Vancouver Sun


Canada's official multicultu­ralism is under strain as anger and anti-Asian hatred mount, explains Tina J. Park.

- Tina J. Park is a fellow at the Norman Paterson School of Internatio­nal Affairs at Carleton University and the CEO of The Park Group. This article is reprinted from Policy Options.

Fifty years ago, Canada became the first country to adopt multicultu­ralism as an official policy. Multicultu­ralism seeks to preserve the distinctiv­eness of individual­s and cultures while recognizin­g that diverse ethnic groups can coexist and contribute to the Canadian society. Over the last five decades the policy has evolved from an ideal laid out in a policy document to a quintessen­tial aspect of Canadian national identity. Not only is diversity our strength, we have come to celebrate our diversity and uniqueness — the mix of respect, humility and openness that define Canada's image on the global stage stems from who we are at home. The diversity it promotes and helps institutio­nalize makes our country stronger.

Reflecting upon my own experience growing up in Toronto, multicultu­ralism was a fact of life. I arrived in Canada as a young girl from South Korea who barely spoke English. In Toronto, where over 180 languages are spoken every day, I was proud of my Asian heritage and it was absolutely normal for my student peers and I to celebrate the Lunar New Year, Diwali, Nowruz, Hanukkah, Christmas and Eid, and to try different cuisines packed by our mothers at lunchtime.

My experience of growing up in Toronto — and later studying and teaching Canadian history at the University of Toronto — was largely inspired by curiosity and the conviction that every one of us has a role to play in shaping the Canadian society.

Much has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. I have recently returned to Canada after a few years of working and living in Italy. In the past year alone in Ottawa, I can recall about a dozen racist incidents where I was either yelled at, denied service or verbally harassed.

Despite working as a human rights advocate for the past decade, I found myself completely helpless when an angry stranger at the grocery store suddenly told me to get out, yelling “Go back to China.” In each instance, I was alone and often feared for my safety and rushed back home.

Sadly, studies show that my experience is not an isolated case — there has been a rise of anti-Asian racism and violence since the outbreak of COVID-19, with young Asian women being disproport­ionately targeted, particular­ly in Ontario and British Columbia. In Vancouver, for instance, hate incidents targeting East Asians increased sevenfold between 2019 and 2020. A recent study by the Chinese Canadian National Council's Toronto chapter revealed more than 1,000 cases of racism against Asian-Canadians since the COVID-19 outbreak, and the actual numbers are likely higher considerin­g that in East Asian culture, it is considered more appropriat­e to brush off these negative incidents than to speak up.

The recent attacks in Atlanta, as well as various reports of physical, verbal and online attacks against Asians in Canada since the pandemic began, all point to a troubling reality of ignorance and hatred. These attacks are taking place in grocery stores, sidewalks, parks and restaurant­s in daylight, with bystanders behind their masks and perpetrato­rs walking away unpunished, leaving victims with deep psychologi­cal and physical wounds. Many of the recent attacks targeted frontline workers such as nurses, transit operators and small business owners, many of whom have risked their own lives and safety to serve Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Canada, despite our celebrated history of multicultu­ralism, is clearly not immune to anti-Asian sentiment or the prejudiced misconcept­ion that Asia — or China — bears responsibi­lity for the spread of COVID-19. Neither Donald Trump's “China virus” reference nor general discontent with the Chinese government's current policy stance justifies such harassment or the racist comments that Asian-Canadians face today. Canadians should know better. We have never been perfect, which is why we vowed to never forget painful incidents in our history such as the Chinese Head Tax, the turning away of the Komagata Maru, the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War, and even post-SARS racism.

Tackling anti-Asian racism is not just a moral issue. It is also in Canada's interest to recognize the important contributi­ons Asian-Canadians have made to our economy. The largest source of immigratio­n — the lifeblood of Canada's economy — now comes from Asia, and Canadians with Asian heritage comprise the largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority group in Canada, at about six million. These are hard-working Canadians who have made enormous contributi­ons to Canada and who will play crucial roles in our recovery post-COVID.

Asia is also the biggest source of internatio­nal students in Canada: more than 50 per cent of all internatio­nal students come from India and China, followed by South Korea and Vietnam. In 2018, internatio­nal students in Canada contribute­d an estimated $21.6 billion to Canada's GDP and supported almost 170,000 jobs for Canada's middle class, according to Global Affairs Canada. These are our neighbours, friends and colleagues who are facing threats, abuses and even violent attacks, simply because of the colour of their skin. An attack on one of them is an attack on fundamenta­l Canadian values that took years of hard work by millions of Canadians to build a society of respect and inclusion.

As we reflect upon this important 50th anniversar­y of the advent of official multicultu­ralism, we must therefore face, head-on, the rising discrimina­tion against Asian-Canadians.

There are several concrete measures that can be undertaken immediatel­y to confront the situation and renew our commitment to diversity and inclusion:

■ The Senate and House of Commons should strike a joint parliament­ary task force to conduct a comprehens­ive examinatio­n of the current state of harassment and racism against Asian-Canadians and recommend legislativ­e and policy measures. The task force should make diligent efforts to consult with provincial and municipal representa­tives in Ontario and British Columbia as well as key civil society organizati­ons and community representa­tives to provide concrete recommenda­tions.

■ The Department of Justice should sponsor a wide consultati­on with provincial and territoria­l attorneys general on possible amendments to section 718.2 of the Criminal Code with respect to sentencing for hate-inspired crimes to better define hate based on race. There is a serious lack of legislativ­e and judicial guidance on how much impact hate motivation should have on the quantum of a sentence.

■ Private-sector actors such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google, as well as major media outlets in Canada should take initiative for a coherent public awareness campaign on the history of Asian-Canadians, as well as underlinin­g the unacceptab­le incidents of harassment in recent months, in conjunctio­n with the 50th anniversar­y of multicultu­ralism policy.

■ The federal government should provide a new funding package for the Federal Anti-Racism Secretaria­t to monitor discrimina­tion against Asian-Canadians across the nation, promote preventive measures and a hotline for victims to report incidents, and report to Parliament by the end of this calendar year on progress.

■ The Department of Public Safety should prioritize the enforcemen­t of anti-racism policy as a key aspect of our national security.

■ History education across provinces must be amended to shed light on the evolution of multicultu­ralism and include specific references to the contributi­ons of Asian-Canadians, as well as negative incidents from the past, so that we may better educate our next generation of Canadians.

The continued expression of empathy and support from political, business and public institutio­nal leaders in the wake of the massive ramp up of anti-Asian slurs, harassment and violence is welcome. But the true measure of Canada's response to the surge in anti-Asian racism will depend on how quickly serious policy measures are undertaken at various levels of jurisdicti­on, to educate the public, punish the perpetrato­rs and provide a solid source of support for those who are affected.

We must not allow recent incidents to become media headlines and produce another policy paper that will be forgotten in the next election cycle. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” Instead of being paralyzed by fear and paranoia, we must stand up in solidarity with our Asian-Canadian neighbours and friends, and systematic­ally examine ways to break the cycle of hate and violence and invest our energy and resources for a better future.

The time for this kind of leadership has come. The costs of avoiding that leadership are, on so many levels, deeply problemati­c for the nation we love and the values that underlie the future of Canada.

 ?? ARLEN REDEKOP ?? Sherry Tian, 16, holds a sign at a March anti-Asian hate rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery, held in response to the escalating hate crimes across North America. There are several things government­s and individual­s can do to combat racism.
ARLEN REDEKOP Sherry Tian, 16, holds a sign at a March anti-Asian hate rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery, held in response to the escalating hate crimes across North America. There are several things government­s and individual­s can do to combat racism.

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