'Maybe you can’t speak or read English': Toronto woman hit with anti-Asian remarks for sitting in school yard

A Filipina-Canadian woman who was sitting on the grounds of a Toronto public school during summer holidays was berated by a white woman claiming to be a teacher. The white woman threatened to call the police and accosted her with anti-Chinese attacks, some of which were captured on video. In the video, the woman is seen pacing around and saying: “All Chinese people should go to jail.”

The incident happened on Saturday, July 25th around 2:30 p.m. at Hollywood Public School, when 30-year-old Justine Abigail Yu was reading a book. Yu recorded the video to get her thoughts on tape, and it has since gone viral. In the video, Yu said she was in the neighbourhood to drop food off to her dad, but he wasn’t home at the time, so she decided to sit outside and read a book at the green space across the street.

“[The woman] she tells me that I’m on private property and that it’s a school and not a public park and that I shouldn’t be here,” said Yu, the founder and editor of Living Hyphen magazine.

Yu mentioned that the woman threatened to call the police on her, and told her she’s a teacher at the school so she was allowed to be on the premises.

“The woman says there’s signs here that say no trespassing, maybe you can’t speak or read English, maybe you should go back to China or go back to wherever it is you’re from,” Yu recounted in a video.

After Yu called her out for her racist attack, the woman then allegedly berated her with more profane language and insisted she was going to call the police.

“I was just really rattled by what she had said to me as she was walking off. She said a bunch of other things to me that I honestly can't remember, it was such a blur,” said Yu.

When the woman had walked away, Yu began recording in hopes of getting her testimony on the record and to try to accurately recall what had happened. However, she was unaware that the woman was still lingering in the background.

“While I was recording I noticed in the corner of my eye that she had come back and she was walking back and forth on the other side of this fence,” said Yu.

After the white woman repeatedly told her that ‘Chinese people should go to jail’, Yu said she felt obligated to call out the anti-Asian racism in a public platform.

“I posted this online because largely I felt like I had a responsibility to call this racism out...I felt like I had a responsibility to...hold this woman accountable,” said Yu.

While the woman indicated to Yu she was a teacher, a spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board confirmed the woman is not a teacher at Hollywood Public School. They said they are investigating if she is indeed a part of the school board, but have no further information at this time. The spokesperson did add that Yu was not trespassing and was not in the wrong.

“While our school yards are private property during school hours, during off-school hours anyone is welcome to use our park area,” said a TDSB spokesperson. “Justine was in the right in what she was doing, but that is besides the point, nobody deserves to be spoken to like that.”

The Ontario College of Teachers which has the largest database of teachers and is the body which gives out teaching licenses said by law, it is “prohibited from ever commenting on any investigation.”

The need to call it out

Prior to Yu being berated by the white woman, she was reading Desmond Cole’s The Skin We’re In which has become one of the top snapshots of systemic Canadian racism and “vital text for anti-racist and social justice movements in Canada,” according to his publisher. Even in her own work, Yu engages with many Black artists and artists of colour, hoping to spur a more nuanced discussion around racism.

“My life's work is around combatting racism and injustice and the magazine that I run is all about exploring the experiences of people who live in between cultures,” she said.

Justine Abigail Yu is the founder and editor of Living Hyphen magazine.
Justine Abigail Yu is the founder and editor of Living Hyphen magazine.

With similar incidents like what Yu has experienced starting to become the norm in Canada, the 30-year-old publisher noted that once she went public she received a swath of support.

“A lot of people have reached out to me, expressing solidarity and support. I'm still processing everything,” she noted.

Yu added that there have been a lot of people who have either admonished this particular woman’s racist antics or called it a one-off, but she wants the focus to be on how Canada has created a space for brazen bigotry.

“I want to highlight that this is not an isolated incident and while we're putting all of this energy into this one person, we need to be putting that same energy into the wider cultural institutions and the systems that produce this kind of thinking in this woman to begin with,” she said.

While Yu admitted she’s never experienced such pronounced racism before, she points to the biker who spat on a Canadian woman and called her a anti-Chinese slur, or a white customer who repeatedly told staff at a T&T supermarket to return to China because he wasn’t allowed to be int he store without a mask.

“I've heard it a lot in the media, I see video clips, but it was a very different experience to have it thrown at me. I didn't realize how jarring that experience actually is and even as I recount the story, I feel like I'm still trembling...because it feels so violent,” she said.

While the incident has gone viral, Yu said she wants the TDSB and OCT to check their databases, but is undecided if she will speak to police about the incident.