community and a lot of it doesn’t agree with (Chinese government policy),” said Woo-paw, who emigrated from Hong Kong at the age of 13.
That climate of backlash, she said, has made her worried about even walking through her neighbourhood.
“It crosses my mind of what would I say if I encounter it,” Woopaw said.
Both women say there’s an absence of comprehensive data collection on racist incidents by higher levels of government that leave that task to those without proper resources.
“We’re pressing the federal government and asking them, ‘Why is it the community’s responsibility when you need standardized data to establish trends?’” Mah asked.
Last month in Calgary there were several graffiti attacks singling out China and Chinese people over the spread of COVID-19, two of them targeting the Asian country’s consulate downtown.
But while such racism does exist in Calgary, it doesn’t appear to be as prevalent here as in larger cities where police are investigating violent incidents targeting those of Asian descent, said Terry Wong, executive director of the Chinatown Business Improvement Area.
His group canvassed several hundred Chinese-canadians the past few weeks about the issue and didn’t receive any reports of mistreatment, said Wong, who also assists city police on diversity issues.
“That’s not to say it’s not happening, but it doesn’t seem as overtly out there in Calgary society,” Wong said.
He said there’s no evidence racist sentiment is playing a factor in the slow recovery of businesses in Chinatown since the economic reopening began recently.
“They’re no different from any other place in town, it’s a slow progression,” Wong said, adding fear of COVID-19 remains potent.
Woo-paw said the Black Lives Matter movement, which she supports, has tended to overshadow issues facing Asian-canadians.
“But I try to see the opportunity in it — people are now more aware (of racism in general),” she said.
The Angus Reid poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.3 per cent 19 times out of 20.
Anti-asian sentiment “doesn’t seem as overtly out there in Calgary,” a community leader says.