The Chinese Canadian National Council's Toronto chapter is calling on governments to take anti-Asian racism more seriously after it compiled the results of two surveys that tallied more than 1,000 occurrences of racism against Asian Canadians since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Racism has always been a part of growing up in Canada," said Justin Kong, executive director of the council's Toronto chapter, one of the groups that collaborated on the report, which is set to be released Tuesday morning.
"What has changed with the pandemic is people feel like people that look like me are responsible for the pandemic. Our communities have been scapegoated as being responsible for this virus and the ones who started this virus and spread this virus, and so that is something that we carry with us every day."
The report points to how quickly the coronavirus became racialized after the first known infections were discovered in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It was also repeatedly called the "China virus" by prominent figures such as former U.S. president Donald Trump and by some in the conservative media.
Once duplicate reports were weeded out, there were 1,150 instances of anti-Asian racism reported through two websites, COVIDRacism.ca and elimin8hate.org, between March 10, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021. The council continues to collect data from the sites.
The information was collected through self-reporting surveys in English, French and simplified and traditional Chinese. The respondents were given the option of leaving contact information or remaining anonymous. Analysts used IP addresses and geolocation software to verify geographical information.
The council's researchers then dug into a subset of the data to analyze more closely the types of interactions reported. For that, they looked at 643 incidents reported between March 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020.
The types of racism reported ran the gamut from physical assault to verbal assault to insults and vandalism.
The analysis, which confirmed cases in every province, included the following findings:
44 per cent of cases were reported in British Columbia and 40 per cent were reported in Ontario.
60 per cent of the victims identified as women.
11 per cent of cases included violent physical assault or unwanted contact.
10 per cent of cases included being coughed or spat on.
Most cases of racism in public spaces
The report also found that elderly people, young people and those in low-income jobs or who did not speak English were more vulnerable to attacks. According to the data, most incidents occurred in public spaces such as parks, streets or sidewalks.
Restaurants, grocery stores and other food-sector locations were the site of nearly one-fifth of the incidents. Nearly 10 per cent of the reported cases took place on public transit.
The release of the report comes one week after the shooting deaths on March 16 of six Asian women at spas in Atlanta, which is something Kong says the community fears could happen in Canada.
"It's really disturbing, because I think the Atlanta incident really illustrates what happens when that anti-Asian violence is taken to the full extent," he said. "To see that and to know that it can happen any time is something that I think many people are very scared about.
"I think our government needs to take it more seriously." he said.
In the past week there have been rallies against anti-Asian racism in several North American cities, including Montreal, ignited in part by the killings in the U.S.
In February, the Vancouver Police Department confirmed that anti-Asian attacks have increased 717 per cent over the past year, from 12 to 142 cases, including a violent assault on an elderly man with dementia.
Following the release of those numbers, B.C. Premier John Horgan pushed for violent incidents involving people of colour to be treated as hate crimes.
Statistics Canada has yet to release its full data on how the pandemic has impacted Asian Canadians, but in June it released a survey in which nearly 30 per cent of Chinese participants said they experienced an increase in race-based harassment or attacks since the start of the pandemic.
'I am afraid to look people in the eye'
"I always locked the door when I was home, but now that's, like, one of the first things that I do," Pak-Kei Wong said in an interview with CBC News. "I actually check it a few times to make sure that my door is locked."
The Montrealer says he no longer feels as safe as he did before the pandemic. It started in January of last year, when he noticed how much space others were giving him on the Metro. Then in April, as he walked along a Westmount street, a car slowed down, the window was rolled down and someone yelled at him to "go home."
"Now I am afraid to look people in the eye," he said.
Wong said he is now more mindful of his surroundings and who might be approaching him, and he feels less safe at night.
"Like, it could happen to me. I could be walking down the street, minding my own business and I could be assaulted," he said. "That's a genuine fear."
He added, "It makes me feel unsafe that these things are happening."
Report calls for action
The council's report calls for immediate action and more resources for anti-racism education and training, social supports for victims and comprehensive policies to prevent the spread of misinformation and language that could incite hate on social media.
It also pushes for changes to better protect the most vulnerable, including seniors, those with limited English fluency, low-income individuals, women, front-line workers, those without permanent immigration status, LGBTQ+ community members and those with mental health issues.
The report recommends there be more support for small business — especially in the food sector — arguing that Asian business owners have been hit not just by the economic impact of pandemic lockdowns but also by the racial stigmatization of the sector.
Amy Go, president of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, is also calling for concrete action in Ottawa to address the problem.
"While the prime minister has spoken up publicly, we have not seen a parliamentary motion to put this in our Parliament so that there is a clear condemnation of hate against Asians,"' Go said.
"Without that kind of clear commitment, I'm very worried that this is just going to continue without much attention."
On Monday, Parliament unanimously passed a motion introduced by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to condemn and commit to doing more to stop anti-Asian racism, but the motion is non-binding.
Heritage Canada, which oversees Canada's anti-racism and hate speech strategy, did not initially respond to a request for comment, but sent an email statement Tuesday afternoon after publication.
"The government of Canada fully denounces all forms of hate and discrimination, including anti-Asian racism," it said.
It said it has provided funding to grassroots and community groups to tackle discrimination but also said it would be redoubling its efforts in several areas, including taking action against online hate and creating economic opportunities to counter racial discrimination.
Go said urgent action is needed because both the events in Atlanta and the report suggest women, especially those in front-line, precarious or low-income employment, are most vulnerable.