By Silke Reichrath
As noted by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) in its October 2020 report “From risk to resilience: An equity approach to COVID-19,” the determinants of COVID-19 susceptibility – and of health in general – are racialized. They include material circumstances (income, housing, employment), psychosocial factors (social connections), biological factors (genetics), behavioural factors (nutrition, physical activity, substance use) and access to healthcare. The PHAC analysis highlights the over-representation of newcomers (especially newcomer women) among high exposure workers including meat processing workers, personal care staff in residential care facilities and home care, and employees in service jobs, transport and retail. Low-income workers and members of larger households are also over-represented, two population segments that tend to overlap with newcomer status. According to the report, differential exposure among newcomers is connected to the inability to maintain physical distancing due to the inability to work from home, the lack of paid sick leave and job security, reliance on childcare outside the home, crowded living conditions and possibly the use of public transportation.
Representation in the mainstream media
Several reports published in the Canadian mainstream media in November 2020 have been giving voice to a fiery debate about the role of culture vs. economics among the causes of the high rates of COVID-19 transmission among visible minorities in communities with high proportions of newcomers.
OMNI TV Digital Content Producer Eden Debebe published an article on the website of Vancouver’s NEWS 1130 radio, referencing the high COVID-19 rates in the South Asian community and a statement by BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry that the increase of cases in the South Asian community is mainly due to weddings and celebration-of-life events. Henry acknowledged that front-line work also plays a role and that the increase in cases started with Thanksgiving. Debebe admonished community members to celebrate Diwali at home.
Global News broadcast a report by Mike Drolet on the overlap between COVID-19 hotspots in Brampton and Surrey with the locations of the liveliest Diwali celebrations in normal years. Drolet noted that local public health authorities pleaded for restraint and mostly got it, with only one parking lot line-up in Brampton needing to be disbursed by police. Two South Asian public health experts were quoted, who linked the high COVID-19 rates to multi-generational households, a tradition of large gatherings at home, front-line work and the inability to self-isolate in crowded housing.
Debate on the role of culture in COVID-19 transmission
South Asian Physicians Zain Chagla, Sumon Chakrabarti and Tajinder Kaura pointed to the role of culture in COVID-19 transmission in a Toronto Star article. They noted the role of hospitality, where a “guest leaving your house on an empty stomach is considered a travesty,” and the tradition of living in large multi-generational families. They also mentioned that “many well publicized COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada have been associated with South Asian events, such as weddings.” They warned of the impending Diwali celebrations. Together with the prevalence of “public-facing professions” and financial instability among newcomers, the authors state these cultural factors have resulted in a greater spread of the virus. Compounded with the pre-existing “high rates of underlying diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and obesity within the South Asian population,” South Asians are also at greater risk of adverse outcomes like hospitalization and death. Notably the goal of the authors is to call for targeted interventions including culturally and linguistically appropriate communications materials and awareness-raising campaigns involving community leaders.
A response to the article was published the following day on First Policy Response, written by a fellow South Asian author, Seher Shafiq. She expressed shock at what she saw as “pathologizing an entire race by using culture and values as explanations for higher COVID rates, stigmatizing already marginalized communities” and a matter of “shaming and blaming.” Her explanation for the higher COVID-19 rates in racialized communities in general is their prevalence in precarious jobs in the service industry and gig economy where they have a lot of customer contact, cannot work from home, take transportation on crowded buses and go to work sick rather than lose a paycheque. She does concur with the impact of multi-generational, high-occupancy homes and gatherings during festivities like Diwali, but points out that Thanksgiving also led to a significant spike in cases.
Premier Kenney weighs in on Punjabi radio
On November 25, Premier Jason Kenney went on the air at the South Asian radio station Red FM in Calgary, linking the high rate of COVID-19 among the South Asian community in Calgary to the large multi-generational families and the tradition to have big family gatherings at home. The host of the program, Rishi Nagar, took his response to CBC News. He asked whether South Asian get infected more often because of their culture, or because they are front-line workers and cannot work from home. He also wondered why Kenney did not focus on anti-maskers, why there was no mandatory mask policy or effective contact tracing, and why no extra resources were dedicated to the most affected communities for PPE, top up wages or educational activities.
CTV News published a piece by Journalist Mark Villani objecting to Kenney’s comments, and the Edmonton Journal an opinion contributed by medical student Sharan Aulakh. Villani cited Dr. Mukarram Ali Zaidi, a spokesperson for the Canadian Muslim Research Think Tank, who demanded an apology from Kenney and said North-East Calgary’s immigrant community is mainly employed in jobs that don’t allow them to work from home, such as janitorial staff, taxi drivers or warehouse workers. Aulakh said Kenney missed the mark blaming South Asians, who are mostly essential frontline services, have limited access to compensated sick leave, and live in multigenerational housing due to financial constraints. Instead, she blamed Kenney’s inaction in the face of anti-mask protests, refusal to implement restrictions like mandatory masks, and failure to adopt the federal contact tracing app.
Overall, the mainstream media has generally taken the position of explaining high positivity rates in newcomer communities with systemic factors like the type of work people do, crowded housing and possibly the use of public transit. Public health and local government authorities are frequently cited as warning residents to celebrate festivities at home, whether it is Diwali, Thanksgiving or now Christmas. In addition, a lot of the debate in the mainstream media has been carried by authors from newcomer backgrounds or, at minimum, has cited experts from the affected communities. Red FM, a prominent ethnic radio station, has become featured in the Alberta mainstream due to comments made by the premier on the station and the response of the program host.
As part of the Bridging the Mainstream-Ethnic Digital Divide in Covid-19 Literacy project, we have analyzed coverage by ethnic media outlets in Canada over the month of November to see what the insider perspective is on this highly relevant question.
Representation in the ethnic media
The debate reflected in a similar, but more defensive, way in the ethnic media. Numerous admonitions from municipal and public health authorities to celebrate Diwali at home, along with threats of bylaw enforcement, were passed on in all the South Asian media in the run-up to Diwali and Bandi Chhor Diwas. Two large gatherings in parking lots in Mississauga and Brampton made the news with wide coverage in South Asian media, but the high level of compliance overall was also highlighted. Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown’s speech in defence of Brampton’s essential workers was also widely picked up in the South Asian media. Warning of Diwali gatherings have now given way to warnings of Christmas gatherings.
Ethnic media bridging linguistic silos
In an interesting use of ethnic media to bridge silos between minority groups, Patrick Brown and Portuguese-Canadian Councillor Martin Medeiros were interviewed on the Portuguese TV station FPTV on 19 November to explain the high rates of COVID-19 transmission in Brampton and speak out against the racialized finger-pointing and stigma against the Indian community. They said Brampton’s essential workers bear the brunt of COVID-19 and they are the ‘unsung heroes’ keeping the food processing, transportation and medical system running. Brampton is at the forefront of Canada's supply chain and Brampton truckers keep travelling to the US, where COVID-19 is out of control. They also again pointed to Brampton’s disadvantage with respect to health care funding, the lack of hospital beds, and delays in getting an isolation centre.
Similarly, radio host Mark Strong at G 98.7 FM, a radio station with a primarily Black audience, picked up MPP Gurratan Singh’s reaction that Brampton essential workers shouldn’t be blamed for risking their lives in factories and trucks so that others can work from home. They also shouldn’t be blamed for having only one hospital due to health care under-funding. Mark Strong linked this defence of South Asians to the situation of Black people, who also suffer a lack of resources and live in crowded low-income housing, which also makes them less able to control and resist the pandemic.
A report by the Toronto non-profit ICES showing that most positive cases in the Greater Toronto Area were among racialized and immigrant populations received wide coverage. The Toronto Star article was picked up by PTC Punjabi TV and set off a flurry of pushback highlighting the role of Brampton essential workers working in factories, warehouses, food processing plants and trucking and keeping grocery stores stocked while other Canadians were working from home. OMNI Punjabi TV featured Jaskaran Sandhu of the World Sikh Organization of Canada commenting on the exposure essential workers have to live with and a tweet by Naheed Dosani, who said “continually blaming Brown people in Brampton for rising #COVID19 cases is unnerving & racist.”
Community initiatives to fill the communications gap
This OMNI report also started off a series of spotlights on constructive initiatives from within the South Asian community to counter the pandemic, featuring the Canadian Sikh COVID-19 Task Force. This task force, founded by Sikh physicians, was also highlighted by 5aabtv. The task force was formed in an effort to create greater awareness about virus and why it is hitting the community hard, and to share important messaging on what they can do to prevent transmission with South Asian communities in their language. The task force also addressed the taboo and stigma around getting tested for COVID-19 and telling anyone if a test is positive.
Another report on OMNI Punjabi presented the Canadian Muslim COVID-19 Task Force and Hindu COVID Task Force alongside the Sikh COVID Task Force. Spokespersons pointed out that not only South Asians, but all marginalized populations are highly afflicted by COVID-19. They try to translate the public health messaging and to develop and disseminate "culturally sensitive and culturally appropriate" information. The Hindu COVID-19 Task Force and the umbrella Canadian South Asian COVID-19 Task Force were also featured on the Tamil radio station CTBC, the Hindi Radio Shon – CINA and Punjabi WTOR Radio.
OMNI Punjabi also featured a public awareness campaign entitled "Humans in Brampton," which is trying to tell the stories of front-line workers on social media. Their message is that 'Brampton should be celebrated, not stigmatized.' Another spotlight on OMNI Punjabi reported on the COVID-19 Sikh Gurdwara Initiative, which distributed adapted cloth masks that can be worn with turbans and produced cardboard displays showing correct 2 m distancing equaling the length of an unrolled turban for use in gurdwaras.
Need for culturally appropriate local language information
Ethnic media also pointed out the fact that minority communities have special communications needs. A talk show on Radio Humsafar 1350 AM on 22 November conveyed a sense that mainstream media never talked about the healthcare needs of Bramptonians (more hospital beds and testing centres) and that the government did not support ethnic media in its role of conveying the government's policies and plans to their communities. OMNI Punjabi TV reported on the lack of government communications targeting minority communities. The three levels of government release new numbers and information every day, some of which are contradictory and confusing even to people who speak English as a first language. The Canadian government and United Way funded a COVID-19 helpline for South Asians in the GTA with capacity in several South Asian languages, and the Peel Region COVID-19 website can be translated into a range of languages, but this is not enough. The Tamil Canadian Centre for Civic Action called for local-language information not only about the public health guidelines but also about available supports. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted marginalized communities, so the outreach to them should also be disproportionately resourced.
Very few sources included critical comments about COVID-19 transmission during Diwali fireworks, international students disregarding the guidelines, lenient mask use A talk show guest on a Punjabi CIAO AM 530 program argued fireworks should not have been sold for Diwali. Residents interviewed on the street by OMNI TV mentioned that newly arriving immigrants and students do not observe the quarantine properly and that people were still planning Diwali get-togethers. Community members speaking to the Punjabi Zee TV mentioned that a lot of people came to markets and religious sites without masks and that there were crowds at sweet shops before Diwali. An opinion piece by Surjit Singh Flora on Asia Metro argued that “our touchy-feely instincts are getting in the way” as residents of Brampton just fail to follow the guidelines.
The main difference observed in the ethnic media from the mainstream is the high number of reports that defend the community as being affected by COVID-19 mainly due to their position as essential front-line workers and their economic marginalization and the concerted effort to communicate public health guidelines and information as they relate to the local culture, in local languages and pertaining to local festivities and events. In addition, ethnic media highlight initiatives taken within the community to raise awareness and meet community information needs. In this way, ethnic media fulfill a very real need to translate government and expert messaging into culturally and linguistically relevant formats and in adding information from the grassroots.
What to Do?
As Editor-in-Chief at MIREMS, my daily job has been to review the coverage of COVID-19 in the ethnic media since January of this year, and we see the ethnic media are fighting a battle on three fronts: One against the virus, including the fight against disinformation and disconnect between government and the governed; the other against polarized accusations from the mainstream of culture being the driver of pandemic spread; and a third against relative neglect in the distribution of government resources to off-set pandemic revenue losses.
Instead of viewing diversity as a barrier to communication with these audiences, would it not be natural to think of the matter differently? The Brampton trucker, factory worker, grocery clerk and front-line caregiver new to the country and struggling in English are unlikely to follow the daily stream of press conferences on mainstream media. So why not reach out to them with pertinent, culturally adapted communications in their language through the media they are in tune with?
Viewed from a demographic perspective, we see ethnic media as a mature set of organizations with established audiences and a local advertising base. They are the successful outcome of the historical combination of population needs and government multicultural policies.
What is important is to recognize how influential this channel can be in the fight against social media disinformation. After thirty years of observation, even without the help of much in the way of available statistics, we think that they just might have the eyes and ears of their local audiences, as well as their mouths, above all on talk shows and in the streets.
A cultural – linguistic and demographic approach to COVID would also perhaps address the problem of generational understanding and conflict. It would make sense to educate the older generation who still read or listen to traditional media on the need to remain connected with the rest of the family over Zoom, not dinner. Getting the elders and guardians of culture on board could help catalyze a temporary shift in family traditions.
Our eye on the debate between ethnic media organizations and the government has always included lack of funding, but this has been exacerbated by COVID-19. Wage and rent subsidies do not reach most small outlets, and government advertising related to COVID-19 reached only a small proportion of outlets. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted marginalized communities, so the outreach to them should also be disproportionately resourced.
The only thing the ethnic media needs is government recognition and support as a channel with equal rights to English and French media.
See also an article from New Canadian Media: "Unsung Heroes of Super Spreaders: Racial and Ethnic Minorities in COVID-19 Coverage".
This article is part of the Bridging the Mainstream-Ethnic Digital Divide in COVID-19 Literacy project. New Canadian Media has analyzed ethnic media coverage of COVID-19 between May 1 and November 30, using web, print and broadcast news summaries provided by MIREMS media monitoring.
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By Silke Reichrath
For over 30 years, ethnic and multilingual media monitoring has proven its usefulness to policy-makers and business or NGO decision-makers. While the importance of engaging with the numerous Chinese - and South Asian-language media in Canada is obvious because these population groups make up major market segments and constituencies in the big cities, the relevance of some smaller languages in the Canadian context is sometimes discounted.
Armenian media in Canada
For example, the Armenian media in Canada consist of three primary publications: two weekly papers published in Montreal - Horizon Armenian Weekly and Abaka – and the TorontoHye monthly out of Toronto. Each has a website that is updated regularly. Their absolute number of readers may be limited, but their reach within the Armenian community is significant. Horizon Armenian Weekly has an estimated circulation of 8,000 within an Armenian-Canadian community estimated at 80,000-100,000.
These outlets have a threefold purpose: 1. to translate and convey key Canadian news; 2. to inform about events and initiatives within the Armenian-Canadian community; and 3. to compile key homeland news. With the homeland crisis around Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh over the last two months, these three areas have been conflated, with a focus on lobbying and protest action within the Armenian-Canadian community and on statements on the conflict by Canadian policy-makers at all three levels of government.
Thrust in the limelight: Coverage of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in the Armenian-Canadian media
In October, the Armenian media highlighted that Azerbaijan was using Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 attack drones, which are equipped with Canadian-manufactured target acquisition sensors made by L3Harris/WESCAM and that Armenia accused Turkey of redeploying fighters from Syria and F-16 fighter jets to support Azerbaijani forces. They reported on statements by Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, then-Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, Canada-Artsakh Parliamentary Friendship Group Leader Rachael Harder and other MPs, the Green Party, British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix, MPP Aris Babikian, and Toronto Mayor John Tory against the Azerbaijani operation and against Turkish support for Azerbaijan and in favour of Artsakh. Much of the coverage was on community lobbying efforts by the ARF, the Armenian National Committee of Canada, and a coalition of 20+ Armenian churches, organizations, associations, political parties, and independent community leaders grouped in the newly formed United Armenian Council of Ontario (UACO) before Canadian federal and provincial representatives in Ontario and British Columbia.
As the month progressed, the main Armenian media continued reporting on protests by Armenians in Canada against Turkish-Azerbaijani aggression against Artsakh and on Champagne’s statements in support of a ceasefire and the OSCE Minsk mechanism (TorontoHye, 20/10/2020). An article in TorontoHye blamed Champagne for issuing export permits for the target acquisition sensors despite a 2019 ban on arms sales to Turkey. The article claimed 12,000 civilian deaths in Artsakh, 25% more than the Canadian COVID-19 death toll (TorontoHye, 20/10/2020). Armenians in Montreal wanted Mayor Valérie Plante to recognize the right to self-determination for the people of Artsakh, while Armenians in Vancouver protested outside the CBC against “the barbarism committed by Azerbaijan and Turkey’s governments and soldiers” (Horizon Armenian Weekly, 19/10/2020). In a debate in the Ontario legislature, the three parties condemned the “inhumane crackdown by the governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey on the Armenians of Artsakh,” which they called a second genocide (Horizon Armenian Weekly, TorontoHye, 22/10/2020). A letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from “the Armenian-Canadian community at large” was highlighted several times, signed by L’Union des communautés arméniennes du Québec, the United Armenian Committee of British Columbia, and the United Armenian Council of Ontario and published in TorontoHye and Abaka (TorontoHye, Abaka, 22/10/2020).
In November, coverage continued of efforts by the Armenian National Committee of Canada to organize protests from Vancouver to Waterloo and lobby Canadian politicians, including MPs Kerry-Lynne Findlay and Kenny Chiu. Senator Leo Housakos, Green Party MP Elizabeth May and the City Council of Laval expressed their support for Artsakh.
The other side of the coin: Coverage in Turkish media
While to our knowledge, there are no active Azerbaijani sources in Canada given the relatively small Azerbaijani community in Canada, we looked at active Turkish-Canadian sources. The two main active Turkish websites, Canadaturk in Toronto and Turknews in Hamilton, responded primarily to the export ban against Turkey. One Turknews article on Azerbaijan's perspective cited Turkish Ambassador Kerim Uras calling on Canada to act like an ally and stating that the suspension of weapons exports was hasty and contrary to the spirit of NATO. Uras pointed to the claim that Armenia had occupied 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory and caused the dislocation of a million refugees. He called on Armenia to withdraw from Azerbaijani territory. He denied that Turkey had sent Syrian fighters to Azerbaijan and claimed that Armenia was using Kurdish “terrorists” (Turknews, 08/10/2020).
Historically, the Armenian community has kept Genocide Remembrance Day alive and well in Canada and in the minds of Canadian political leaders. The material we found demonstrates that the community has been effective not only in attracting mainstream media coverage even in the midst of a pandemic but also in using the community media internally to elucidate their point of view. Ethnic media provide a window into the discourse and organizational life of a minority group in Canada as it relates to Canadian politics. Monitoring these outlets can provide policy-makers and advocates with context for the demands of different spokespersons and help clear up misinformation that may be circulating.
By Lina Katrin
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been debating over masks: should one wear them or not? How effective are they in preventing the spread of the virus? While some have very strong opinions regarding mask-wearing, others are still not sure what to do. Across ethnic media sources, there is a lot of commentary regarding the issue.
Amandeep Benipal, the host of the Punjabi radio show Morning Awaz with Aman Deep on CIAO 530 AM from Toronto, believes that people should wear masks because safety should be the main concern for Canadians as a high number of cases are being reported from across the border. Even though newly confirmed coronavirus cases in Canada remain in steady decline, the number of infected people is spiking in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. On the show, Benipal asks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford to make a careful decision about reopening the Canada-U.S. border for public travel.
According to a Spanish talk show on CIRV FM 88.9 from Toronto, a study in Ontario showed that without the isolation measures, the death rate from the virus would have been much higher. Toronto’s City Council made masks mandatory in indoor public settings as of July 7, and masks are expected to be compulsory in Mississauga, Brampton, Durham, Niagara Region, and in many other municipalities in coming days. The talk show host Fabian Merlo said that initially wearing a mask bothered him but he is getting used to it, as it’s “a good thing to take care of each other.”
Now, will the mandate of mask-wearing change the behavior of those who have been against face coverings throughout the whole pandemic? Even though not wearing a mask is now a subject to a $195 fine, some people don’t like being told what to do. On OMNI TV: Focus Punjabi, a Punjabi TV program from Toronto, people on the street were asked about the mandatory mask order. While one man said that wearing a mask is a “good idea” to protect others, one woman believes people shouldn’t be forced to wear masks at all.
Americans reported being more likely to wear masks in public than Canadians.
American mask-wearing rate is currently at 71 percent compared to the Canadian 58 percent.
However, it is not surprising that some Canadians are unsure if there are any benefits to masks because of how the Canadian government handled the issue at the beginning of the pandemic. In the early stages of the outbreak, the federal government claimed that masks had little effect in terms of curbing the spread of the virus. Canada's Chief Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam had said in March that putting a mask on an asymptomatic person was not beneficial. Only at the end of May she finally changed her position and officially said that everyone should wear masks as an added layer of protection.
Dushi.ca, a Chinese web source from Markham, reports that mask-wearing appears to be a “simple issue” but since the Canadian government initially did not recommend wearing masks, a lot of non-Chinese Canadians were also against using face coverings. The source says that the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations had been calling on people to wear masks and self-isolate since mid-March, and the Confederation's recommendation to the government regarding mask-wearing played a positive role. To support the government's pandemic prevention efforts, the Confederation will continue to donate protective supplies to nursing homes as well as to communities.
According to the Chinese web source Sing Tao Calgary, the Alberta government is set to resume its public face mask distribution program on July 13. This is the second phase of the province's public face mask distribution program that will distribute 20 million face masks. The phase-one program distributed the same amount of masks from June 8 to June 22.
Since many people have easy access to face coverings, Dushi.ca reports that Richard Powers, a business professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, said there's nothing wrong with businesses refusing service to customers not wearing masks. He believes that the safety of retail workers and employees exceeds the customers' right to not wear masks.
Canadian Tamil Radio, a Tamil source from Toronto, discusses how recommendations on non-medical masks have been confusing for many in Canada. Still, there is visible progress: a new online poll suggests that a bit more than half of Canadians support the mandate of face coverings. According to the survey, the majority of Canadians said they feel that people should wear protective masks when out in public or confined areas such as grocery stores, shopping malls, or public transit.
Dushi.ca believes that with the summer, the debate over masks in Canada is finally coming to an end. However, it is crucial to analyze the stem of the debate, which roots from the difference in the attitude of various cultures to face coverings.
Van People, a Chinese web source form Vancouver, reported in March that even when Canada's Chief Public Health Officer said it was unnecessary to wear masks, Chinese-Canadians chose to do so anyway. Still, Chinese people worried about being discriminated against for protecting themselves.
Similarly, 51.ca, a Chinese web source from Toronto, around the same time highlighted various comments under mask-related forums. One Internet user, Hongyuwu, wrote that if people continue to get “brainwashed” into thinking that the coronavirus is just a bad flu and don’t wear masks, “they would find out how painful it is once they get infected.”
Women wear face masks in public as a safety measure against the spread of COVID-19.
Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images
BBC reports that in East Asia, many people are used to wearing masks when they are sick or when it's hay fever season, because it's considered impolite to be sneezing or coughing openly. The article identifies the key difference between the Asian and Western societies — many parts of Asia have experienced contagion before, “and the memories are still fresh and painful.” That is probably one of the main reasons why many Asian people have embraced face coverings since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, while a lot of Westerners have shunned them.
According to Sciencenorway, in Japanese everyday life, wearing a face mask is associated with taking responsibility for your own and your family's health, and also for the financial situation of the company a person is working for and the nation's economy.
Alternatively, in many European countries, garments that cover the face are banned in schools and public institutions for security reasons. Sciencenorway reports that scientists have conducted a study on why many people in the USA are against wearing masks. Even though a large majority of the informants believed they could protect themselves and others by wearing a mask, they were still not willing to use one. The barriers included everything from others not being able to read their facial expressions to the risk that they could be suspected of planning a crime. The masks were also perceived as unattractive in appearance and uncomfortable to wear.
Such research points to the fact that people in Western societies are more likely to put their comfort above the safety guidelines due to the lack of personal experiences with health crises.
Even before the global coronavirus pandemic, people across the world have been wearing masks to protect themselves from pollution, sun exposure, and viruses. Yet with almost six months into living in the “new normal,” many Canadians are still arguing over the importance of face coverings. People of various cultural backgrounds wear masks mainly to protect each other and help slow down the spread of the virus, but at the end of the day, it is your choice whether to cover your face or not. It is important to stay open-minded, educate yourself on such prominent issues, and follow the safety guidelines to ensure protection for yourself and others.
By Muskan Sandhu
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the conference Stories of Hope: A Celebration of Canada, organized by the Association for Canadian Studies to celebrate Multiculturalism Day, were the diverse speakers who brought unique perspectives to the struggles of their communities in building an equitable Canada. The event effectively linked the “hope” to overcome these difficult times with diversity, in the process illuminating the importance of listening to myriad voices.
But how does one access these voices on days that aren’t set aside to celebrate multiculturalism? On days that do not shine a spotlight on diversity by articulating it in Canada’s official languages?
Michaëlle Jean, former Governor-General of Canada, gave us a hint in her opening remarks at the event when she thanked “those along the chain links of solidarity who persist in making the voices of the most vulnerable and the voices of the most deprived heard, their realities known.” Canadian ethnic media has been playing precisely the role of “those along the chain links of solidarity,” of making lesser-heard voices heard on days that aren’t earmarked for them, and thus this media is where one must look to hear diverse voices every day.
This isn’t to say that mainstream English and French media don’t give these voices space or importance. The perspective of ethnic media, however, differs in that it is often able to present what may be deemed as the ‘insider’s point of view,’ on issues that impact their respective communities, and give community-specific opinions on general matters. The coverage of the recent encounter between a South Asian woman and the wife of Delta Police Chief is a prime example that illustrates the existence and value of this viewpoint.
Kiran Sidhu’s alleged assault
Kiran Sidhu, a South Asian woman from Surrey, filed a complaint with Delta Police against Lorraine Dubord, wife of Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord, who according to Sidhu sprayed her down with a water hose. The alleged incident took place on June 6, when Sidhu was returning from a socially distanced party on Centennial beach and found herself trapped by a high tide as she made her way to her car parked far from the party spot. To circumvent the tides, which a police officer later informed Sidhu were 10-12 feet high, she climbed onto some rocks right next to the Dubord’s beach facing residence. While she made her way across the fence, L. Dubord came out of her house and allegedly started screaming insults at Sidhu, asking her to not touch Dubord's fence and to get off the rocks. Reportedly, L. Dubord went on to spray Sidhu down with a water hose, body-shamed her, and asked her to go back home as she didn’t belong there.
Sidhu’s friends arrived at the scene later and were seen confronting L. Dubord in a video posted by them on Facebook. Sidhu filed a police report with the Delta Police Department the next day, and was informed that the case was closed after a few days. Sidhu then filed a complaint, citing conflict of interest in DPD investigating their boss’s wife, and the case was then transferred to Surrey RCMP. L. Dubord later issued an apology, which according to Sidhu wasn’t a sincere one.
Image Source: Red FM 93.1 Face Book
Media coverage of the incident
The encounter between Sidhu and L. Dubord was covered by various prominent English newspapers from BC such as Vancouver Sun, Global News, CityNews, CTV News, and Delta Optimist. The first instance of coverage by these papers followed a similar pattern that delineated the series of events as narrated by Sidhu. These articles did have subtle differences in emphasis brought out by word choice--for example, Global News did not mention the fact that Sidhu is South Asian, or quote Sidhu’s comments that identify her as a racialized woman. On the other hand, CTV News identified Sidhu as South Asian and Delta Optimist and Vancouver Sun quoted her saying: “I was made to feel so unwelcome in these white spaces, which is something I’m aware of being a racialized woman in these white spaces as a teacher, as an active member of my union and I work on changing that.” Barring such choices, however, the articles remained almost identical in their approach of presenting the incident and the papers did not offer editorials on the matter.
The coverage of the encounter on Harjinder Thind Show, a prominent Punjabi radio show aired from Vancouver on Red FM 93.1, distinguished itself by going a step further and contextualizing the matter in terms of Delta’s community relations and the Delta police department’s role in them. In Thind’s 3.5-hour long daily morning show, the report of the encounter between Sidhu and L. Dubord was given space in both news and commentary segments. In the news segments, broadcast four times at regular intervals during the show, the incident was reported in a manner similar to that of the aforementioned mainstream articles with the exception of L. Dubord being identified as White and Sidhu being identified as Punjabi. In the segment where Thind spoke to Sidhu on call, Sidhu repeated much of what she had stated to different English media houses, both in print and on television.
Where Thind brought the issue to life was in his 6-minute long commentary on the subject. Thind introduced the issue in the context of the ongoing local discussions around racism and went on to paint a historical picture of the relationship of the Delta Police with the people of colour in its jurisdiction. Thind said:
North Delta’s policing has always been of prime quality. Jim Cessford was the Delta police chief for a long time, and, during his tenure, there was a large population of Indians and people of colour in North Delta. Cessford maintained very good relations with them. As the king does, so do his subjects; the behaviour of the police chief starts reflecting throughout the police department to a certain extent. In the last few months, there have been several reports relating to people of colour from Delta. People of colour used to say that they are proud of the Delta Police and Jim Cessford--Delta’s crime rate was very low as compared to Surrey. But recently, there have been instances where the police have been harassing people of colour with one excuse or the other, be it house calls, approaching someone randomly, or using an unworthy choice of words with truckers, such as the instance with Inderjeet Singh that I discussed earlier. Now, such behaviour meted out by the wife of the chief of the same police department, towards a Punjabi lady, is hurtful.
By presenting Sidhu’s encounter within its historical context, Thind transcended the space between the individual and the community. Sidhu’s alleged assault was not simply seen as a rare personal issue, but one that raised questions about community relations and policing in Delta. It drew attention to the fact that this wasn’t an isolated incident and was one that warranted attention to context. Thind also added an emotive layer to his analysis - L. Dubord’s behaviour wasn’t simply wrong, but also hurtful. In this fashion, Thind became the voice of the community in a matter of injustice meted out to an individual.
The role Thind played in reporting Sidhu’s story is one that ethnic media journalists play on a day to day basis. While ethnic media performs the same tasks and functions as mainstream English and French media, it also brings to the fore community perspectives on local, provincial, national, and international subjects, often morphing into a communal voice. If one were to listen closely to the stories ethnic media shares daily, multiculturalism would be an everyday celebration.
Image Source for Stories of Hope: A Celebration of Canada - Association for Canadian Studies website https://acs-aec.ca/en/main/
PRINT - Corriere Canadese - Toronto, 29/06/2020 - ARTICLE, p. 3, Italian
Image Source: Corriere Canadese website
Summary Translation: Mariella Policheni - Sensitivity to racism against Blacks and Indigenous people and commitment to bringing in policy changes will be prerequisites in selecting a new Toronto police chief, according to Mayor John Tory. Tory said whoever succeeds outgoing chief Mark Saunders must commit to confronting anti-Black racism and discrimination, which are still “very present in our city.” Meanwhile, City Council must consider a proposal by Tory to introduce a number of changes to Toronto’s policing system, including the creation of an “alternative community safety model.” Tory's recommendations do not call for cutting police funding, a demand that has become a battle cry for Black Lives Matter.
Link to original article: https://www.corriere.ca/toronto/tory-il-futuro-chief-sensibile-al-razzismo/
WEB - Philippine Canadian News - National, 19/06/2020 - EDITORIAL, English
Image Source: Philippine Canadian News website
Summary: Ted Alcuitas - Why white-privilege training can't fix Vancouver politics - or many other broken institutions. The Vancouver City Council recently put forward a dizzying spread of anti-racism measures. This equity-infused smorgasbord of actionable items includes: piloting anti-Black-racism and white-privilege awareness training, declaring a new Day of Action Against Racism and developing an “Equity Framework” to implement a race-forward equity and intersectional lens on city decision-making. However the same anti-racism measures, are also intended to preserve the systemic racism deeply rooted in Vancouver municipal politics. Yes, they are the same set of measures. Fixing institutional racism doesn’t need more sensitivity training, it requires real measures, such as electoral reforms that end exclusion. These types of in-case-of-fire-break-glass boilerplate solutions — issuing pro-diversity statements or recommending anti-racism training — are not a new tactic. They are used frequently by all range of companies, politicians and sports team owners, often when scrambling to respond (or deflect attention from) some form of crisis. And while these gestures sparkle with the right PR optics, they are little more than an illusion when it comes to actual progress. To wit, an International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination already exists on March 21. Vancouver residents don’t need another calendar date to fix this city’s broken political system, which has one big, fat, root systemic issue: representation. Every elected Vancouver city councilor or mayor, almost without exception, is white. This despite Vancouver being a city where half the population is not. This core problem will not be resolved by numbing city staff with more diversity workshops. It can and will, however, be resolved by the mayor and council committing to the only efficacious diversity measure at their disposal: upgrading the current at-large based election system to a ward-based version. The implementation of a standard ward system — one used in cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and others — would finally allow Vancouver residents from all racial backgrounds much greater access to real power in the city.
Link to original article: https://philippinecanadiannews.com/canada/why-is-the-city-of-vancouver-council-too-white/
RADIO - CMR FM 101.3 Tamil Morning - Toronto, 22/06/2020 - NEWS, Tamil
Summary Translation: Military police are investigating reports of a service member spreading racist pictures even as top defence officials apologize for their slow response to questions about systemic racism in the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces. Canada's top military and civilian defence leaders revealed the investigation in a letter to the troops Friday that promised to root out all racism while acknowledging "the social structures that formed our nation disproportionately privileged white people." "We reaffirm our commitment that no defence team members should feel unwelcome in a room, workshop, drill hall, ship or airfield," added Defence Department deputy minister Jody Thomas and chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance.
PRINT - Today Commercial News - Toronto, 19/06/2020 - ARTICLE, Chinese
Summary Translation: Ke Ma - A former Chinese-Canadian police officer in Toronto said that he does not know what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meant by the existence of “systemic racism” in police forces. The officer added that even if racism exists in police forces at all, it is by no means prevalent and only manifests itself in isolated cases. The article remarks that racism is considered illegal in Canada. In addition, the training of police officers is very strict, and officers are very cautious in race-related matters.
Link to original article: pg. 4 http://todaycommercialnews.com/m/epaper
RADIO - Red FM 93.1 Punjabi Morning - Vancouver, 18/06/2020 - COMMENTARY, Punjabi
Summary Translation: Harjinder Thind - These days, racism is getting attention. Charanpal Singh Gill and his group have been fighting racism for the past 40 years, but their methods were different. First, they tried to raise awareness, and when that did not work, things got violent. At that time, racism was different: White people would beat up Black people; spit on people of colour, turbaned people, and women wearing suits; and cause various types of harm. Therefore, the form of defence was also violent. Now the conversation is about systemic racism. There is individual racism, but institutional racism is the worst: that is, if the system is such that policies themselves are racist. Individual racism depends on one person and can be transferred to their children. For example, White people sitting in a car talking will lock their car instantly if a turbaned or Black person passes their vehicle, which they would not do if it were a White person. This is individual racism. Individual racism is often unconscious. Institutional racism is in the system and is ingrained in policies. For example, the RCMP's initial hiring policy was to hire only White blond men taller than six feet with green eyes. This is why Vancouver's elementary school teachers association has passed a resolution banning the entry of the Vancouver Police Department in schools because they stop and ask questions based on a person's colour. As they have the carding system, they racially profile. The association said that they do not want the Vancouver police to enter schools as liaison officers. No one has said anything against the decision because now there is a wave in favour of people of colour, Indigenous people, and gender equity to overcome systemic racism. RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki repeatedly said that there is no systemic racism. The argument in Parliament was also with regard to systemic racism. The Prime Minister has affirmed that there is systemic racism in the RCMP.
PRINT - Puls - Mississauga, 18/06/2020 - ARTICLE, Polish
Image Soure: PULS newspaper
Summary Tanslation: Zbigniew Jemiola - White people generally don’t admit they are racist. It gets even more complicated for white immigrants. This group, regardless of the colour of their skin, experiences difficulties when settling in Canada. White immigrants find it difficult to accept that they are perceived as people who enjoy “white privilege” because it is not easy to adapt to a new country, and often white immigrants themselves experience discrimination and have to overcome prejudice. Except that white immigrants do benefit from being perceived as “white” and after few years, they blend into the surrounding environment. The same cannot be said about immigrants from other races; they will always be identified by the colour of their skin. It’s no wonder that the young generation is now demanding drastic changes. The police especially have to face increased scrutiny and look into systemic racism within the police itself. A black person in Toronto is 20 times more likely to be shot dead by police than a white person, according to a 2018 report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). This report and others point to persistent concerns about anti-black racism policing in Toronto.
WEB - Russian Express - Toronto, 12/06/2020 - COMMENTARY, Russian
Image Source: Russian Express https://russianexpress.net/
Summary Translation: A. Gladkov - The author discusses the anti-police campaign in Canada, and the fact that mass media is circulating demands to disperse the police. Unable to withstand the pressure, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders resigned: an African-American Chief of the service which is accused of racism against African-Americans. However, the author says that Saunders could have left his post much earlier. Chief Saunders could have resigned last fall, when he announced that Toronto is a safe city unless you visit its dangerous neighbourhoods when it gets dark. Probably, Saunders already knew that the gangsters shoot and kill at any time, anywhere, including busy downtown streets. However, his words were also a hidden acknowledgement of the fact that the police were no longer able to effectively ensure that Toronto remains a safe city. Therefore, the author says that the anti-police campaign and comments of some Canadian politicians, including the "top" ones, about the "widespread" racism in Canada, seem completely unacceptable. According to the author, a responsible politician should talk about how fair and democratic Canadian society is, how much it has achieved in the fight against racism and inequality. The author continues by saying that the absence of “systemic racism” in Canada is evidenced by an open immigration policy, by the official multiculturalism policy, by employment priorities for racial and other minorities, and by a desire of millions of Africans, Hispanics and Asians to immigrate to Canada. The author admits that police reform is needed in order to to make its work more effective. But this has nothing to do with "racism." The anti-police campaign does not help the fight against crime. The author says that "this hysteria is contrary to the interests of the vast majority of the Canadian population, who see the police as the last defence against the invincible and ubiquitous armed gangster."
Link to original article: https://russianexpress.net/nid/26226?mid=864
By Lina Katrin
Image source: collage of ethnic media stories
Self-reflection is crucial in times of public unrest, and it is time to look at the facts. The issue of racism is not new, and everyone who says there is no definite answer on whether systematic racism exists in Canada is turning a blind eye to people’s testimonies. In fact, several ethnic media outlets have come forward with opinions on and discussions about the history of unjust discrimination in Canada and repetitive instances of police brutality toward minorities.
On OMNI News: Punjabi Edition, a Punjabi TV program from Toronto, U of T Sociology Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah reminded the viewers: “We don’t have a Canada without the Indian Act, residential schools, and the reservation system. We don’t have Canada without slavery and segregation.” To this day the old system and beliefs influence how employers perceive the potential work ethic of job applicants or how the police decide who they want to stop and search.
Similarly, Annie Lu of Ottawazine, a Chinese web source from Ottawa, said she believes Canadians pay little attention to racial discrimination in their own country. She urged Canadians to take care of their own domestic affairs first and recognize that Black people are suffering due to discrimination. On Mark & Jem in the Morning, a Caribbean radio program aired on G 98.7 FM from Toronto, the hosts provided an example: last fall, an independent study showed a Black person was four times more likely to be stopped by officers.
According to CBC News, since Caucasians are the largest racial group in Canada, they represent nearly half the victims of police violence in the database. However, when taking into account the racial and ethnic composition of the overall population, two distinct groups are overwhelmingly over-represented in these encounters: black and Indigenous people.
It is important to remember that behind each statistic there are real people who suffer from years of oppression. On CIAO 530 AM Punjabi in Toronto, former immigration minister and current Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Ahmed Hussen, said that despite his high-profile position, anti-black racism is a part of his life – and that so many of others. During the interview, he shared that he still gets followed around in stores and has a visceral reaction when police vehicles are nearby.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also shared his experiences with discrimination with the Canadian Punjabi Post, a Toronto-based newspaper. He said: “It’s the sort of story Canadians love to boast about: a country so accepting of others that even our most tradition-loving institutions will immediately welcome people of all colours and backgrounds. But it’s not the full story.” Sajjan said that in his early years in the military people were “throwing” power and privilege in his face, showing him the depth of racial prejudice in Canada.
These are just two stories of high-ranking Canadian government officials. What about the stories of countless Black victims who didn’t just experience an uncomfortable encounter with racism but lost their lives because of police violence and negligence? Van People, a Chinese web source from Vancouver, reported the recent death of a 29-year-old African-Canadian woman, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, as the fuse of Canada’s protests. As the tension between protesters and police officers is growing, it is quite easy to identify one of the main reasons for public frustration and calls for defunding the police — ignorance of the existence of systematic racism in Canada.
Fadi Al Harouni of RCI Arabic, a web source from Montreal, reported that although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Francois Legault agreed that racism against black people exists in Canada and must be combatted, the two disagreed on the presence of systematic racism in the country. Trudeau said: “Racism towards blacks, systemic discrimination, injustice, it is also with us.” Yet, many officials take Legault’s side. The hosts of Mark & Jem in the Morning specifically called Premier Doug Ford’s commentary on the US protests a “normal blind-sighted ignorance” when Ford said Canada doesn’t have the systemic deep-rooted racism of the US.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Stockwell Day, a former MP and a former cabinet minister of the federal government, both sided with Ford on the issue. Van People reported that Day was dismissed and resigned from two important positions within one day after denying that Canada is a racist country.
However, firing government officials and prosecuting police officers who take the lives of black people isn’t enough. The public is demanding a clear change in the system, starting by defunding the police.
Radio host Eric Sifuentes, speaking on Toronto’s CHIN 91.9 FM Spanish program, said that he isn’t against the police but is in favour of other areas of service, which don’t receive the same injection of public funding, such as services for children and sports. When the crime rate rises, there is a call for more police officers, but when the crime rate drops, there is a call to keep the number of police officers up to maintain the rate, according to Sifuentes. Silvia Mendez, another host on the show, said that the police have been receiving too much funding for too many years. They both agreed that in times of budget cuts, police shouldn’t be spared, and Sifuentes doesn’t want his property taxes funding “the most expensive force in the galaxy.”
Just this January, the city of Brampton welcomed the Ontario government’s funding announcement of $20.5 million for Peel Regional Police to increase resources to strengthen community safety initiatives, according to Urdu Times Canada, a newspaper from Toronto. During the announcement, Mayor Patrick Brown said: “I am grateful that Premier Ford and Solicitor General Jones have heard our call for guns and gang funding. This is an important tool that our police require to keep Brampton and Peel Region safe.” This statement creates an impression that there can be no safety unless the police have access to guns. Yet as recent events show, the immense power the funding grants the police can lead to more violence toward people of colour.
Defunding the police means reassigning some of its roles rather than abolishing it. Mark Strong of Mark & Jem in the Morning said that in Toronto, where almost a quarter of property taxes go to funding the police, two city councillors put forth a motion to cut the city's police budget by 10%. The hosts discussed how redirecting some of the funding would reassign certain functions that the police are not performing well, instances where there have been negative outcomes such as violence and criminalization.
For example, in the tragedy of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, the police didn’t take advantage of the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team initiative that was launched in February of this year, allegedly creating a new approach to first response to mental health crises. Prime News Canada, a Punjabi TV program in Brampton, reported that people call the police in an emergency but now with the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team, they are supposed to have a social worker and a health care professional with them to help provide people with the right health care. After Korchinski-Paquet's death, there are even more calls for redistributing the police departments’ funding toward organizations that are better prepared to provide essential services.
However, in January this year, Jasbir Shameel, the host of Good Morning Toronto, a Punjabi radio program on Red FM 88.9, expressed an alternative viewpoint, saying that the police budget cuts compromise public safety. Callers also said that increased immigration and migration in the Peel Region, especially in Brampton, is causing more crime in the area. Still, the police have proven time and time again that more funding doesn’t guarantee safety and protection. On the contrary, according to many spokespeople in the community, it gives the police power over people, and such power is often deadly toward minorities.
Racism didn’t start with George Floyd’s death. This issue is deeply rooted in our society, in ways we communicate and treat each other. This issue is ongoing, but enough is enough. What happened to Floyd, Korchinski-Paquet, and thousands of other black people who lost their lives because of police brutality is unacceptable, unforgivable, and measures need to be taken to rewrite the code and change the systemic racism in Canada. Many ethnic media outlets agree that the first step is to review police funding and make appropriate cuts. A caller on Red FM 88.9 Good Morning Toronto bottom-lines the argument: “The police are there to enforce the law and not to deliver justice.”
PRINT - Corriere Canadese - Toronto, 17/06/2020 - COMMENTARY, Italian
Image Source: Corriere Canadese website
Summary Translation: Joe Volpe - In Canada, being “bilingual” means being able to speak one of the two official languages as well as one’s own. Governments engaged in “nation-building” seem reticent to recognize this fact, except when they are in “campaign mode.” The “third-language” group is second only to the Anglophones in number. Given the immigration policies, it is the only one that is growing. The 2016 Census discovered that 23% of the population communicates in a “third” language. Sixty per cent of ethnic language periodicals have ceased publication, a number that could rise to 90% if the COVID-19 crisis continues much longer. The damage culturally and in terms of lost jobs and activities will surely reflect on senior levels of government.
RADIO - Red FM 93.1 Punjabi Morning - Vancouver, 12/06/2020 - COMMENTARY, Punjabi
Summary Translation: Harjinder Thind - There is talk that the RCMP should be more diverse. Commissioner Brenda Lucki also said that there can be improvement in the RCMP. Initially, the RCMP was a paramilitary force and consisted only of White people, and Indigenous people were not given entry into it. Slowly, different people came to be recruited, but today does the RCMP reflect the population it serves? For example, are the people of colour who live in Surrey reflected in the Surrey RCMP? So this is the biggest issue. Years ago, the decisions made for Indigenous people were made by boards consisting of White people. The population being served should be reflected in the boards. That is why a long time ago, I [the host] started a campaign on this show for employment equity on decision-making boards in British Columbia, such as the Fraser Health Board, where there were no people of colour when its policies would impact a large number of people of colour. Now there is some improvement, but it still is not enough. Now there is pressure for more diversity to be visible in the RCMP. We hope that diversity will increase. It should not happen that people of colour in the RCMP are unable to rise above the position of constable. It should not happen that they do not rise above certain ranks and other less deserving people rise instead.