The second wave of Covid-19 is here in Canada and many questions loom as to how the future of the pandemic will play out. One thing that is for certain, though, is that a new wave of hate has spread throughout Canada. This is a wave that cannot be weakened via social distancing or lockdowns. This is an infection of hatred: Anti-Asian sentiment has soared since the outset of the pandemic.
There are legitimate reasons to be critical of the Chinese government, at the behest of Xi Jinping, for their handling the Covid-19 pandemic. They clearly tried to suppress information during late 2019 and early 2020. Doctors and other whistleblowers such as Li Wenliang were silenced for warning others of mysterious pneumonia cases in Wuhan. Li paid the ultimate price, dying of Covid-19 on February 7, 2020.
What isn’t legitimate is to lump all Chinese (and other East Asian) people together and blame them for being the cause of the pandemic. This is clear-cut scapegoating.
Hate Crimes on the Rise
As early as July Vancouver police were warning of noticeable increases in reported anti-Asian hate crimes. By September hate crimes against Asian people had grown by a staggering 878%. Racists caused 9 hate crimes in the fist 9 months of 2019. In 2020, 88 cases have been reported during the same time period. This is in Vancouver alone. Toronto and other cities across Canada are reporting similar trends.
Other ethnicities such as Indigenous people have also been caught up in this new wave. Racists aren’t known for their ability to distinguish between different ethnicities, for obvious reasons. They’re just not a very bright bunch.
A great deal of research has established that the vast majority of hate crimes and incidents go unreported. A poll in BC has corroborated this: “Since March, one-in-four residents of East Asian and South Asian descent have endured racial slurs or insults,” says Mario Canseco, of Research Co.
One in four. Think about how shocking that is, for a country that prides itself as being a beacon of multiculturalism, diversity, and tolerance.
Statistics Canada released a report detailing perceptions of personal safety. For white people (not a visible minority) about 6% reported racial or ethnic harassment or attacks. This number jumps to 31% for Chinese people and about 27% for Korean people. People of East-Asian descent occupy the top 5 spots of feeling unsafe in their own country during the pandemic.
What Trump says matters in Canada too
Since taking office in January 2020, Donald Trump has presided over a presidency with a noticeable increase in hate crimes and incidents, including a spillover into Canada too. Trump has consistently referred to the novel coronavirus, currently out of control in his own country, in very racist terms. Calling Covid-19 the “Chinese Virus” is extremely problematic, according to the World Health Organization due to the “unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people.”
“In recent years, several new human infectious diseases have emerged. The use of names such as ‘swine flu’ and ‘Middle East Respiratory Syndrome’ has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors,” says Dr Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security, WHO. “This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected. We’ve seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals. This can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”
Ostensibly, Trump claims that he uses this phrasing because he wants to make sure everyone knows that the virus originated in China. Everyone already knows this though, so I ask, what’s the point? What is he really trying to do here?
Why on earth would any rational-minded person conflate an entire country of almost 1.4 billion people with a despotic government? How could that be anything but an intentional demonization of Chinese people?
This type of backward thinking doesn’t halt at the border, unfortunately. Remember when Derek Sloan questioned Theresa Tam’s loyalty to Canada? While Sloan was in the race to become the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, he criticized Canada’s top doctor in a bizarre campaign video. Sloan questioned whether Tam worked “for Canada or for China” and stated that “Dr. Tam must go! Canada must remain sovereign over decisions.” Given that Tam is from British Hong Kong, one wonders about the intent behind those statements.
Not your ordinary Rebel Scum
Speaking of problematic lingo, Ezra Levant has also joined in. Levant is the owner of Rebel News, which boasts 1.39 million followers on his YouTube channel. His newest book is literally called “China Virus: How Justin Trudeau’s Pro Communist Ideology is Putting Canadians in Danger.”
Putting Justin Trudeau and the phrase “Communist Ideology” in the same sentence is a comical leap into fantasy for anyone who has a basic understanding of left-wing ideologies. That aside, clearly Ezra has found a significant audience in alignment with this Trump-like language.
In a YouTube video about his book, he recites the previously mentioned quote from the WHO regarding problematic naming of diseases. His response to the quote? He simply responded that the WHO is dominated by “communist China” and that he is a free person who can say whatever he wants. He also does the classic, “China is not a race, its a country.” Sinophobia, xenophobia, racism: its all the same shit, just in a different pile. Life must be easy when you don’t have to think about the consequences of your actions.
To his (negligible) credit, in his YouTube video Levant does distinguish between the Chinese government and Chinese people in his book. The problem, though, is that not everybody who comes across this book knows that. Not everyone is going to read the book.
Titles and headlines matter, especially in the age of social media. Its is very common these days for social media users to simply skim headlines of articles without actually reading the content. I am not of Asian descent, but if I was, I could easily imagine coming across this book – or worse, a person with this book – and feeling threatened. On the other hand, how many of his supporters wont buy the book and simply be influenced or emboldened by the title? Such questions have no concrete answer but are worth thinking about.
Confront Racism at all costs
It’s 2020, and we still have to deal with this shit. When I say we, I don’t mean white people. Racism is still prevalent in our society, and consequently Asian and other visible minorities are taking the brunt of this new wave.
Anti-Asian riots broke out in Vancouver’s Chinatown in 1907, with banners labelled, “For a White Canada.” It may seem like Canada has progressed far enough past this point and that we will never, as a society, return to this type of thinking. In order to prevent that, we must confront anti-Asian racism wherever we can, so as to prevent normalization in our culture.