Racism and Discrimination against Chinese Canadians during COVID-19

By Graham Green

With the COVID-19 Pandemic still ravaging Canada and the wider world, it’s sad to see the racist and discriminatory actions being projected on minority groups, particularly the Chinese. Chinese Canadians have been suspected of carrying the disease, even if they are completely healthy and are told not to come to their place of work. Before the pandemic, Chinese businesses lost a significant amount of business because other Canadians heard about the virus’s origins in China and decided to stay away for fear of contracting it.1 Chinese Canadians have been perceived as foreign, even if they have lived in Canada for generation. This Chinese Lunar New Year has been particularly difficult for Chinese business, with many people cancelling their reservations at restaurants. It’s the equivalent of missing out on two Christmas shopping seasons for Chinese businesses, as this happened last year during the beginning of the pandemic as well.2 Chinese front line workers have been hit particularly hard, with many of them losing their jobs in the service sector and retail. Chinese Canadians are also the largest population facing poverty in Canada according to statistics Canada, and the pandemic has just amplified this. There’s also been surges of hate crimes toward Vancouver’s Asian populations that started in 2020.3

In this ensuing racial injustice, there are organizations that are fighting back such as the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, which seeks to dismantle all forms of racism and discrimination in Canada by breaking down the White colonial ideologies that systemically plague our societies.4 The organization was founded as the CCNC back in 1980 when a racist television show aired that falsely depicted Chinese students as foreigners in Canadian schools. The organization has fought for equality and human rights of all people for four decades now.5

Retrieved from: https://phabc.org/covid-19-racism-in-canada-incident-reporting/

The mission statement of the CCNCSJ focuses on three principles: Firstly, they seek to collect and analyze data, along with incident reports of racism and discrimination toward minorities. Secondly, they seek to expand their advocacy for racial justice through social media platforms. Finally, they seek to supply those who are suffering from racism with online tools and resources that can help them combat it.6 CCNCSJ’s #Facerace campaign was created out of the pandemic’s turmoil and seeks to educate people about the past and present racism facing Chinese Immigrants in Canada. The movement also seeks to empower victims of racist attacks and seeks to build community resilience.7 Statistics There have also been studies conducted on the racism and discrimination experienced by Chinese Canadians, and the results are quite shocking. In one study,The University of Alberta and Angus Reid Institute administered surveys to 500 Chinese Canadians about their experiences of discriminatory behavior. 43 percent said that they were actively intimidated or threatened, whereas 64% claimed that they felt disrespected in some way during the pandemic.61% of Chinese Canadians claimed that they had to adjust their routine to avoid discriminatory actions.8 Just over half of parents also fear that their children will be bullied upon returning to school.

Due to these high numbers, it’s been suggested by some that we’re experiencing a “shadow pandemic” in which racism and discrimination of minority groups is taking place. Over half of those examined in the survey believed that the shadow pandemic will continue after COVID-19 is finished.9 Thirty percent of Chinese Canadians claimed they had been exposed to anti-Chinese social media, jokes, and graffiti. Two-thirds of those surveyed believed that North American media coverage was fueling the fires of animosity toward Asians.10 One in five Chinese reported verbal abuse and 13 % reported that they were threatened or intimidated. One in 10 experienced physical abuse as well. One woman claimed that she received numerous racial remarks walking down the street with a mask on and that some shouted that she should “Go back to China.”11 These statistics should give one a pause for thought about the racism and discrimination still present in our country. Social Stigma Within the Context of Health and the Model Minority Social Stigma within the context of health occurs when an individual or larger group that share characteristics with each other are associated with a disease. This leads to that population becoming discriminated against because of the association.12 The reason why there’s a substantial amount of social stigma pertaining to COVID-19 is because people are afraid of the unknown, and we are prone to associate the unknown with the “other.”

This image captures the concept of what an Asian model minority represents. Notice that they’re wedged between white and Black people. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/04/19/524571669/model-minority-myth-again-used-as-a-racial-wedge-between-asians-and-blacks This social stigma can cause a lack of social cohesion in our communities. Some people may try to hide the illness because they fear being discriminated against and others could also decide not to be treated for the disease right away, while also failing to embrace healthy behaviors.13 In helping mitigate the occurrence of social stigma, it is important that we adopt a language when talking about the disease that does not single out a particular group of people. Using inclusive language and reducing a stigmatizing terminology are keys to breaking the cycle of social stigma.

As an example, do not attach the name of COVID-19 with a specific ethnic background by using terms such as the “Chinese virus” or Wuhan Virus.”14 It’s also important for everyone to do their part in minimizing the spread of social stigma by spreading facts and not fears about the disease. Using social media as a platform to communicate facts is an effective method. Engaging social influencers by reaching out to important people and asking them to communicate information that can reduce social stigma would be effective. Amplifying the voices of those who have survived COVID-19 through words and imagery while supporting caretakers who have helped people become cured of the disease can also help. It’s important to ensure that multiple ethnic groups are represented when talking about the impacts of COVID-19 on communities as well. Collaborating with other people who are disseminating information on reducing social stigma during the pandemic is also key to creating a broad movement.15

Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/westernpacific/emergencies/covid-19/information/social-stigma-discrimination It is only by approaching this virus as a unified nation where we will truly conqueror it.

Asian Canadians are considered model minorities, and this has promoted the collective view that they cannot be discriminated against. When considering socioeconomic factors, Asians are more well educated and wealthy compared to other minorities, but socioeconomic status is just one measure of oppression.16 Since the onset of COVID-19, racist and discriminatory attitudes that have always been prevalent in our society conveyed themselves fully with racial attacks against Asian Canadians and hate crimes happening across the country. It is commonly viewed by white Canadians that Asians are perpetual foreigners who do not belong in Canada because of their race. This phenomenon manifests itself mainly through implicit biases in which we make associations without consciously being aware of them.17 Having an implicit bias against Asians doesn’t necessarily result in full-on racism but is expressed through microaggressions, micro insults and micro invalidation. Even people who are naturally against discrimination and racism against minority groups can experience this implicit bias.18 It’s important to recognize this implicit bias in ourselves, to ensure Asian Canadians are not discriminated against in the future.



  1. Wells, Nick. “Chinese-Canadians Voice Worries about Racism, Job Losses One Year into Pandemic.” Coronavirus. CTV News, February 8, 2021. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/chinese-canadians-voice-worries-about-racism-job-losses-one-year-into-pandemic-1.5299682.

  2. Wells, Nick. “Chinese-Canadians Voice Worries about Racism.”

  3. Wells, Nick. “Chinese-Canadians Voice Worries about Racism.”

  4. “SJ – FaceRace – CCNC – SJ.” CCNC, January 19, 2021. https://ccncsj.ca/campaigns-facerace/.

  5. “SJ – FaceRace – CCNC – SJ.”

  6. “SJ -FaceRace- CCNC – SJ.”

  7. “SJ – FaceRace – CCNC – SJ.”

  8. Mcmaster, Geoff. “Majority of Chinese-Canadians Say They’ve Experienced Discrimination Because of COVID-19: Study.” University of Alberta, July 7, 2020. https://www.ualberta.ca/folio/2020/07/majority-of-chinese-canadians-say-theyve-experienced-discrimination-because-of-covid-19-study.html.

  9. Mcmaster, Geoff. “Majority of Chinese-Canadians Say They’ve Experienced Discrimination.”

  10. Mcmaster, Geoff. “A Majority of Chinese Canadians Say They’ve Experienced Discrimination.”

  11. Mcmaster, Geoff. “A Majority of Chinese Canadians Say They’ve Experienced Discrimination.”

  12. “A Guide to Preventing and Addressing Social Stigma Associated with COVID-19.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization. Accessed March 8, 2021. https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/a-guide-to-preventing-and-addressing-social-stigma-associated-with-covid-19?gclid=Cj0KCQiAs5eCBhCBARIsAEhk4r42h-BiTeNxeK71JdQEjMgrug058lfXzgZWFJgPuUL-T2mSkOR8BEkaAkZVEALw_wcB.

  13. “A Guide to Preventing and Addressing Social Stigma.”

  14. “A Guide to Preventing and Addressing Social Stigma.”

  15. “A Guide to Preventing and Addressing Social Stigma.”

  16. Kim, Kisun. “Preventing Another Crisis: Racism Against Asian Canadians and the Role of Public Libraries.” BCLA Perspectives Preventing Another Crisis Racism Against Asian Canadians and the Role of Public Libraries Comments. Accessed March 8, 2021.