A New Wave of Hate: Anti-Asian Sentiment on the Rise

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.

Photo: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

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.

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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.

Two Conservative candidates have transphobic policies. Why is no-one talking about this?

In the wake of JK Rowling’s most recent twitter debacle in which she (again) spread transphobic slander, it is clear that transphobia is still a pervasive force in our society, and yes, in Canada too. While facing backlash from many in the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, Rowling only doubled down in her misinformation and hatred. Lets be clear here, transgender and non-binary people have no obligation to defend the validity of their own lived experience. That is the job of allies to the LGBT+ community.

Even in Canada, the denial of the validity of transgender people’s lived existence remains. Two out of the four leadership candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada want to remove protections for transgender people. The platform of Leslyn Lewis specifically says in no uncertain terms that she would like to repeal Bill C-16, which added gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Removing this protection would enable the harassment of trans individuals by allowing them to be misgendered. It would also allow discrimination broadly against trans people in employment, medical services, schooling, and countless other necessary elements of society.

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Derek Sloan is much more aggressive in his transphobia. He has appeared on far right talk shows voicing his transphobic views many times along with other conspiracy theories. In a bizarre policy statement, Sloan said that he wanted to “outlaw transgender surgery for children across Canada” as he thought children as young as five were recieving gender affirming surgeries. This is simply not a thing that happens.


Children that young do not undergo any type of surgery related to transitioning. Puberty blockers are prescribed as children undergo puberty to give them more time to grow and understand the direction they would like to take. The WPATH standard of care recommends cross-sex hormones be given at the age of majority (in Canada this is 18 or 19, depending on the province or territory), although it can happen earlier.

This is all in a context of a country which, before European settlers arrived in the land now known as Canada, Indigenous cultures had a variety of conceptions of gender that goes back as far as time itself, according to their traditions. This has been the case throughout the entire world.

By denying the validity of being transgender, it is transgender individuals being erased and marginalized

So, why is what JK Rowling said, wrong?

In short, there are two main problems: she is missing the division between sex and gender, and she is erasing transgender people’s existence, while claiming that woman’s existence is being erased.

Every major health and scientific organization has made the distinction between sex and gender, and has acknowledged that some individuals may have a sense of gender that does not align with their ‘biological sex’. Despite the use of the phrase ‘biological sex’ to mean binary sex by conservatives, there is a wide variety different genetic, hormonal, and physiological variation within the range of biological sex. And on top of that, there is a wide variety among individuals in the way they experience their ‘psychological gender.’ The Canadian Psychological Association clearly states:

The Canadian Psychological Association affirms that all adolescent and adult persons have the right to define their own gender identity regardless of chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role. Moreover, all adolescent and adult persons have the right to free expression of their self-defined gender identity.

The Canadian Psychological Association opposes stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination on the basis of chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role, or on the basis of a self-defined gender identity or the expression thereof in exercising all basic human rights. (October 2010)

By denying the validity of being transgender, it is transgender individuals being erased and marginalized, not women, as Rowling claims.

It’s not just the Canadian Psychological Association that support trans people. Similar scientific and health organizations in the USA, UK, United Nations, and the World Health Organization have all moved in the same direction. The science is very clear.

So what’s an ally to the Trans community to do?

We need to support policies that have beneficial outcomes for Trans people. A meta-analysis of 55 studies has definitively informed us that transitioning improves the overall well-being of transgender people.

We also know that puberty blockers, affirming medical professionals, and sex reassignment surgery have incredibly beneficial outcomes for trans individuals’ mental health and productivity.

Parental support and supportive organizations can reduce the likelihood of younger individuals from attempting committing suicide from 57% to 4%.

We need to affirm and support Transgender people wherever possible, and defend the protections put in place with Bill C-16. Transphobia is still a very strong force in Canada, and must be stamped out.