'It is time to stand up': Saskatoon Chinese community speaks out against racist taunts during COVID-19
SASKATOON -- Xianming Zhao says he experienced racism from a cashier at a Saskatoon grocery store in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was checking out and after that I paid and I needed to get the receipt. So (the cashier) gave me the receipt, not facing me but turning her back against me and then give the receipt to me in this way. She didn’t do this to other customers,” he told CTV News.
Zhao said he was disappointed by what happened.
“I don’t think people should treat other people that way. Show our love, our respect but not hate.”
He and others in the Chinese community have reported an increase in these types of interactions during the pandemic — a virus first reported in Wuhan, China late last year.
Zhao moved to Saskatoon from China five years ago for school. He said his experience living here has been mostly positive, aside from a few recent interactions during COVID-19.
“People have this misunderstanding that we Chinese carry the virus and spread it to the world, which is not the case,” Zhao said.
Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist and professor at the University of Toronto, said this is a problem across Canada. He was a frontline healthcare worker during the SARS outbreak in Toronto in the early 2000s and said he saw similar things happen then as well.
“If I look at the scale of problems we're facing globally and nationally, it's so huge. It's hard to imagine people still have time for something as petty as that. But that is the reality. And you know, these things they go underground but they come right back up again in a lot of ways and that's why we have to stand up to it every single time,” he said.
A poll released in April found that acts of racism related to COVID-19 against people of Asian heritage is spreading in Canada’s largest cities.
It found that one out of five people surveyed in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal do not think it’s safe to sit next to an Asian or Chinese person on a bus if they do not have a mask.
Last month in Calgary, the Chinese consulate was vandalized. A hateful message related to COVID-19 was written on the outer walls of the office of the consulate general of the People’s Republic of China. Officials said that was the second time in a week that the building was targeted.
Justin Zhong, who has lived in Saskatoon for more than 20 years, is organizing a march this weekend in Saskatoon to address these concerns and put an end to anti-Asian racism in the city.
It comes after a 15-year-old Chinese boy was allegedly attacked by a 40-year-old man in a park last month. The father of the boy told CTV News that the man had chased his son, yelled racial slurs at him, then pushed him off his bike.
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"We feel it is time to stand up to get message out that we, Chinese, we are not the virus. We are victims like the rest of the world. So we think we should fight united, fighting the coronavirus together, not attack each other,” he said.
Zhong said he hasn’t had any first-hand experiences with this during COVID-19 but has heard from friends who have.
“One of my friends, he posted an ad on Kijiji trying to sell something, but because of the contact indicating that he is Chinese, he got some replies saying ‘ugly Chinese,’ ‘Chinese virus,’ stuff that that. So, he was shocked,” he said.
Zhong hopes the march will help put an end to this in Saskatoon.
Zhao will be helping out, saying it’s a good opportunity for the Chinese community to share their stories.
“To be a part of the society, we have to speak up. We have to tell people what we really feel, what we really experience.”
The organizers said the march will begin at the entrance to Kinsmen Park, by the Nutrien Playground, on Sunday at 2 p.m. before heading downtown and past City Hall.
Participants will be required to wear a mask and keep a two metre distance from each other.