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
Image Source: http://www.mingshengbao.com/
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”
It appears that Canada has shifted the burden of investing in knowledge, specifically in higher education, to international students. The first-world system of generating wealth by outsourcing its needs to other countries has been replicated in the Canadian education system as well. Except, in this case, wealth isn’t produced by extracting cheap labour but instead through an inverted model of providing exorbitant educational services to international students. With COVID-19 halting various forms of cross-border exchange, what exactly is at stake for the Canadian economy and education if international student enrollment falls sharply?
To put the potential outcome in perspective, various ethnic media outlets have taken to pointing out how international students contribute to Canada’s economy. Fairchild TV British Columbia, a Cantonese newscast from Vancouver, reported that according to government sources international students contributed an estimated $21.6 billion to Canada's GDP in 2018. In a Korean newspaper from Toronto, The Korea Times Daily, Universities Canada President Paul Davidson was quoted as saying that international students represent 50%, on average, of the total tuition revenue.
Furthermore, Vansky, a Chinese web daily, pointed out that: “The contribution of these international students to the Canadian economy is not only tuition, but also rent, groceries, transportation, entertainment, and more. International students provided Canada with nearly 170,000 jobs...For the Canadian government, these people are a good source of high-consumption, are highly-skilled immigrants, and can make a beneficial contribution to the economy.”
Commenting on the significance of these figures, CFC News, a Chinese newspaper from Ottawa wrote: “When the times are good, Chinese international students are considered "gold mines" for Canadian universities, but when disaster strikes, this dependency may result in the collapse of the financial systems of these universities.” Evidently, this observation is applicable in the case of not just Chinese but all international students.
A decrease in enrolment seems to be taking effect already. Vansky reported that compared to the first quarter of the year 2019, the first quarter this year has seen a decline in the number of Chinese students who received student visas by 51%. The shift to online classes is also not proving to be helpful. In an interview on OMNI News: Punjabi Edition, a news channel aired from Toronto, representatives of the organization Team We Care said that they have launched a petition for a tuition fee refund from UBC because the international student fees are very high and the students feel that they are not receiving its full value anymore. Team We Care is a group dedicated to helping international students navigate their journey in Canada - the group currently has 6,000 members.
Similarly, CFC News opined: “International students don't want to be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to be sitting at home looking at their professor on a computer screen. In addition, as racism increases, more and more Chinese international students and parents are starting to consider suspending their schooling, or even preparing to find alternative paths instead of going overseas.”
All hope, however, does not seem to be lost for universities. The Toronto Spanish newspaper El Centro News referred to the IDP Connect poll to state that most aspiring international students say the COVID-19 pandemic is not stopping them from pursuing post-secondary education abroad. Regardless, uncertainty remains the mantra of the pandemic for everything, including higher education.
By Muskan Sandhu
Image Source: Philippine Canadian Inquirer
COVID-19 has been hailed as the “great equalizer” by multiple influential entities including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s team, and American popstar Madonna. This statement presents only a part of the picture as the virus in itself may not be discriminatory, but its impact is mediated by a variety of pre-existing social identity markers, such as that of race, class, and gender, that often underlie discrimination. As racism rears its ugly head in Canada in the midst of a public health crisis, ethnic media reporting makes it amply clear that the virus’s repercussions are anything but a colour-blind phenomenon crashing through a vast expanse of a socially unmarked territory.
In the context of the Vancouver Police Department’s statement that it had “seen an uptick in the number of racially-motivated crimes,” the Filipino Post, a weekly Filipino newspaper from Vancouver, pointed out that “from Canada and the U.S. to Europe and across Asia, the global coronavirus pandemic has brought with it an increase in racist attacks and microaggressions against people of Asian descent.” The Punjabi BC Round Up on Zee TV Canada reported that in response to the increase in racist hate crimes, the BC government put together a committee to act against racism.
Many Chinese media outlets in Canada denounced the role mainstream media reports may have played in fueling anti-Asian sentiment. The Global News piece on the alleged role of the United Front in exporting PPE from Canada to China was the focal point of these stories. BCbay, a Chinese newspaper from Vancouver, didn’t mince words in stating that “over the past 20 years, there have been too many mainstream articles smearing China and smearing the Chinese community in Canada.” Similarly, another Chinese newspaper from Vancouver, Van People, wrote that the “noble behaviour” of overseas Chinese people “rushing to send” PPE to China “was painted negatively by the story [in Global News], which misled and deepened the local community’s fear of Chinese Canadians, leading to racial discrimination against Chinese and Asian groups.”
This Chinese media is also replete with discussions about whether Conservative MP Derek Sloan’s remarks questioning the loyalty of Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam were racist or not. The majority of Chinese outlets were quick to note that while Tam may warrant criticism, the allegations of her favouring China would not have been made if she were of a non-Chinese descent and thus were racist in nature. Chinese newspapers Sing Tao Calgary and the Dushi.ca Vancouver edition compared Sloan’s criticism of Tam with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s criticism to illustrate how one was racist and the other wasn’t. The Markham-based Iask website wrote: “Unfortunately, just like in the U.S., when a politician sees how a racist dog whistle can mobilize votes, especially votes from xenophobic groups of people, they're bound to learn from Trump and keep blowing the dog whistle. Conservative leadership candidate Derek Sloan is clearly such a politician.”
Limited Chinese news outlets, however, sympathized with Sloan. Vansky, a Chinese newspaper from Vancouver, said that: “To determine whether Sloan is actually guilty of racial discrimination, we need to understand why he brought this topic up in the first place. Is it the expression of racial superiority? Or a political-ideological attack? If there is no evidence that Sloan said this out of racial superiority, he cannot be accused of racial discrimination, at most he can only be blamed for his indifference, misjudgment, or paranoia.”
The racism brought about by the pandemic isn’t limited to just the Chinese community. The discrimination against Filipino workers at the Cargill meat plant, who contracted COVID-19, is an example of the inequality borne out of the intersection of race, class, and resident status in Canada. Philippine Canadian News, a Filipino newspaper, reported that “Many Filipino workers and residents sent a letter to the company asking that the plant be closed so that safety measures could be put in place, but no actions were taken.” This inaction eventually caused the largest coronavirus outbreak in Canada. Consequently, as reported by Philippine Canadian Inquirer, Filipino people were not allowed to enter grocery stores or banks, and worse, blamed for spreading the virus.
On Red FM 106.7 The Evening Show, a Punjabi radio show from Calgary, the host commented that the poor economic standing of the migrant workers did not allow them the freedom of choice to quit their jobs because of dangerous working conditions. A guest doctor on the show added that since “companies want to make a profit and cut costs, they don’t care about how immigrants or temporary workers live,” that is, in group housing. Another host on the show noted that, “Since the workers at the plant are temporary foreign workers, they are afraid to speak up because it may cost them their job and consequently their permanent residence.” These factors coalesced together to lead to an unfair stigmatization of the Filipino community. The virus, if anything, has laid bare the deep inequalities present in our society and remains far from being the “great equalizer.”
By Muskan Sandhu
Photo by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash
As the war against COVID-19 rages on, Canada is being forced to consider enlisting soldiers its systems have deemed misfits in the past. The Ontario government’s decision to issue a 30-day license to foreign-trained doctors so that they can share the burden of the times has ignited enthusiastic discussions in various ethnic media outlets. These stories go on to shed light on the dull but recurring ache of immigrants who are unable to fully integrate into their new home owing to the lack of acceptance of their credentials; as if their professional training is an irretrievable suitcase left behind in the former homeland.
The conversation often begins with what is seen as a long-standing injustice of the system against doctors and other professionals with foreign credentials. An editorial in the Caribbean Camera, a weekly Caribbean newspaper in Toronto, wrote: “Many in Toronto's Caribbean community may at some time or other have met ‘overqualified’ immigrant cab drivers or security guards...Many immigrants from places such as the Caribbean, Africa or India still recall their disappointment when they first tried to find work in their specific fields in Canada. They were often told that they lacked ‘Canadian experience,’ and others were turned away with the news that they were ‘overqualified.’”
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown noted in an interview with the Punjabi Channel Y Special TV program that, “These brilliant minds who have passed all Canadian exams are working in packaging plants, driving taxis, or delivering pizzas. They are not even allowed to volunteer.” Similarly, Councillor Charmaine Williams in an interview with Prime Asia TV, a Punjabi channel from Brampton, pointed out the issues faced by doctors who do clear Canadian equivalency exams: “Many people are foreign trained and have gone through all of the Canadian qualifications, but they are in limbo because they are waiting for a residency position. Canada seeks out the best of the best for immigration, and doctors are highly favoured. But when doctors come here, they have to take tests, which are not frequent, and then they have to wait for a residency. Only about 350 foreign-trained doctors were given a residency last year, out of 1,700 who applied.”
In this context of feeling undervalued by the system in pre-corona days, Ontario’s decision to give these doctors a chance to join the fight against COVID-19 has drawn a response of elation and optimism from several media outlets. The Mandarin Fairchild Radio FM 96.1 radio program in Vancouver deemed Ontario’s move “Good news!” worthy of reference. Current affairs expert Manan Gupta from Toronto’s Punjabi CIAO AM 530 Frontline Radio described Mayor Patrick Brown’s demand for permitting foreign-trained doctors to help out during the crisis as “very positive in the current scenario.”
Host Harjinder Thind from Vancouver’s Punjabi Red FM 93.1 Harjinder Thind Show appreciated the letter written by city councillors to the BC health minister, urging him to allow foreign-trained doctors to help out in the pandemic and perhaps permit them to continue practicing later on. He called the councillors’ approach “far-sighted.” The media also reports of individuals who see this opportunity as a chance to show gratitude to Canada. The Toronto Chinese newspaper New Star Net highlighted a refugee who “worked as an obstetrician and gynecologist in Syria” and who “after learning about this measure in Ontario...plans to apply so that he can pay back Canada, the country that gave him another chance to survive.”
Amidst the appreciation for the step forward by Ontario, the oddity of a licence that expires after 30 days is not lost on the media. Will the doctors who prove themselves during the pandemic revert to being misfits after helping out for 30 days? A headline in the Toronto Polish newspaper Goniec simply asked, “Temporary doctors?”
As if elaborating on this precise question, immigration Lawyer Dr. Jagmohan Sangha commented on the TV program OMNI News: Punjabi Edition that: “Policies need to change if the government ever wants foreign-trained professionals, including doctors, lawyers, teachers and nurses, to practice in Canada. Doctors are not seasonal workers, to be given 30-day licenses. Professionals come to Canada and work in other fields and their talent goes to waste.” As with other things, time alone will tell if 30 days will transform into years of service for these doctors, or if their degrees will go back to gathering dust in the archive of lost dreams.
By Muskan Sandhu
As the world undergoes an unprecedented crisis, ethnic media is serving as a lifeline to immigrant communities now more than ever before. At Diversity Empowers Health, a blog series by MIREMS, we hope to make cross-cultural communication on COVID-19 accessible by overcoming language barriers and bringing voices at the margins to the fore.
“Some community agencies see people being cut off from essential information because it isn’t readily available in their language...these are people who will fall through the cracks,” said Avvy Go, the director of a legal clinic, in response to the funding package announced by Health Canada to reach ethnic communities through multilingual awareness advertisements on COVID-19 (1). Andrew Griffith, a former director in the government’s immigration department, echoed the sentiment when he said that a gap of 10 days between consistent daily press briefings by ministers and placing ads in ethnic media “means you’ve probably missed the boat” (2).
While these statements are incisive in recognising the heightened vulnerability of immigrant groups to COVID-19 owing to language barriers, they also risk falling into the trap of infantilizing these communities. For when one performs the imperative task of actually tuning into ethnic media, these claims reveal themselves to be woefully unaware, if not downright false. Ironically, in assuming that the ethnic communities are in the dark about vital information, these statements appear to be in the dark about the role ethnic media is playing in bringing meaningful COVID-19 reportage to its multilingual audiences.
In this time of crisis, ethnic media is executing a range of functions from communicating regular COVID-19 updates to answering a slew of questions by confused citizens. Various radio shows live broadcast the PM’s addresses along with snippets of announcements made by federal and provincial health officers. In a Hindi radio show broadcast from Calgary, an MLA from Alberta appears as a guest on the show almost everyday to give an update on the situation in the province (3). In a similar vein, a popular Punjabi radio show from Vancouver has a Punjabi speaking doctor come in every other day to talk about COVID-19 and clarify any circulating misinformation (4). Television and radio shows have consultants come in to answer queries about rapidly evolving government benefits. This media is also quick to note the gaps in government policies; several ethnic outlets launched a critique on health officials after Dr. Theresa Tam changed her stance on the use of masks. Most importantly perhaps, ethnic media highlights the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on certain communities - the headline of a Chinese editorial read, “how do we explain racial conflict to children amid the public health crisis?”(5).
The central role ethnic media is playing in disseminating invaluable information to its diverse audience should not be undermined. Rather, its relevance and necessity ought to be acknowledged and understood.
To stay in touch with COVID-19 reportage in ethnic media visit our blog series Diversity Empowers Health at http://www.mirems.com/covid-19
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(1) As quoted in Miller, Jason, “Linguistic minorities lack COVID-19 information, say advocates.” https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/03/27/linguistic-minorities-lack-covid-19-information-say-advocates.html
(2) As quoted in Mangat, Palak, “Dole out funding for COVID-19 ads soon, say experts, as ethnic media outlets face cash crunch.” https://www.hilltimes.com/2020/04/02/dole-out-funding-for-covid-19-foreign-language-ads-soon-say-experts-as-ethnic-media-outlets-face-cash-crunch/242113
(3) Red FM 106.7, The Evening Show, Calgary
(4) Red FM 93.1, The Harjinder Thind Show, Vancouver
(5) Chinese Readers (Daily5), Vancouver, 06/04/2020
Canadian Ethnic Media Association Sends Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau Calling on Governments to Deal Directly with Ethnic Media Regarding Coverage of the Covid 19 Pandemic
(TORONTO. April 9, 2020) In an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Ethnic Media Association calls on the country’s Federal and Provincial Governments to reach out directly to all ethnic media, as the most effective means to inform Canada’s diverse communities about the Coronavirus Covid 19 Pandemic.
As the virus sweeps rampantly across Canada, and indeed the whole world, CEMA Chair, Madeline Ziniak, urges all levels of government to recognize the importance of communicating with new, and older, more vulnerable Canadians in their primary languages of comfort.
Ms. Ziniak, speaking in a video presentation on behalf of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association, expresses concern that information has not been received directly from any level of government. “We realize this is a very busy time, but it is necessary for governments to harness ethnic media to address this crisis, and to serve as a conduit to ethno-specific communities”, says Ms. Ziniak.
The video, released today, is entitled, Stand Up For Canada. To view the video, click here, or visit the News Page on the CEMA website: www.canadianethnicmedia.com.
In the video, Ms. Ziniak, in conversation with Dora Konomi of Itoc Media (Agape Greek Radio) describes the fear and confusion, especially among older, more vulnerable Canadians, over the rapid acceleration of the disease, and the measures that must be taken to mitigate its effects. Important concepts such as physical or social distancing, staying at home, and practicing good hand hygiene are best conveyed directly in primary languages of comfort. Navigating the intricate labyrinth of applying for financial assistance can be made less daunting if explained in the mother tongues of the ethno-cultural communities.
Canada’s ethnic communities rely on their language-specific media to keep them informed of developments here and abroad. “Ethnic media is a source of message distribution which provides information to approximately 250 ethnic groups and communities in Canada”, explains Ms. Ziniak. They have quick access to hundreds, if not tens of thousands of community members whose first language is neither English or French.”
While many ethnic journalists have tried to keep abreast of the world situation by turning to mainstream media and translating important updates and details, they can better serve their communities if such critical information is sent directly to them. With their insight into the sensibilities of the cultures they represent, they can build broader awareness among their community members, and generate informed inquiries and responses to government programs.
Ms. Ziniak emphasizes the important role ethnic media continues to play in reaching Canada’s diverse demographics, and states the “Canadian Ethnic Media Association is ready and willing to do its part to assist the flow of information to those who need it. The time is now.”
For further information, please contact:
Canadian Ethnic Media Association