Toronto

Chinese Canadians, health officials taking stand against 'unfair stigmatization' during coronavirus outbreak

Amid growing fears around the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese Canadians and public health officials in Toronto say more must be done to avoid a recurrence of the racism and xenophobia experienced during the 2003 SARS outbreak.

Canada has confirmed 2 cases of the new virus, with 1 more presumptive case

People wear masks at the international terminal at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. The two patients with Canada's first confirmed cases of coronavirus arrived at the airport from China last week. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Amid growing fears around the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese Canadians and public health officials in Toronto say more must be done to avoid a recurrence of the racism and xenophobia experienced during the 2003 SARS outbreak.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa and the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice (CCNC-SJ) were among those who addressed those concerns at a news conference Wednesday.

Amy Go, interim president of the CCNC-SJ, called for a renewed effort to prevent "undue and unfair stigmatization" and the spread of panic during the outbreak.

"We are being singled out, we are being stigmatized because of the coronavirus," said Go.

Tory added that he has been particularly troubled by the spread of misinformation and advice that Chinese Canadians should be avoided or quarantined during the outbreak.

"This type of thinking is wrong, it is entirely inconsistent with the advice of our health-care professionals," he said, before voicing his solidarity with Toronto's large Chinese community.

"We stand with them at this time as we always do, and we always will."

Watch | Toronto lawyer warns against discrimination toward Chinese Canadians:

Toronto lawyer Avvy Go describes discrimination against Chinese Canadians during the 2003 SARS outbreak, warning that similar problems could emerge again. 0:51

Health officials say risk remains low

Public health officials have confirmed two cases of the new coronavirus in Canada, both of them in Toronto. However, experts say the risk to the public remains low.

"We know that inaccurate information, misinformation, continues to spread. And this is creating unnecessary stigma against members of our community," said de Villa.

"This is deeply concerning and it is truly disappointing."

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam pointed to discrimination against Chinese Canadians during the 2003 SARS outbreak as a chapter in Toronto's history to avoid repeating. She recalled Chinese Canadians being shunned and businesses losing customers due to unfounded fears.

She said that phenomenon may represent a greater risk than the illness itself.

"There will probably be more harm caused by racism, xenophobia, discrimination, harassment, racial taunts directed specifically toward the Chinese Canadian community and others of Asian descent than will be caused by the coronavirus," she said.

Around 9,000 people recently signed a petition demanding the school board in York Region ban students from school for 17 days if their families had recently visited China. The suburban district north of Toronto has a large Chinese population.

York Region District School Board chair Juanita Nathan warned parents of demonstrating "inadvertent racism" by making assumptions about certain students and their families.

The Greater Toronto Area is home to more than 630,000 people of Chinese descent, according to the latest census information from Statistics Canada gathered in 2016.

The new form of coronavirus has sickened more than 6,000 people and killed 132 in China and has spread to numerous other countries, but the World Health Organization has not declared the outbreak a global public health crisis.

With files from The Canadian Press