Councillor Rawlson King introduced a motion at City Council on October 28, 2020 which was successfully carried, condemning recent instances of Anti-East Asian Racism.
I wish fervently that I didn’t have to bring forward this motion, but the reality is that racism exists in many forms and in all places.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has only reinforced and accelerated what we all know: Racism continues to impact our city.
And to be clear, the motion before us today about Anti-East Asian racism, doesn’t diminish the other forms of racism. Anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism and racism against Indigenous people have long existed in Canada.
Increasing reports of instances of racism against people of Asian descent began to emerge early on in 2020 as COVID-19 began to take hold. Even before the declaration of a pandemic, Chinese and other Asian restaurants in our City saw drops in patrons. Businesses run by Asian-Canadians reported instances of patrons questioning whether it was safe to be there – despite many of these people never having set foot in Wuhan. Accelerated no doubt by the extremist rhetoric in the United States, more overt acts of racism began being reported throughout Canada.
The Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, in conjunction with other groups, with funding from Heritage Canada, has been collecting data about racist incidents across Canada. This community led, national collaboration of data collection, is the first of its kind. In its report released in September, it catalogued 600 incidents reported since the onset of COVID-19. Worryingly, women are impacted most, reporting 60 percent of all incidents.
The Angus Reid institute surveyed 500 Canadians of Chinese ethnicity. In their report in June 2020, half of all respondents have been called names or insulted as a result of COVID-19 and a plurality, 43 percent further say they have been threatened or intimidated.
Statistics Canada’s wider sample in September has indicated that 28 percent of participants in their surveys have reported experiencing discrimination during the pandemic with women encountering this more than men. It is consistent with earlier reporting in May that demonstrated that 1 in 5 respondents identifying as a visible minority had encountered harassment or attacks, double that of the rest of the population
What do these instances of hate look like? Name calling, spitting, harassment, and physical assault. Graffiti on businesses. Phrases such as "you brought the virus here" and "go back to where you came from". The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Dr Theresa Tam, has had her ability and loyalty questioned by a Member of Parliament simply because she is of Chinese descent. All of these instances serve to continue the "perpetual foreigner" myth. That no matter how long you’ve been here, if you were born in Canada, your family has been here for generations - it didn’t matter anymore because of how you look. At its core, this is what racism is about. It is about judging someone purely by their appearance, by the colour of their skin.
Before anybody tells us that this doesn’t happen in Ottawa, it does. Latest statistics from the Ottawa Police indicate that there have been at least 14 instances this year of reported hate crimes due to someone being of East or South-East Asian descent. This is a 600 percent increase on the year to date statistics, and the number of non-reported cases is likely much much higher.
While I understand the apprehension of some to report, the Ottawa Police have asked that all instances of hate crimes, regardless of how trivial they may seem, are reported. It builds a fuller picture of what is happening in the City and allows for proper resource allocation.
Instances that have happened in Ottawa include a couple in a vehicle following Asian people around Nepean yelling racial slurs obscenities and swearing in May. Spitting on the car of a man having a meal in a restaurant. Or the incident at the Rideau Centre where the assailant stated that being forced to wear a mask made him want to quote "kill Asians." I remind my colleagues that these are the incidents we hear of and just the recent examples. Long before these recent spates of hate, research done by our friends at Somerset West Community Health Centre in focus groups with Chinese seniors told us that people are racist and aggressive to them on public transit.
Today’s motion follows similar motions made by City Councils in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. It echoes the call to action that our colleagues in Toronto have made, to bring attention and the need to combat racism in the City. As community leaders, we have the obligation to set the tone for our City. We have the responsibility to take action and encourage all citizens of our City to be part of the solution.
I ask my colleagues to join myself and Councillor McKenney in stating that we unequivocally denounce these instances of Anti-East Asian Racism, and that we do not tolerate racism, in any of its forms. In asking our City staff to launch a public information campaign we’re calling on every single citizen of Ottawa to actively be involved. If you witness these instances of racism against anyone - don’t stand by - be an ally.