The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on many Canadians, but for Chinese-Canadians the impacts have been magnified by racism aimed at individuals and businesses, community leaders say.
Amy Go, the president of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, said the pandemic has resulted in an array of attacks directed at the community.
Vancouver police reported a surge in anti-Asian hate crime in 2020, with seniors being attacked and businesses vandalized. Data from Statistics Canada shows that Canadians with Asian backgrounds were more likely to report noticing increased racial or ethnic harassment during the pandemic.
“In the past, it usually hasn’t been as blatant as that, but the pandemic really brought up this kind of personal and vile and very vicious attack,” Go said in an interview.
She said many Chinese businesses and restaurants faced a drop in sales before the start of the pandemic, with customers opting to stay home out of caution after hearing about the virus from relatives living abroad.
The initial rhetoric around the novel coronavirus, such as some labelling it the “Wuhan virus” or the “China virus,” has also done “tremendous” damage to the Chinese-Canadian community, Go said.
“Just because we look Chinese or look Asian, we’re suddenly not Canadian,” Go said.
Members of the Chinese-Canadian community are portrayed as being foreigners, regardless of how long their families have lived in Canada, she said.
Grocery stores and restaurants owned by Chinese-Canadians have been particularly affected by misinformation about the virus, Go said.
She added that she’s spoken to healthy workers who were told to stay home by their employers over fears that they would spread the virus.
Doris Chow, the co-founder of the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown, said the harassment has become less visible.
“It seems to have subsided in the news,” she said in an interview. “But the violence and the racism is still continuing. It’s just becoming more invisible again.”
Impact on Lunar New Year business
Chow, whose group bills itself as young people fostering more support for Vancouver’s Chinatown, said Chinese-Canadian businesses in the Vancouver area started seeing a drop in business weeks before the pandemic shutdown, right around the Lunar New Year.
With continued restrictions heading into this year’s Lunar New Year on Friday, Chow said it’s the equivalent of losing two Christmas shopping seasons for Chinese retailers and restaurants.
“During Lunar New Year, it’s when a bulk of the major business happens,” Chow said. “Restaurants are filled, people are buying new clothes, flowers, gifts, that’s where they earn a bulk of their revenue.”
The pandemic has been particularly hard on front-line workers who are Chinese-Canadian, Justin Kong, the executive director of the Toronto chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council, said in a recent interview.
“Racialized immigrant communities have been deeply impacted by the virus,” he said. “What we’re seeing is tremendous economic damages.”
Chinese-Canadians make up one of the largest groups in Canada living in poverty, Statistics Canada data shows, and Kong said the issue has been exacerbated due to COVID-19, with many losing their retail and service sector jobs.
Kong and his organization wants the federal and provincial governments to allow more paid sick days to ensure that workers who become ill or contract COVID-19 don’t have to worry about missed paycheques.
“The government needs to listen to workers and immigrant communities,” he said.