People wear masks as they wait for the arrivals at the International terminal at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Saturday, January 25, 2020. Leaders of Toronto’s Chinese community said Wednesday the racist attitudes that led to widespread discrimination against Chinese Canadians during the SARS epidemic are threatening to resurface during the current outbreak of a new coronavirus.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

VIDEO: Chinese Canadians warn against a repeat of the racism they faced during SARS

The new form of coronavirus has sickened nearly 6,000 people and killed 132 in China

Leaders in Toronto’s Chinese community said Wednesday the racist attitudes that led to widespread discrimination against Chinese Canadians during the SARS epidemic are threatening to resurface during the current outbreak of a new coronavirus.

Community organizers held a news conference alongside local politicians, urging Torontonians — and Canadians at large — to learn from the mistakes of 2003, and inform themselves about this coronavirus rather than respond out of fear and implicit bias.

Avvy Go, director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, said her agency fielded numerous complaints of human rights violations directly triggered by SARS-related hysteria.

“I certainly hope … that we do not have a repeat of SARS — not just the virus, but the virus of racism,” Go said at the news conference. “And the only way to stop it is for … our civic leaders to speak out.”

Go recalled helping tenants turned out by fearful landlords, workers who saw their hours scaled back by misinformed employers, and even Chinese refugee claimants taken aback when lawyers refused to be in the same room to hear their cases.

Evidence suggests little has changed, community leaders said, citing a petition that calls for schools at a board north of Toronto to urge students who have recently returned from mainland China to “self-quarantine” for at least 17 days. The petition had garnered more than 9,800 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he has heard of multiple instances of discrimination against Chinese residents as well as calls to boycott Chinese businesses. He decried all such incidents as unacceptable.

“That kind of stigmatization is wrong,” Tory said. “It is ill-founded, and in fact could lead to a situation where we are less safe because it spreads misinformation at a time when people are in more need than ever of real information and real facts.”

Amy Go, interim president of the Chinese Canadian National Council, said misinformation about the new virus is linked to implicit racism toward the Chinese community.

“In the time of this unknown, this fear, anxiety, it’s easy to blame,” she said.

Go said listening to Canadian public health officials — who have uniformly said the risk of catching the new coronavirus is low — is among the best ways to counter the misinformation.

Officials suggest frequent hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes as best practices for preventing the spread of any virus, including this one. They have not recommended quarantine or masks.

Toronto has emerged as the Canadian centre of the new coronavirus outbreak, with both of the country’s two confirmed patients living in the city. The people affected are a married couple who recently returned from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak.

Officials in British Columbia have identified a third presumptive case of the new coronavirus in that province. In all three Canadian cases, the patients are expected to recover.

The new form of coronavirus has sickened nearly 6,000 people and killed 132 in China and has spread to numerous other countries, but the World Health Organization has not declared the outbreak to be a global public health crisis.

READ MORE: B.C. reports first coronavirus in Vancouver region

READ MORE: Feds preparing plane to fly Canadians out of Wuhan, once China gives OK

Nicole Thompson and Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Don’t travel to vacation homes or cabins, urges Kootenay Boundary district

Regional District of Kootenay Boundary asks residents not to travel to secondary homes

Multiple items on agenda at upcoming City of Rossland council meeting

New city hall and changes to property taxes some items on April 6 agenda

Vandalism has Trail businesses seeking immediate action

Business community is asking for better security measures amid pandemic

B.C. firefighters only responding to most life-threatening calls during COVID-19 pandemic

The directive comes after province spoke with paramedics, fire services, according to top doctor

Here’s how to talk to people who aren’t taking physical distancing seriously

Approach the conversation with empathy says conflict expert

B.C. clears more acute hospital beds as COVID-19 case growth slows

Province holding about 40% of beds empty for peak still to come

As 500K+ apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind

Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides $2,000 per month

Wearing non-medical masks can stop spread of COVID-19 before symptoms start: Tam

Health officials had previously not recommended wearing them

UPDATE: UK PM Boris Johnson moved to intensive care after COVID-19 symptoms worse

He has been quarantined in his Downing St. residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26

Travellers, travel agents ‘in agony’ over refund policies and customer service

Many Canadian carriers are offering customers flights rebookings or travel vouchers — but not refunds

Introverted and extroverted kids likely to react differently to COVID-19 restrictions

B.C. child psychologist says your parenting approach can’t be one-size fits all in social isolation

B.C. begins taking submissions for $2M COVID-19 research fund

Rural health, impact of shifting hospital resources among priorities

Most Read