Anti-Asian hate crimes spike in Canada

Following a mass shooting in Atlanta that targeted Asian businesses, Canada reckons with its own anti-Asian racism problem

Spikes in anti-Asian hate crimes have been reported all around the world, including here in Canada. Anti-Asian racism has been present throughout the nation’s history, and this year, the Asian community reports racial violence is becoming increasingly aggressive, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent study outlined that over 1,150 incidents of anti-Asian racism were reported in Canada between March 2020 and February 2021. According to a report published by The Chinese Canadian National Council’s Toronto chapter (CCNCTO) and Fight COVID Racism, Vancouver has experienced up to a 700 per cent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes. 

In Montreal, there were 30 hate crimes reported between March and December of 2020, up from just six reported in 2019. Last May, a man of Korean descent was stabbed in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

In September, two victims of Asian descent were killed in a double hit-and-run in Brossard. A 30-year-old man has since been arrested and charged with second degree murder.

Police insisted the hit-and-runs were not hate crimes, but failed to explain why. Both victims were of East Asian descent; Huiping Ding, 45, was Chinese, and Gérard Chong Soon Yuen, 50, was Korean.

This year on March 11, a man of Korean descent was walking in the Plateau when he was attacked with pepper spray in broad daylight. Initially, police were not investigating the incident as a hate crime, although the victim considered the incident to be one. However, following media coverage, the hate crimes squad was brought in to investigate. The victim, a man identified as Nicolas, detailed that while he was carrying “the latest iPhone, the latest Apple Watch, the latest iPad and MacBook Pro,” but his attackers made no effort to rob him.

Days later on March 16, breaking news of a mass shooting in Georgia reported eight dead, six of whom were Asian women. A 21-year-old white gunman targeted three separate Asian-owned spas in Acworth and Atlanta. The shootings sparked outrage among Asian communities across the U.S., with protests held in Atlanta and New York the same weekend.

In the wake of that tragedy, Montreal community leaders organized a march against anti-Asian racism on March 21. Organizers led thousands of supporters on a three kilometre march from Cabot Square to Chinatown, stopping at Quebec Premier François Legault’s office on Sherbrooke Street. Activists demanded acknowledgement of the sharp rise in anti-Asian sentiment within Quebec. Premier Legault continues to deny the existence of systemic racism in the province.

Speeches made by leaders of Montreal’s Asian community outlined Canada and Quebec’s own colonial and historically racist treatment of Asians. Cathy Wong, councillor of the Peter-McGill district, spoke passionately of the racist history that the Asian community has endured.

“We march in remembrance of our history, as racism against Asians did not begin yesterday. It was not born from the pandemic. We march in remembrance of our history because our history is coloured by racist laws that excluded the Chinese — targeting our great grandparents, despite building railroads in exchange for dreams of a new life,” Wong said to the crowd in French.

Among the speakers was part-time Concordia professor Jinyoung Kim, who identifies as Korean-Canadian. Four of the six Asian women who were killed in Atlanta were of Korean descent.

“[It became] an immediate reality for me and for my friends, my parents, and everyone I know with Asian bodies in North America,” she said, before describing the threat of violence against Asians in the last year. “It’s been a year of fighting for justice, and it feels like nothing has gotten better.”

“I feel deeply the traumas that my BIPOC students go through,” Kim said, speaking of her Studio Arts students at Concordia. “I have heard stories from my students.”

The Atlanta shootings have sparked conversations about the fetishization of Asian women, with many activists citing the gendered violence and racism that Asian women face. In a press conference held shortly after the shootings, law enforcement officials said that the gunman confessed to the shootings, but denied racial motivations behind the attacks. Instead, the shooter saw Asian women as “temptations that he had to eliminate,” that he had a “sex addiction,” and that it was a “bad day.”

Following the Atlanta shootings, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement saying, “While we have made progress toward a more just and equal society, more still needs to be done, and the Government of Canada remains committed to this work.”

On March 22, New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh introduced the Anti-Asian Hate motion, which passed in the House of Commons. The motion called for the federal government to “properly fund” hate crime units across Canada, and make efforts to “identify best practices in countering this trend.”

But Singh echoed the sentiments of many, tweeting in response, “Justin Trudeau needs to do more than offer words, he needs to act,” in order to combat anti-Asian violence.  


Photographs by Christine Beaudoin

O Canada… Whose home and native land?

Canada is finally breaking the silence around anti-Asian racism

Ever since I’ve been old enough to recognize patterns of race and gender-based discrimination in society, my mother has denied being a victim of either of those things.

My Taiwanese mother immigrated here over 20 years ago. Single-handedly, after only a few years of living here, she had bought a house and started taking French classes offered by the Quebec government’s immigrant integration services — the fourth language she would be learning after Hokkien, Mandarin, and English.

I’ve witnessed her being talked down to by bureaucrats at government offices and had countless store employees turn to face me to answer a question she had asked, sometimes with a look on their face that was asking me to relate to their deliberate misunderstanding of her Chinese accent. As a teenager, I remember looking at my sister as we drove past someone who had just yelled out a racial slur and commented on our mom’s driving. I’ve never rolled up my window so fast. To this day, I’m still glad she didn’t hear it.

And yet, despite all this, my mom is probably the person I know who is the most optimistic about the social climate of Canada; she’s never let her optimism and gratitude towards the country be clouded by microaggressions and negativity.

I was on exchange in Singapore when COVID first hit, when the western world was busy making coronavirus memes instead of planning ahead for an inevitable pandemic. And one day, on a WhatsApp call with my mom, as I was telling her I was okay and was monitoring my temperature every day, she told me she didn’t want to go out too much because there were increasing reports of anti-Chinese violence in Chinatown. She told me there was a lot of racism around Montreal those days.

To say the least, that made me terrified.

East Asians are often dubbed the “model minority”: they have the benefit of a skin tone fairer than other ethnicities’. Some have even said they don’t fall into the “people of colour” category.

And the stereotypes associated with being East Asian, including academic excellence, obedience, bring really good at martial arts, and eating dogs are frankly not as harmful as being associated with inherent violence, terrorism, and drug addiction.

They also experience discrimination to a lesser degree than other visible minorities; Chinese people in Canada only earn 91 cents for every dollar a white person makes, which is far higher than for, say, Black people, for whom this number is 73 cents.

Yet, the model minority attribution becomes especially toxic when it comes as an excuse to dismiss anti-Asian racism on the belief that Asian people don’t stand up for themselves or fight back. It takes advantage of Asian stereotypes being associated with silence and endurance to double down on bullying, microaggressions, theft, and violence.

In my view, this is why we never heard about anti-Asian hate crimes until the numbers shot up by over 700 per cent in the past year, like the Vancouver Police Department has reported. In Canada alone, community-based groups have reported over 600 cases of racial aggression against Asian people since the start of the spread of COVID-19. In the first four months of 2020, 95 per cent of reported incidents happened in March and April, as the country entered lockdown.

Our generation is pretty good at recognizing and calling out discrimination when we see it, and especially taking a stand against it. But the state of anti-Asian racism in Canada has gotten so bad that even my mother, who has always had so much faith in this country, has noticed and become apprehensive because of it. For a second-generation immigrant, it’s almost worse than seeing your mom cry.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


How microaggressions lead to mass shootings

Freedom of speech ultimately translates to the notion of responsible speech

Racism operates on a spectrum, and all of it matters. Its more extreme versions do not appear out of nowhere. Quite like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, racial violence builds itself on top of its smaller forms. Once a part of the pyramid is normalized and accepted by a dominant group, a higher part starts developing. Like racism against any marginalized group, islamophobia is no exception.

In the wake of the shooting at a mosque in Quebec City a little over two weeks ago, many have wondered how our society has come to this. As Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters following the attack, “We are all responsible,” according to the Montreal Gazette. And it all starts at the bottom of the pyramid: microaggressions.

Yes, a microaggression, despite its unfortunate terminology, does matter. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a microaggression as “a comment or action that is subtly and often unintentionally hostile or demeaning to a member of a minority or marginalized group.” This includes comments about belongings, appearance and preferences (among others) that appear in a person’s daily life.

I won’t bother trying to pronounce your name. Where are you really from? Your parents must be so strict. How’s the war in your country? These remarks suggest that there is an image of who “true” Canadians are, grounded in Eurocentric whiteness and Christianity. The microaggressions alienate people and subconsciously start to form an insidious divide that makes the group as an other in contrast to the imaginary us. They quietly hint that some people just don’t belong.

Then comes prejudice: the over-generalizations, the assumptions and the hatred. Asians are taking my job. All Muslims hate Westerners. Black people are violent criminals. All terrorists are Muslim. The aforementioned divide limits daily experiences that could improve understanding between communities. Instead, the more distant interpersonal relationships become, the less empathetic people are. The marginalized group is dehumanized, reduced to the most sensational headline, and summarized as a general threat to that illusory us.

The fear seems justified now. Time for some old-fashioned discrimination. During the 2013 provincial election, Pauline Marois put up Bill 60: The Quebec Charter of Values—a thinly-veiled attempt at banning civil servants from wearing Islamic headscarves, the most common “obvious religious garment.” While Jews wearing kippas and Sikhs wearing turbans would also be forced to remove their religious items, a poll conducted by CBC in 2014 found that 78 per cent of anglophones and 70 per cent of allophones agreed that the legislation would disproportionately target Muslim women.

Hijabs and niqabs were deemed too conspicuous despite the giant beacon-like cross on Mount Royal and the cross hanging in the National Assembly of Quebec that would be allowed to remain. That bill, along with the many debates on limiting religious accommodation, such as Kellie Leitch’s screening for “anti-Canadian values” and an American travel ban from Muslim-majority countries, turns exclusionary thoughts into discriminatory actions.

The government-sanctioned actions indicate to the general population that this type of discrimination is completely okay. Quebec’s growing xenophobia in “defense of francophonie,” and attitudes adopted from France’s similar anti-immigrant and islamophobic stances set the stage for a terroristic mass shooting. It had all the components of normalizing violence to occur. After all, Alexandre Bissonnette, the alleged shooter, was found to be a keen follower of Trump and Le Pen’s nationalistic rhetoric on social media.

In this whole process, there has been an abuse of so-called freedom of speech. If you think about it as “just political correctness” or “limiting freedom of expression,” I hope you also think about your part in inciting race-based violence in direct and inevitable ways. Nothing you say or do happens in a vacuum. Even the smallest actions can contribute to the greatest tragedies. What you say matters every step of the way.

So act like it.

No one wants to make your comments illegal, but everyone can call you out for their inappropriateness and take measures to correct them. Social consequences should befall anyone who causes societal harm. Just as freedom of the press can be abused, so can freedom of speech. After all, they both influence social cohesion and the well-being of others. Freedom of speech means assuming responsibility for your speech.

Please consider your role in the ongoing tensions. You may not have fired the gun, but you helped load the bullets.

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