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

Better COVID-19 testing results needed in the north

Former senior Northern Health official also wants work camps shut down

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

Northern Health preparing ‘for a changing situation’ in response to COVID-19

The health authority is taking a number of measures to free up hospital capacity where possible

COVID-19: Coast Mountain College cancels, postpones programs on Haida Gwaii

General interest and workforce training courses cancelled, field school postponed

UPDATE: Mother of missing Indigenous woman pleads for her safe return

23-year-old Shaylanna Lewis, who also uses the surname Brown, was last seen on March 21

Evening world update: U.S. restrictions extended 30 days; NY deaths near 1,000

Comprehensive world update, with the latest developments in the COVID-19 crisis

‘It’s up to us: Recently-returned B.C. couple urges Canadians to take COVID-19 seriously

Garrett Kucher and Tory Apostoliuk make it home after almost a week of lockdown in Spain

‘Nothing concrete’: Tenants, landlords lack details after B.C. unveils COVID-19 rental aid

Single mom in Golden says she’s already going to the food bank after being laid off

Canada will make sure masks sent by China meet quality standards: Trudeau

Chinese Embassy tweeted that China was sending 30,000 medical masks along with gowns, gloves and goggles

B.C. issues guidelines about distancing, reusable bags to grocery stores amid COVID-19

Hand sanitizer and markers to keep lines two metres are apart are needed, province says

No plans to call in military right now to enforce COVID-19 quarantine: Trudeau

Trudeau unveils $7.5M for Kids Help Phone, $9M for vulnerable seniors amid COVID-19

QUIZ: How much do you know about the Olympics?

Put your knowledge to the test with these 12 questions

B.C. announces $3M for food banks to increase capacity during COVID-19

It is not clear how much of the money will flow towards Greater Victoria food banks

Most Read