Rising anti-Asian racism across Canada gets “disturbing”, as evidence suggests more Asian people are experiencing racism more frequently since COVID-19 began.

In British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province with more than 5 million people, including large Asian communities, this is very visible.

Four in 10 people of Asian descent experienced some form of racism in the previous 12 months, according to a survey released on April 9 by Vancouver-based pollster Insights West.

The pollster found “that concerns and personal experiences with racism in the past year are extremely pervasive”.

Insights West’s province-wide survey shows anti-Asian racism has increased dramatically since the pandemic began early in 2020. Racism, according to 83 percent of respondents, is a serious problem in British Columbia, with 36 percent saying it is “very serious” and 48 percent saying it is “somewhat serious”. Just 15 percent said it is not a serious problem.

The pollster asked Asian British Columbians about six different forms of racism and learned a significant number have personally experienced one kind or another – 58 percent said they overhead racist comments directed at them over the past year and 23 percent have had racial slurs directed at them. Of the respondents, 43 percent have experienced workplace or school-based discrimination but just 10 percent experienced it over the past year.

Steve Mossop, Insights West president, described the findings as “quite shocking”, noting that things appear to be getting worse.

“We don’t have any historical data other than the poll we have here – but what I find really disturbing about our poll is that when you look at the incidence of experiencing racism throughout an individual’s lifetime, and you look at the percentage that has occurred in the past year, it’s quite overwhelming to see the past year numbers alone take up such a massive share,” Mossop said.

He believes “drawing awareness to the issue will help to stem the number of instances where racism is occurring”.

In the city of Vancouver, police said anti-Asian crimes climbed from 12 in 2019 to 98 in 2020, an increase of 717 percent. Hate crimes as a whole rose 97 percent from 142 in 2019 to 280 in 2020.

The Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, a nonprofit based in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, said the issue is hardly relegated to British Columbia.

In a report released in April, CCNCTC said 1,150 cases of racist attacks were reported across the country on its online platforms between March 10, 2020 and Feb 28 this year. Most attacks were reported in either British Columbia (44 percent) and Ontario (40 percent), Canada’s most populous province.

While getting precise data on anti-Asian incidents is difficult, reports such as the one released by the CCNCTC suggest that it “has been notably increasing throughout the recent time period,” Zhou Min, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia, said.

“The increased coverage about anti-Asian racism and hate crimes has raised the general public’s awareness of this type of racism. It has also encouraged more people of Asian descent to speak out and report racism against them,” he said.

CCNCTC said the government should recognize the importance of anti-racism education, provide more tailored support for communities, implement comprehensive policies to prevent misinformation spreading in traditional and social media, and fund more educational initiatives.

“Instead of being recognized as contributing significantly to the fight against COVID-19, Chinese and Asian communities in Canada have been met with racism, violence and attacks,” CCNCTC said in its report.

“We are still getting people reporting incidents every once in a while,” Rain Chan, the Toronto-based interim executive director at the CCNCTC, said. “Has it gotten better? No. If anything, it has gotten worse.”

At the moment, she says, many groups are lobbying for policies that would tackle anti-Asian racism but there is little, if anything, in the works.

Statistics Canada, the national statistics agency, reported that people with Asian backgrounds – particularly those of Chinese, Korean or Southeast Asian descent – were more likely to report rising racial or ethnic harassment.

Government officials at all levels have been addressing the issue.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen discrimination and violence fueled by xenophobic rhetoric and scapegoating,” said Mary Ng, minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, and Bardish Chagger, minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, in a statement on March 26.

“As we continue to fight this pandemic and work toward an inclusive recovery, it is important that we remain committed to combatting anti-Asian racism and discrimination in all of its forms to build a society that is consciously more inclusive and safer for all.”

And the issue took center stage in Canada’s first federal budget in two years, released on April 25. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland proposed C$11 million ($8.96 million) over the next two years to support the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, a nonprofit government corporation fighting racial discrimination. The budget also allocates C$472 million for multiple initiatives combating racism.

The uptick in discussion is good, said Prof Zhou, but it might not be enough.

“The increased awareness of anti-Asian racism has been the most prominent positive development,” Zhou said. “With the recent (increase) in discussion and coverage of this issue, people feel more comfortable talking about and reporting anti-Asian racism.”

Zhou says Canada’s federal Anti-racism Strategy should address anti-Asian racism specifically. It currently mentions anti-Indigenous racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism and anti-Black racism but not anti-Asian racism per se.

“The government should take anti-Asian racism as seriously as other forms of racism.”

And there are now growing concerns that South Asian communities, particularly from India and Pakistan, could be targeted next as infections related to coronavirus variants from that region surge.

“Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen specific communities scapegoated and targeted by hate crimes – Asian communities and Indigenous peoples,” said Rachna Singh, parliamentary secretary for the province of British Columbia in a statement in April, after Canada banned all flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days. “The concern as to whether (the South Asian community) will be targeted next only adds to that stress during this difficult time.”

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.