A Filipino-Canadian family was left shaken after being shouted at and discriminated against by a fellow customer in a Regina Costco last week.
Nico Inocalla, his brother and sister-in-law were finishing up their shopping last Thursday when the incident occurred.
"This man in front of us, he kept on looking at us as if he doesn't want us to be there," said Inocalla. "But we ignore it. We just still choose to be there and stay in our own lane. But while we were waiting for a turn, he doesn't stop looking at us, and [then] he started yelling 'you need to social distance, you need to stay six feet away from us.'"
Inocalla said he and his brother tried to explain that they were following the rules — they were standing on the appropriate social distancing marker on the floor, and if they backed up any further, they would be in the other lane. But the man wouldn't listen.
"He keeps on stressing that we need to stay away … he wants us further away from him, as if we are sick, and he's murmuring different derogatory words which I'm not going to mention," said Inocalla. "I was about to cry, honestly, during that time … in my mind, I was just stunned. I was shocked. I still can't believe it, that it happened to us."
Eventually, a manager intervened to tell the man that Inocalla and his family were following the physical distancing protocols appropriately, and encouraged him to leave them alone and go and check out.
At first, Inocalla didn't want to believe the man was being racist, but as he continued yelling, Inocalla thought it was an unavoidable conclusion.
"From the way he insisted that we obviously don't know what we are doing because of my race as an Asian, I felt like I was being discriminated against because of my skin tone," he said.
Anti-Asian discrimination has been on the rise in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to David Arnot, chief commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, hundreds of incidents of hate targeting Asians within Canada have been reported in the last year alone.
"Anxiety, fear and frustration over the coronavirus have fueled xenophobia, racism, hate and discrimination against Asian and Asian-descent communities - but it has also exposed a pre-existing xenophobia, which I think is important to understand," said Arnot.
Arnot said there have been some notable and concerning incidents of anti-Asian discrimination in Saskatchewan due to the pandemic this year, including a 15-year-old being called slurs and physically assaulted, and employees at a restaurant in Saskatoon being subjected to a "barrage of racial slurs" earlier this month.
"Right now, in the midst of this pandemic, there is no room for racism, hate or discrimination," said Arnot. "We all have to work together in this province to emerge from this pandemic much stronger and more unified.
"In Saskatchewan, racism runs very deep in the fabric of our society. Racism is a social norm in this province. … and so this racism has to be called out."
Inocalla said the other customers — strangers — behind his family in line did support them in the moment.
"They kept on apologizing to us and telling the man he doesn't need to do that," he said. "If he wants to talk, just say it calmly. He doesn't need to react like that based on what we look like."
But he worries about how that man — and others like him — see him, his family and the other Asian-Canadians in their lives.
"I hope they don't see us like a kind of sickness," said Inocalla. "We're not the virus. We're humans, too. We don't want this. We're just hoping to be treated like normal people. Don't see us like a threat or a disease."