Myka Jaymalin says she remembers the final straw that made her quit her customer-service job in the summer of 2020.
Working in a downtown Toronto restaurant, she says she was used to one-off confrontations with some diners. But the aggression from one customer that day was different.
“He told me: ‘If you can’t f–king speak English — if you can’t understand English — then why would you even work in this industry?'” said Jaymaylin, who is now the chairperson of Anakbayan Toronto, a Filipino youth organization.
Advocates say the kind of aggression Jaymalin faced is not only common for Asian people, many of whom have been working in public-facing and precarious jobs throughout the pandemic, it can escalate into violence. They’ve been ringing the alarm since attacks on Asians began after the first known COVID-19 cases were discovered in China, and when six Asian women were killed in a series of shootings in the Atlanta area last year.
Despite this, a new report shows incidents of anti-Asian racism in Canada are increasing.
Released by the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter (CNCTO) and a grassroots organization called Project 1907, the survey says there were 943 reports of racist incidents across Canada last year, a 47-per-cent increase over 2020. Women continue to submit the majority of complaints, but reports by children and adolescents increased by 286 per cent.
Violent attacks were also a continued trend, with a 42-per-cent increase in Asians reporting being coughed at or spat on. Organizations warn the true number of such attacks is much higher.
The data, which was collected from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2021, is unsurprising, says Kennes Lin, the Anti-Asian racism adviser for CCNCTO.
“The pandemic has been long. We are tired, we are frustrated,” said Lin.
“But still, that does not give permission for the increase of cases or the excuse of using individuals who are East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian as scapegoats for what is happening.”
‘A very sad reality’ in Canada
The report shows hate incidents reported by South Asian and Southeast Asian people increased by 318 per cent and 121 per cent respectively.
Samya Hasan, the executive director of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, says since many women from these countries also practise religions like Islam, xenophobia and Islamophobia play a role in the increased reports.
She says when the group holds workshops or anti-hate social campaigns for members of their community, they’re subject to ridicule and attack themselves — which are not always successfully pursued as hate crimes by police.
“I think it starts with the fact that during the pandemic, there’s a lot of people online and in unsecured spaces,” said Hasan. “Those unsecured spaces are no longer safe spaces for racialized women, and they’re often seen as the easy target by people that are spreading hate.”
Hasan says for South and Southeast Asian women, the act of dressing in a way that identifies their culture or religion often makes them even more of a target.
“That is a very sad reality in a country like Canada.”
No respondents wanted offenders charged
According to the report, more than 80 per cent of people who reported an incident are either looking for more public education, collective action or policy reform.
No claimant wanted punitive action against the aggressors, 75 per cent of whom are white men, according to the submissions.
Lin says since many racialized groups distrust the police, this underscores why support should be directed to spreading awareness and strengthening community groups.
“It really reflects the need for further efforts to provide context and visibility of anti-Asian racism to the wider public,” said Lin.
“It also implies that there’s a desire to respond in a long-term systemic way that prevents or mitigates harm in the future.”
The report calls for:
- More long-term funding for Asian community organizations.
- The creation of culturally and linguistically accessible anti-racism programs.
- More representation of Asian women in decision-making processes.
- The passing of Ontario’s Bill 86, which outlines specific measures to combat Islamophobia and hate crimes.
Lin says while anti-Asian hate needs to be eradicated, so do all forms of oppression against minorities.
“We understand that all the racism and oppressions are connected,” she said.
“And we see that it’s all connected with a colonial past that is continually perpetrated today.”
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