Advocates for Asian Canadians are calling for improvements in the federal government’s anti-racism strategy to deal with rising anti-Asian racism.
Avvy Go, executive director of the Chinese and South Asian Legal Clinic in Toronto, said the strategy did not specifically mention anti-Asian racism in its basic policy document. The document cites anti-black and anti-indigenous racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as key targets.
“This is a serious flaw in the current strategy,” Go told TBEN News.
“We hope that the government will change the strategy and, more importantly, develop concrete actions to combat racism in all its forms.”
The call comes amid a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes across the country and abroad during the pandemic.
According to a report released in March by the Chinese Canadian National Council, more than 1,150 cases of anti-Asian racism were reported on two websites – COVIDRacism.ca and elev8hate.org – between March 10, 2020 and February 28, 2021. Misinformation and racist beliefs about the novel coronavirus first appearing in China are behind the upsurge in attacks, the authors wrote.
In Vancouver, the police department reported that anti-Asian hate crimes rose from just 12 cases in 2019 to 98 in 2020, a 717% increase.
And Statistics Canada data released in July 2020 suggests that Canadians of Asian origin were more likely to report an increase in racial or ethnic harassment during the pandemic than the rest of the population. The largest increase was seen among people of Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian descent.
Go, a Canadian citizen born in Hong Kong, said she has had several frightening experiences herself.
“In one particular incident, when I was walking home, someone spat on me,” she said.
“Almost every Chinese Canadian I know has gone through something, an incident in the past year, whether it’s people yelling at them, telling them to go back to China, or being denied service. ..
“Anti-Asian racism is currently in crisis.”
Targeting systemic racism in government and communities
The Federal Anti-Racism Strategy, introduced in 2019, commits the government to “laying the groundwork for change by removing barriers and promoting a country where everyone is able to fully participate and have an equal chance to succeed. “.
The strategy calls for a “whole-of-government approach” to address systemic racism in federal policies and programs, to empower communities, and to raise awareness and educate the public.
The government has allocated $ 45 million over three years to implement the strategy – $ 4.5 million for an anti-racism secretariat in the public service, $ 30 million for community projects, $ 6 million to Statistics Canada to collect better data and $ 5 million to fight online disinformation and hate speech.
In her government’s fall economic statement, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland committed an additional $ 50 million to anti-racism initiatives over two years.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Canadian Heritage said 85 community projects worth $ 15 million had already been funded under the strategy.
Some of that money went to anti-Asian racism-related initiatives – including one to counter COVID-19 disinformation affecting Vancouver’s Chinese and Vietnamese language communities and one that examines the presence of hate online on media platforms in Chinese language in Canada.
“While [the anti-racism strategy] is already committed to combating racism and discrimination in all its forms, we recognize that anti-Asian racism must be specifically referenced in the strategy, ”wrote department spokesperson Amélie Mathieu in an email.
Mathieu listed a number of other measures the government has taken to tackle anti-Asian racism, including consulting with Asian Canadians to ensure their needs inform the government’s response to COVID-19. .
She said the government is also working to diversify the civil service, open up economic opportunities for racialized communities and better collect data based on race.
But critics argue that, two years after the strategy began, progress has been slow.
Permanent funding is needed, advocates say
Shalini Konanur, executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, said the goal must go beyond funding community projects to a holistic review of how government policies and programs disadvantage people. racialized.
She said the anti-racist secretariat does not have the resources to do this work.
“Many of the issues that need to be addressed are systemic issues within government. [such as] barriers in income support, in immigration and employment legislation, ”Konanur said.
“As it is, [the secretariat is] limited in the work they can do. ”
Konanur said the Anti-Racism Secretariat should be funded at a similar level to Women and Gender Equality Canada – a fully-fledged federal department with an average annual budget of $ 134 million between 2018 and 2022.
“If Canada is now serious about tackling racism … the budget really needs to provide sufficient resources to make this secretariat fully functional and capable of going through government and looking at the various ways in which systemic racism creates barriers.” ”Konanur said.
Defenders call for a national action plan
Go and Konanur are part of a coalition of groups that submitted a plan to Freeland’s office ahead of the next federal budget.
Their proposal asks the government to: increase funding for the anti-racism secretariat and make it permanent; develop a comprehensive national action plan to guide its work; develop a stronger mandate for the collection of race-based data; and pass a law that would enshrine the anti-racism secretariat and other anti-racism programs into law so that they cannot be scrapped by a future government with different priorities.
NDP MP Jenny Kwan also urged the federal government to take stronger action against anti-Asian racism.
Kwan questioned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the issue in the House of Commons last month. Trudeau responded by saying that the rise in anti-Asian hatred and racism is “horrible” and “unacceptable” and reiterated the government’s commitment to combat it.
“The prime minister is often quick to speak out against these actions, but we need more than that, more than words to respond to them,” Kwan said. “We must all condemn these actions and then follow up [with] action to make sure we are addressing these issues holistically. “
The NDP obtained unanimous consent from members of the House of Commons to pass two motions at the end of March – one which called on the government to include anti-Asian racism in the Anti-Racism Strategy and another which called for action against hate crimes in Canada.
Kwan said every police department in Canada should have a hate crimes unit made up of officers with the proper training – which she says is not currently the case. She also called on the government to review its current and past policies with a view to changing those that disadvantage racialized people.