'It just strikes fear through your heart': Asian Canadian MPs speak out against racism after Atlanta shootings

Three Asian Canadian MPs joined CBC's Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday to talk about anti-Asian racism after white gunman killed eight people, including six Asian women, in Atlanta.

Jenny Kwan, Han Dong and Michael Chong discuss discrimination they've faced

MPs weigh in on growth of anti-Asian racism in Canada

2 years ago
Duration 11:29
After a gunman killed eight people, including six Asian women, in Atlanta on March 16, many Asian Canadians are calling for more to be done about anti-Asian racism in Canada. Three MPs discuss how to address the problem and their own experiences with discrimination. Watch Rosemary Barton Live on Sundays at 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT/11:30 a.m. NT on CBC News Network and CBC Gem.

Members of Parliament are speaking out against anti-Asian racism days after a white gunman killed eight people, including six Asian women, in Atlanta.

"It just strikes fear through your heart," said NDP MP Jenny Kwan, who represents the riding of Vancouver East, in a panel discussion on CBC's Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday. The discussion featuring three Asian Canadian MPs coincided with International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

A 21-year-old white man was arrested and charged with murder Wednesday after shootings at three massage parlours. The attack sent terror through Asian communities across North America that have been increasingly targeted during the coronavirus pandemic.

Police have said the suspect in the Atlanta shootings told them his actions were not racially motivated, but Asian communities say the violent shooting fits a pattern that's become all too familiar since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

"It is a symptom of a deeper problem," Han Dong, Liberal MP for Don Valley North, said of the Atlanta shooting. "Systemic racism on Asian Canadians and Americans has always been there."

Data from Statistics Canada released in July 2020 suggests that Canadians with Asian backgrounds were more likely to report noticing increased racial or ethnic harassment during the pandemic. The largest increase was seen among people of Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian descent.

A separate report prepared by the Chinese Canadian National Council in September 2020 found that Canadians have reported more anti-Asian racist incidents per capita than the U.S. since the start of the pandemic. 

A white gunman was charged Wednesday with killing eight people at three Atlanta-area massage parlors in an attack on Tuesday. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/The Associated Press)

MPs not immune to discrimination

All three MPs on the panel said they have experienced anti-Asian racism.

"Some people have even taken to calling the coronavirus, COVID-19, the 'Kwan virus,'" said Kwan, who was born in Hong Kong. "That's directly attacking me as an Asian Canadian."

Michael Chong, the Conservative MP for Wellington—Halton Hills, said he experiences discrimination regularly in emails and social media posts directed at him — racism that predates the pandemic.

"As the first Canadian of Chinese descent elected from the province of Ontario, I know full well firsthand what it is like to be subject to Asian discrimination," said Chong.

Chong said discrimination can be fuelled by rhetoric and comments from political leaders and other public figures, such as former U.S. president Donald Trump calling coronavirus the "China virus."

He also referenced comments from former CSIS director Richard Fadden in 2010, when he claimed that several unnamed Canadian politicians were under the sway of the Chinese government.

"Those kinds of comments are not helpful, said Chong. "We have to be very careful in public life about the comments and words that we use."

Dong said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers have shown leadership on the issue by regularly speaking out publicly against racism. Dong added that the Liberal government has implemented a number of programs to tackle anti-Asian racism as part of its Anti-Racism Strategy.

But Kwan said she believes more needs to be done.

"I remain shocked at the fact that across the country not every single police department has a hate crime unit. That just boggles the mind," said Kwan. "Action absolutely is needed, more than just words."

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, CBC's streaming service.

With files from Rosemary Barton, Philip Ling and The Associated Press