It has become a troubling trend in our country: an increase in anti-Asian racism, and it’s something members of Calgary’s Asian community and the Calgary Police Service said are on the rise in the city.
Police said they don’t yet have statistics or a breakdown but noted they have seen a rise in racialized hate crimes towards the Asian community.
“Anecdotally, we can say there has been an increase in hate crimes and hate incidents towards members of our Asian communities in Calgary,” Const. Tamsin MacDonald with CPS’ diversity resource team, Asian and persons of disability portfolio, said.
“We are making that connection, that since the pandemic started, a little over a year ago, the increase in anti-Asian racism specifically can be attributed to a result of COVID-19.”
She said a sense of uneasiness had started at the beginning of the pandemic and there has been an increase over the past year; that concern has gone from online safety issues to feelings of fear about being attacked physically in public.
‘Living in fear’
The increase in racism is no surprise to the community, according to Teresa Woo-Paw, founder of Act2EndRacism, an organization aimed at combatting racism against the Asian community. However, the level of anti-Asian racism has become more blatant and more pervasive, according to Woo-Paw.
“This is no surprise to the community… The fear is really, really high in Alberta,” she said.
“People being spat at and physically assaulted, yelled at — (it’s) part of what we hear almost on a weekly basis for the past 12 months.
“I think the community is very apprehensive, and we have been living in fear for quite some time… but what is different this time is it is more blatant and people are more emboldened.”
It’s why she and many others continue to speak out, especially in light of Tuesday’s mass shooting in Atlanta. Six of the eight people killed were women of Asian descent. The homicides became a flashpoint for rising anti-Asian sentiment in North America.
“You feel for those families, and as impacted communities, we also feel the pain, we share that grief,” Woo-Paw said. “We’ve been living with this rising sense of anxiety, lack of safety, being fearful and worried for our family members for quite some time.”
In Vancouver, anti-Asian hate crimes went up more than 700 per cent between 2019 and 2020. Toronto also saw a spike in hate-related crimes.
‘It’s actually to take action’
Other community members like Jessica Lau are also speaking out against the rise in anti-Asian racism.
Last summer, Lau was on a skateboard when a man on a bicycle spit at her and then directed a racial slur towards her. The incident was captured on video, and the man was quickly identified.
For the first time since the summer, Lau rewatched that video and described a feeling of disappointment.
“I didn’t think that looking at the video would bring up other emotions but it’s triggering, disappointing and sad,” Lau said.
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“One of the reasons why I kind of decided to speak out here is just thinking that if that happened to my mom or my grandma or I mean, even to me, right? It’s not OK.
“We have the voice that we’ve never had before. I think it’s so important to use that to make a change now, and it’s not only to tweet and to post on social media saying that this is an issue but it’s actually to take action. Speaking about it is great, but without action, there’s nothing that’s going to happen.”
Other community members like Carmen Cheng of FoodKarmaBlog also spoke out about anti-Asian racism.
Cheng acknowledged she has not experienced any direct instances of racism throughout the pandemic but said she’s heard of direct violence against others, providing an example of a senior being pushed in Vancouver and suffering injuries as a result.
“I think one of the racism issues I’ve seen is that there has been a tolerance for how Asians are portrayed: docile, submissive. I think a lot of Asians are taught as children to not cause issues or draw attention… It almost leaves our vulnerable population more at risk,” Cheng said.
“Our elderly who have kept to themselves and tried to not draw attention are attacked.”
An Angus Reid Institute survey from June 2020 of 500 Canadians of Chinese ethnicity found half were called names or insulted because of COVID-19, and a large number say they were threatened.
“(Fifty per cent) report being called names or insulted as a direct result of the COVID-19 outbreak, and a plurality (43 per cent) further say they’ve been threatened or intimidated,” the survey found.
The survey also revealed that a majority thought people of Chinese ethnicity were to blame for the virus, with only 13 per cent believing that they were seen as fully Canadian “all the time.”