By Marielle Francisco
This month’s third instalment of the Speaker Series for 2021 by the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA) featured guest speaker Dan Kelly, President, Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Board of Governors of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). With many parts of Canada going back into yet another lockdown as the COVID-19 variants make their way across the country, Kelly discusses the impact of the pandemic on small businesses within the larger framework of economic and societal disruptions.
CFIB is a non-profit, non-partisan organization devoted to creating and supporting an environment where businesses can succeed and advocate for small businesses with politicians and decision-makers. Kelly states that CFIB expects 1 out of 6 businesses are at risk of permanent closure due to the pandemic, with business owners shutting down not knowing if they will ever reopen. This claim is based on almost 100,000 calls to CFIB in the last year, suggesting that more than 180,000 businesses are expecting to close despite the economy recovering post-pandemic. This claim also supports the idea that 2.4 million jobs will be taken away from Canadians, leaving the country in one of the worst economic downfalls in our lifetime. But what does this mean for society?
With the closure of small businesses, Canadians are left to shop for all their essentials, and then some, at big box stores – resulting in the lining of the pockets of those who need it the least. A large part of these small businesses is a lifeline for the ethnic community, for both business owners and consumers, creating a larger divide in equitable means. When the first lockdown was announced a year ago, Kelly points out that most business owners willingly killed their businesses to comply with safety rules and were understanding of government restrictions as we were all dealing with an unprecedented situation. Yet, as the restrictions evolved and big box stores remained open, policies began to stop making sense and the government gradually lost the public’s confidence in the systems they had put in place. Not only were they implementing restrictions that deemed only big box stores “essential”, but they even suggested that it may be beneficial for individuals to purchase “non-essential" items there as well. By promoting “one stop shopping”, this approach directly hurt local small businesses while attempting to decrease the spread of the virus. Despite numerous outbreaks in distribution centers and factories delivering to these big box stores, major corporations remain open including malls, shopping centres and grocery stores that continue to sell more than just food or health care products.
This decision by the government has not only allowed some of the biggest corporations to flourish amidst an economic downfall, but Kelly claims that it has significantly affected the wellbeing of small business owners. One of the most alarming indicators of this impact is shown through the numerous calls CFIB has received from business owners having suicidal thoughts; Kelly states that their phone lines are resembling more and more those of a crisis helpline. This issue highlights the systemic inequalities that have always defined our society and which the pandemic has made impossible to ignore. Although many can argue that the virus does not choose its victims and the government may not be intentionally affecting ethnic communities through the closure of small businesses – these decisions are inevitably creating a larger economic gap that many may never recover from.
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.
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.”
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.”
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Canadian Ethnic Media Association