‘Labelling’ is a powerful process used to segregate and stigmatize people. Throughout history, infectious diseases have been used as labels to justify discrimination against specific groups in society (e.g., leprosy as a disease of the unclean; HIV/AIDS as a gay disease; European Jews were blamed for the Bubonic Plague; and Ebola as a Black disease). By naming pandemics after the countries or places of ‘origin’ (e.g., Spanish Flu, Hong Kong Flu), punitive policies against the stigmatized groups were enforced in the name of disease control and public safety. In the context of the Canadian and other White settler societies, stigmatization of pandemics continues to fuel anti-immigrant sentiments and perpetuate social exclusion of racialized groups.
Racism and discrimination towards the Chinese Canadian and other racialized communities has existed throughout Canadian history (Chinese head tax and Racial Segregation of Asian Canadians). Fear and anxiety about COVID-19 just expose and intensify them. Stigma creates more irritational fear and divides people, fueling xenophobia, social exclusion and hate, as we witnessed with the SARS epidemic in Canada.
Racism, stigma and discrimination hurt everyone. Besides causing direct physical and emotional harm to the affected individual, it also creates barriers to accessing care and support, services, and employment. On a societal level, stigma’s harmful impact (CDC & NCCDH) can include increasing social exclusion, legitimizing discriminatory policies, inciting hate, as well as perpetuating misinformation and undermining public health messages to prevent the spread of disease.
We need to confront and challenge racism, stigma and discrimination. Inaction will reinforce stigma, legitimize hate and lead to more suffering. There are many things we can do as individuals, as a community, and in coalition with other groups who share our values and experiences.
We can take many forms of actions to take care of ourselves and each other in response to racism, stigma and discrimination such as:
- Protect your health and safety
- Know your rights
- Documenting and reporting discrimination/Share your story
- Spread the Fact
- Join other community efforts to fight racism and promote social justice
Protect your health and safety
When you encounter discrimination, first you need to ensure your own safety and prevent yourself from further harm before considering further responses and action. Seek help and support to deal with any harmful impact of the experiences. The following resources provide some practical tips on responding to stigma and discrimination.
(In Chinese) Centre for Research -Action on Race Relations Resources in Chinese
(In Chinese) Ottawa Public Health Coronavirus Preventing Stigma and Discrimination
To address the mental health impact of experiencing stigma and discrimination, see our mental health and resilience section.
Know your rights
Racism and many other forms of discrimination are prohibited under the Ontario Human Rights Code. In response to COVID-19, the Ontario Human Rights commission has issued a policy statement to guide all levels of government to ensure service access and protection of different vulnerable and affected communities, including specific attention to responding to racism, ageism, ableism and other forms of discrimination.
Based on the definition of the Metro Toronto and Ontario Provincial police, a hate crime is a criminal offence committed against a person or property that is based solely upon the victim’s race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.
Document and report discrimination/share your story
In response to the rapid rise in anti-Asian incidents across Canada, various community organizations have developed reporting mechanisms to help document the incidents in order to help advocate for needed community response and government actions. Similar action has resulted in increased public attention and response in the US where Asian American communities have faced similar challenges.
Locally, you can report incidents of racism and discrimination using the online survey by the Chinese Canadian National Council– Toronto Chapter.
Nationally, you can report hate incidents to the Canadian Anti-racism Network.
If you think you have experienced a hate crime, you can report to the Metro Toronto Police via: http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/crimeprevention/hatecrime.php
You can also share your story on how you address stigma and discrimination at our Working Togethersection.
Spread the Facts
Knowledge is power. Keeping informed on correct, science and evidence-based information and sharing messages to counter misinformation can be a powerful tool to reduce stigma and challenges prejudice.
Some reliable sites that provides up-to-date information about the pandemic includes: our covid-19-stay-informed page
Other useful tools and practical tips that can help with sharing our messages through different channels and social media can be found via:
Join Community Action
You are not alone, many people in many racialized and marginalized communities share the same struggles and challenges due to racism, stigma and discrimination. To prevent more discrimination and suffering, we need to take collective action and work together to build support networks in the community, organize campaigns to counter racism and stigma, advocate for our community’s needs; and join force with other community groups and campaigns to fight racism, counter stigma and promote special justice for all.
Join other anti-racism and social justice campaign at:
Connect with other community care initiatives at:
Join us in supporting our communities:
(Link to Project PROTECH Volunteer recruitment/sign up form)
- COVID-19 Racial Equity and Social Justice Resources (toolkits, references, social action inventory in US)
- WHO and UNICEF guide to preventing and addressing COVID-19 related social stigma
- The Canadian Anti-racism Network: comprehensive coverage of current news and links to hate crimes reporting tool in Canada
- For information on how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing certain legal processes in Ontario such as Employment, Family, and Housing Law, click here.