The Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, Ontario (FACL Ontario) is concerned about a recent wave of reported incidents involving discrimination against Asian-Canadians in relation to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. These incidents have ranged from misinformed fearmongering to malicious online attacks and public expressions of bigotry. Their common denominator is the conflation of the origins of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus with ethnically Chinese people and people of Asian descent more broadly. This kind of reaction has no factual or scientific basis and is rooted in prejudice.
FACL Ontario condemns this behaviour and expresses its support for the Asian-Canadian community and those who have been targeted.
These incidents are unfortunately reminiscent of the discrimination faced by Asian-Canadians during the 2003 SARS outbreak. A 2004 report, “Yellow Peril Revisited: The Impact of SARS on Chinese and Southeast Asian Communities”, examined the impact of the SARS outbreak on Asian-Canadians, and found pervasive discrimination, harassment, and marginalization in workplaces and public settings. People avoided restaurants and businesses in the Chinese community and shunned individuals with Asian backgrounds. It is critical that we remember these experiences and ensure that they do not continue.
Insensitive language has also increasingly proliferated in discussions of the Novel Coronavirus. As only one example, articles from news organizations, such as The Globe and Mail, have repeatedly referred to the Novel Coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus” or “Wuhan coronavirus”. This is not based on any practice or guidance by public health authorities, and only encourages the stigmatization of Wuhan residents and people from China more generally. Promoting this branding also contributes to the racialization of diseases such as the Novel Coronavirus and fans the flames of racial stereotyping.
FACL Ontario calls on journalists, news organizations and other public sources of information to exercise greater responsibility and cultural sensitivity in reporting on the Novel Coronavirus.
FACL Ontario also calls on political leaders at all levels of government to be proactive in combatting misperceptions and discrimination during this time. As the situation continues to develop, FACL Ontario will continue to engage with its members, relevant stakeholders, and decision-makers to ensure that we are all vigilant in addressing prejudice against people of Asian descent.
For information on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus and how to prepare for it, we encourage relying on the official guidance of public health agencies including Toronto Public Health, Public Health Ontario, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
For those who have experienced discrimination and want to understand their legal options, please contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre or the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.