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COVID-19 Fueling Anti-Asian Racism and Xenophobia in Canada and Worldwide

April 23, 2021

Since the beginning of the pandemic, East Asians and people of Asian descent have been the targets of disparaging and overtly racist comments and conduct. We have seen world leaders such as former US President Donald Trump using polarizing rhetoric such as referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and the “Wuhan virus”, which has sparked and legitimized further instances of hate speech in the US. Workplaces are not immune from these unfortunate developments. In Canada, we have also seen significant spikes in incidents of racism.

Now that we are entering the third wave of the pandemic, fear of contracting the COVID-19 variants has increased. In times of fear, we have seen corresponding spikes in hate crimes, racism and scapegoating targeting East Asians. CP24 recently reported that more than 1,100 attacks against Asian Canadians have been reported one year into the global pandemic, and 11 percent of those incidents contained violent assault or unwanted physical contact. 

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has issued a policy statement emphasizing the need to take a human-rights based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy recognizes that East Asians and people of East Asian descent are “vulnerable groups” which have been disproportionately negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy says such that vulnerable groups are at greater risk of:

  • hateful acts, racism, discrimination and/or harassment
  • loss of employment
  • social exclusion

In order for workplaces to combat these disturbing developments, employers should take the following steps to promote an inclusive workplace free of harassment and discrimination:

  • leadership is critical during these turbulent times.  It is important for leadership to model appropriate behaviours and clearly communicate that incidents of harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated in the workplace
  • train staff on bystander interventions if they witness incidents of harassment and discrimination so they can support their colleagues.  
  • prompt steps should be taken to respond to and address incidents and complaints of harassment and discrimination in the workplace.