Winnipeg’s Asian community speaks about racism during COVID-19

Some members of Winnipeg’s Asian community are speaking out against racism with hopes their stories will encourage others to report similar incidents. 

Ting Fang has twice experienced anti-Asian racism since the start of the pandemic — in comments made on a friend’s photo and at work.  

The incidents made her feel awful, Fang said.

“Definitely it’s not fun,” she said. 

The Act to End Racism campaign, which runs until the end of October, calls on people to share their stories of racism related to COVID-19 and encourages them to report it.

The campaign is a national effort, but the Manitoba part was launched and spearheaded by Jennifer Chen, a member of the Asian Heritage Society of Manitoba and a Winnipeg school board trustee. 

Winnipeg school board trustee Jennifer Chen says she wants to encourage people to speak up about their experiences of racism. Chen, who’s also a member of the Asian Heritage Society of Manitoba, launched the Act to End Racism campaign in Winnipeg. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

She wants more people from Manitoba to report their experiences of racism and hopes the campaign will extract more data on the issue. 

“If we have those reports, we hope we can bring it to the policymakers and ask them to consider a policy change, including [a] post-pandemic recovery plan to include anti-racism policy,” she said.  

If people don’t want to go to the police, they can also report informally through the Asian Society of Manitoba’s website, Chen said. 

‘It’s hurtful’ 

Fang, who is Chinese, said one of her friends posted a Facebook photo with her in it back in February. The picture contained newcomers at an event she helped organize through work. 

Someone Fang didn’t know posted comments on the photo in another language. The comments translated to “be safe and stay away from China and Chinese people,” she said.

Fang showed the CBC this translated comment on a photo of her on Facebook, posted back in February. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Another comment translated to, “You are with them, are you bored with your life?” 

“We’re healthy Chinese in Canada. We take care of ourselves really well during the pandemic,” she said. “So I made a comment below saying please stop spreading the fear. Stop Sinophobia.” 

This is Fang’s response to the racist comment she encountered. After posting her comment, she received an apology from the individual, she says. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Fang’s second encounter with the same sentiment was at work in June.

Fang was having a conversation with a man passing by the NorWest Co-op Community Health resource centre, where she’s a domestic violence support worker.

The man told her he finally got a slot for knee surgery and began blaming Chinese people for bringing COVID-19 to Canada, she said. 

“He’s accusing the Chinese [of] bringing the virus back into Canada, and that’s how his surgery got postponed,” she said.

“It’s hurtful.” 

Fang didn’t confront the man, but her supervisor heard about what happened and debriefed the situation with her. Her workplace also held a conversation about what can be done to address racism. 

More than 600 incidents

report released by the Chinese Canadian National Council says there have been more than 600 incidents of anti-Asian racism in Canada since the onset of COVID-19. 

The report says 83 per cent of the incidents were declared by people of east Asian descent and 45 per cent happened in public spaces. 

It also says 65 per cent of incidents were verbal harassment and 60 per cent of them happened to women. 

Chen, who is also Chinese, said she experienced anti-Asian sentiment when a colleague joked about her having coronavirus at work. 

“My colleagues thought it was a joke, but to me personally, I don’t think it’s funny at all. I feel uncomfortable,” Chen said. 

“Online, I also saw people, some of them I know as my friends, post comments like, ‘Don’t trust Chinese people during COVID,’ and I was very sad,” she said.  

No reported cases in Manitoba

Data in the Chinese Canadian National Council report came from Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Ottawa. But in Winnipeg, there’s been no reported cases. 

Chen said the language barrier, among other factors, can prevent people from reporting to police. 

“Part of the culture is … Asian people are humble and they don’t really want confrontation. So for various reasons, we will see very few reported incidents from Manitoba,” Chen said. 

“Some people may think there’s not enough evidence to report,” she said. 

Const. Jay Murray, a public information officer with Winnipeg police, said he has not heard of many Winnipeg-related reports of anti-Asian hate crimes related to COVID-19. 

In an email statement to CBC, Murray said hate crimes are investigated by officers who work in the major crimes unit. 

“It is important to report hate crimes. Doing so allows us to investigate and hold perpetrators responsible,” Murray said.

WATCH | Winnipeggers say anti-Asian racism on the rise:

People in Winnipeg’s Asian community say they are experiencing increasing racism. They say since the start of the pandemic more anti-Asian sentiments are circulating in person and offline. 2:28