The Mississauga Community Legal Services (MCLS) released a statement on January 28 condemning anti-Chinese discrimination and xenophobia amid the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak.
The statement was also co-signed by 15 community organizations based in the GTA area.
The Mississauga community legal clinic, a non-profit entity funded by Legal Aid Ontario, highlighted inaccuracies in public perception of the global coronavirus outbreak. “The coronavirus is not isolated to people of one nationality or race,” the MCLS statement read.
Also called the 2019-nCov, the virus was identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) through several cases of pneumonia originating in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019. The elusive virus causes fever and respiratory-type health problems. To date, Ontario has confirmed three coronavirus cases, and seven cases overall in Canada.
“This is a world health issue that has its most serious impact in one area of China (Wuhan), but it has affected people of all different races. Some cases have been found in other parts of China and other parts of the world,” the MCLS statement read.
As of January 20, 2020, only 282 cases were confirmed worldwide, a figure that increased to 31,481 in February, according to the WHO.
MCLS also drew attention to the surge of racism against Chinese-Canadian communities, and referenced historical discrimination experienced during the 2003 SARS outbreak.
“The discrimination against East Asians at that time did not make the public safer,” said MCLS in their statement. “Instead it isolated people, entrenched stereotypes, led to increased bullying in schools, and spread fear of people of East Asian heritage.”
The MCLS’ announcement initially reacted to an online parent-led petition that called on the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) to isolate students whose families had recently visited and returned from China.
The petition also demanded that students “self-quarantine” at home for 17 days, that schools keep track of students’ travel, and that other parents are informed to decide on whether to remove their children from classes.
Juanita Nathan, chair of the YRDSB, said that such situations “give rise to discrimination based on perceptions, stereotypes, and hate.”
In response, the MCLS applauded the school board for “its excellent message to focus on the evidence, show empathy, and avoid racial profiling.”
The MCLS statement was endorsed by organizations such as the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and Access Alliance Multicultural Health & Community Services.
Post-secondary institutions have also faced similar reports of stigmatization of certain student populations.
Last month, the U of T bookstore was accused of being insensitive after selling surgical face masks and respirator masks for $100 to $160. The items were removed after students expressed outrage at the marked-up prices.
Frank Ye, a University of Toronto graduate student, told Al-Jazeera News of the potential damage caused by scrutinizing Chinese Canadians. According to Ye, these effects include “ostracizing the community, hurting businesses, [and] hurting people because we’re letting paranoia rather than facts drive how we react to this.”
Kerry Bowman, a University of Toronto bioethicist, also echoed a similar perspective. “All of us, irrespective of where we’re from, need to look at if we’re feeling well and [experiencing] symptoms,” he told Global News in a statement.
Bowman previously worked for hospitals during the SARS outbreak and recalls fearful sentiments around Chinese-Canadian people. “That’s very problematic because we need to look at this from an infection point of view,” he explained.
Kristyn Wong-Tam, a Toronto Councillor, reminded the public of “lessons learned” through a statement released on Twitter.
“Toronto is home to almost 300,000 residents of visible Chinese descent,” said Wong-Tam in the statement. “We all need to stay calm, work together to remain safe and healthy, and continue to build our city on a solid foundation of compassion and love.”