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.”
PRINT - Hamdard Daily - Toronto, 07/05/2020 - NEWS, p. 1, Punjabi
Image Source: Hamdard Daily website
Summary Translation: At least ten taxi drivers who operate taxis from Pearson International Airport in Toronto have lost their lives due to coronavirus infection so far. The president of the Airport Taxi Association, which has 350 taxis and 700 member drivers, Rajinder Aujla, has expressed anguish at the tragedy saying no effective measures have been taken for the safety of drivers while we know people from all over the world have been landing at the airport.
Hiring temporary foreign workers for a permanent labour demand, a look at Canada’s ‘disposable’ workforce - Caribbean
PRINT - Toronto Caribbean - Brampton, 04/05/2020 - Article, p.12, English
Image Source: Toronto Caribbean website
Summary: Janiece Campbell - Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is a volunteer advocacy group for migrant workers. They help to bring awareness to the community and the exploitive conditions that the indentured labourers work under. For nearly 20 years, the group has been addressing the systematic inequalities that these workers face, some of which have heightened amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Foreign workers are employed typically for up to 8 months through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) to assist with significant labour shortages. In recent weeks, a community in Leamington, ON shamed migrant workers online for their lack of applying social distancing standards. This prompted the Ontario Provincial Police to upload a YouTube video in an attempt to educate workers of their responsibility to socially distance in public. Failure to follow the rules will result in tickets or fines. On your next trip to the grocery store, before you pick up those crisp apples, remember the temporary migrant workers who are being used for a permanent labour demand.
Toronto data suggests COVID-19 disproportionately impacting lower income residents and immigrants - Cantonese
TV - Fairchild TV Ontario - Toronto, 05/05/2020 - News, Cantonese
Translated Summary: No byline - The COVID-19 outbreak might be disproportionately impacting Torontonians living in low-income areas or with the highest proportion of recent immigrations, the city's medical officer of health Eileen de Villa said. In April, Toronto Public Health began analyzing race-based and socio-demographic data related to COVID-19. She said the preliminary findings suggest people in areas that have the highest proportion of lower income earners or areas that have the highest proportion of recent immigrants and high unemployment rates are experiencing higher rates of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
TV - OMNI News: Punjabi Edition - Toronto, 10/04/2020 - FEATURE, 6 min, Punjabi
Translated Summary: A lot of Canadians were detained in India because of the lock-down, but a number of Canadians have returned on recent repatriation flights. However, the odyssey from booking the flight to arrival in Canada will remain in their memory for life. One of the travelers, Dr. Dilbag Rana, said there were a lot of management problems. Entry to the airport was very slow. Ri Sihota is the moderator of the Facebook group 'Bring Canadians Home from Punjab.' Her father traveled on 6 April. She said the booking process was a lot of work and she was sleeping during the day [in Canada] to sort things out in India at night. Rana said they had to deposit the money for a non-refundable booking and then didn't hear anything for a long time. They traveled to New Delhi on a chartered bus that was quite chaotic in terms of luggage storage. Gurkirat Kular, who traveled on 6 April, said they were promised social distancing but the flight was over-booked. MP Ruby Sahota said emergency flights are negotiated with each country. The rules and protocols in each country keep changing. They tried to negotiate direct flights, but this was not possible. She said everybody coming from every country is paying a fee, not just people from India. The government is not making money on this, it is the cost of the airline. Sihota said the flights from India to London and from London to Toronto or Vancouver were 100% packed, without social distancing. Kular and Rana confirmed that the flight was fully booked. Sahota said they did consider social distancing and she knows the process wasn't perfect. Sihota said the repatriation was poorly organized and not safe. They are speaking out to ensure other Canadians stuck in India will not have the same experience.
WEB - The Philippine Reporter - Toronto, 14/04/2020 - English
Summary: Irish Mae Silvestre - While some international students may have chosen to return home as international borders closed, others have little choice but to stay and contemplate their future in the midst of a pandemic. A combination of school closures and mass layoffs have left many foreign students in precarious situations both in terms of their visa status and financial situation. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), as of December 31, 2019, there were 642,480 international students in Canada. Out of those, the Canadian Bureau for International Education stated that 60 percent of international students plan to apply for permanent residence. Although international students are expected to have enough money to cover their tuition and living expenses, the reality is that many students rely on the income from the twenty hours they’re allowed to work.
RADIO - CIAO 530 AM - Toronto, 14/04/2020 - TALK SHOW, Punjabi
Summary Translation: Gary Virk - There is a panic among foreign caregivers who came to Canada 10-12 months ago. Their jobs are discontinued as many of their employers are also sitting home in the current (COVID-19) scenario and not working. Many of them are concerned about whether they can be eligible to apply for permanent residency with 12 months of work experience. Foreign caregivers are required to have 24 months of work experience in Canada to qualify for PR. Last year, the government opened a special interim pathway for caregivers under which they were eligible to qualify for PR, even with one year of work experience. However, they must apply for education credential evaluation. The credential assessment may take six months.
WEB - Toronto Hispano - Toronto, 26/03/2020 - COLUMN, Spanish
Translated Summary: Vilma Filici - Inadmissibility hearings, appeals and mediations have been postponed until after April 5. The pandemic is affecting practically all areas of life, including immigration processes. The border is closed and Ontario is in a state of emergency. What this means for individuals trying to immigrate to Canada is delays in their process. Canadians are allowed to return to Canada as long as they are not sick; however, if they manage to make it to the border, all Canadians have a constitutional right to enter even if they are sick. Those who are stuck are the ones not allowed to board planes while abroad. Individuals in immigration processes who have to send in criminal records, medical exams etc. automatically have 90 days more to meet those requirements. The government has announced that no application will be rejected for lack of documentation. Permanent residents who have their landing papers but cannot travel need to get in touch with IRCC. Applicants for permanent residency from within Canada will have a phone interview. Individuals in Canada on a temporary visa can extend their visas. All deportations have been stopped for three weeks. Hearings for inadmissibility, appeals, mediation and refugee applications are postponed. Detention review hearings will be held by video conferencing or phone.
RADIO - CHTO AM 1690 Bhakhde Mudde - Toronto, 01/04/2020 - TALK SHOW, Punjabi
Translated Summary : Host Skhwinder Chandi said that the Canadian government announced benefits for Canadian workers, including self-employed people, during the COVID-19 crisis. However, the government has not announced anything for international students and visitors. Visitors are not the responsibility of the Canadian government and the students from India might be considered the responsibility of the Indian government. Harjinder Singh Dhnoa, a guest on the show, said that the government is saying that they will look after students as well, but it is yet to be seen what they will do. So far, any benefits are only announcements. However, those who are eligible must apply for benefits. The government will start the online application process on April 6, 2020.