Half of Chi­nese-cana­di­ans vic­tims of racial slurs dur­ing pan­demic: poll

‘There’s a fear in the com­mu­nity it’s go­ing to es­ca­late’

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - BILL KAUF­MANN Bkauf­mann@post­media.com Twit­ter: @Bil­lka­uf­man­njrn

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.

BREN­DAN MILLER

Anti-asian sen­ti­ment “doesn’t seem as overtly out there in Cal­gary,” a com­mu­nity leader says.

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