Anti-Asian hate: Not just a pandemic problem

Disturbing trends shed light on disproportionate hate towards the Asian population in British Columbia

Since the onset of COVID-19, a massive uptick in incidents of anti-Asian racism in Canada has been reported to and Project 1907, a grassroots group made up of Asian women who aim to elevate Asian voices that are underrepresented in mainstream political, social and cultural discourse, detailed “disturbing trends and patterns” in data combined from both websites back in September.

 Following recent violent attacks on Asian Diasporas in Atlanta, Georgia, heartbreak brought those same disturbing trends and patterns to the forefront on March 16. 

Data confirms that Canada has a higher number of anti-Asian racism reports per capita than

the United States. And, concernedly revealed British Columbia has the most reported incidents per capita of any sub-national region in North America. Further, women are disproportionately affected and account for nearly 70 per cent of all reported incidents in British Columbia. Verbal harassment and abuse are widespread and occur in 65 per cent of reports, while 30 per cent of reports include targeted assaults.

TRU Associate Professor Dr. Robert Hanlon, specializing in Asian-Politics and Human Security, says that racism in Canada and the United States isn’t necessarily a pandemic problem per se. 

“Racism towards Asian communities in Canada and Western Canada has a long history linked to politics and especially themes around economic prosperity and development,” he said. “It’s been a part of the Canadian story, and Canadians tend to forget about it conveniently or possibly even purposefully. The Canadian way is to avoid confrontation, pretend [racism] isn’t happening and hope that it will magically go away… but that is not the case at all.” 

“Canadians have this image of themselves as this polite, soft-mannered, responsible country, but it is one that has a long history of politicians who have been racist and have built their political careers around racist policies.” 

Hanlon went on to explain, “we’ve entered a time of populist politics where Trump and others have used opportunities to scapegoat people for political purposes. Trump, and populism in general, has emboldened a certain group of people that are looking for simplistic answers as to why the system might not be working for them.”

“There certainly are political problems, whether they are economic or are simply issues with flawed democracy… I would say, though, that we’re mostly looking at a time where populists are able to gain media attention by calling out certain groups.” 

“I think that’s part of the problem we’re in right now because populists tend to look at things as simple and look for the easiest answers and easiest explanations as to why things happen, and often those things are actually quite complex and require a lot of work to think about and understand,” Hanlon said. “Populists provide the easy kind of, you know, lazy response, and so they’ve been capitalizing on those kinds of responses and are using them to blame others, and this has led to part of this uptick in racist attacks on Asians.”

Hanlon warns that “a lot of this is going to continue and get worse. It needs to be reflected upon by all levels of government. [Racism] certainly isn’t something that we can keep pretending is not happening.”

“It’s going to take real political leadership at the community level; it’s not something that’s going to come from, you know, the federal or provincial government,” he said. “Action plans are going to have to come from communities that understand and really work on identifying groups in the community that are being targeted and marginalized. And this is something that’s going to take a lot of work.”