Toronto launches new campaign in response to anti-Asian racism spurred by COVID-19

The City of Toronto will increase its efforts to combat anti-Asian racism after a new report found a sharp uptick in racist incidents targeting Chinese Canadians since the start of the pandemic.

Assaults make up nearly a third of anti-Asian incidents reported during the pandemic

Toronto is home to nearly 700,000 people of Chinese descent, according to Statistics Canada. A new report found those residents are facing increasingly frequent acts of racism. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The City of Toronto will increase its efforts to combat anti-Asian racism after a new report found a sharp uptick in racist incidents targeting Chinese Canadians since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Figures compiled by the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) show that more than 600 incidents of anti-East Asian racism have been reported since the emergence of COVID-19.

Nearly a third of the reported incidents (30 per cent) involved a form of assault, including targeted coughing, spitting or physical violence.

"I'm saddened but not that surprised, and maybe that's part of being saddened," said Gary Yee, a member of the CCNC's board of directors.

More than a quarter of the anti-Asian racist incidents reported across Canada during the pandemic have taken place in Toronto, the CCNC report found.

Several reports compiled since the start of the pandemic have revealed a similar rise in anti-Asian racism across Canada. Anti-Asian sentiment started rising when reports surfaced in late February and March that the novel coronavirus pandemic that ravaged Wuhan, China in late 2019 had found its way to this country.

Yee, who has lived in Toronto since he was five years old, said the current rise in anti-Asian racism has made him increasingly uncomfortable when moving about the city.

"I could always feel at home in this city, in this country, and when I see these things happening and I hear about the fears, when I feel some of the discomfort, it just impacts you in different ways; it impacts your daily life and how you feel being part of this city," Yee said.

Gary Yee, a board member with the Chinese Canadian National Council, says the City of Toronto's participation in the campaign lends 'leadership and authority' to the cause. (Zoom)

The report, which also included a poll of more than 500 people of Chinese ethnicity across Canada, found that 50 per cent of respondents said they've been called names or insulted as a direct result of the pandemic.

Sixty-one per cent of respondents said they've adjusted their routines "in order to avoid unpleasant encounters."

New city campaign 'one step among many'

"Against the backdrop of the global pandemic, we have seen a significant rise in anti-Asian racism, in forms of micro aggression, verbal harassment and even physical violence," said Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents Ward 13, Toronto Centre.

"World leaders like Donald Trump who insist on calling COVID-19 the 'Chinese virus' [are] furthering an environment of hate and anti-Asian racism that enables racist bullying of Asian children in schools and anti-immigrant violence in other civic spaces," Wong-Tam told CBC Toronto.

The new initiative to confront anti-Asian racism becomes part of the city's Toronto For All campaign, a public education program that has previously been used to address other forms of discrimination, including anti-Black racism and Islamaphobia. The CCNC is contributing to this edition of the program.

Past campaigns in the Toronto For All series have included advertisements on public transit and online educational materials that cover actions to combat racism.

Yee said the program becomes "one small step among many" in the larger fight to promote equality and inclusion in Toronto.

"It's like grains of sand on the beach," he said.

"You can't analyze each activity, each response by itself; everything helps and we certainly think this can help."