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The Commission’s preliminary findings of the inquiry into assaults on Asian Canadian anglers, released in December 2007, made note of this submission:

Last August, I and my friend, who is of Chinese origin, were fishing near the channel here in the publicly owned land, we were chased away by the local residents...When I told them we were on public property [he] threatened to push us into the lake and said, “if you don’t leave now you will end up in the water.” We left because we didn’t want to get into trouble.

In September 2007, the Commission learned of several disturbing incidents that had occurred around lakes and bridges in Ontario. The incidents involved reports of assaults and verbal attacks on Asian Canadians who had engaged in recreational fishing in and around the shores of Lake Simcoe. Asian Canadians, or people fishing with Asian Canadians, appeared to be targeted, and a racist slur referring to Asian Canadians was associated with reports of assaults in some areas.

As English and Chinese-language media put a spotlight on these incidents and people in the Asian Canadian communities voiced their concerns, further incidents across southern and eastern Ontario came to light. In November 2007, the Commission initiated the Inquiry into Assaults on Asian Canadian Anglers (“Inquiry”). The Inquiry was established under the Commission’s mandate under section 29 of the Human Rights Code (“Code”). This section empowers the Commission to inquire into incidents of tension or conflict in a community, and to make recommendations and encourage and co-ordinate programs and activities to reduce or prevent such sources of tension and conflict.

The goals of the Inquiry were to learn more about the impact and systemic nature of the incidents, support those affected and refer them to appropriate resources, engage in education and public awareness about racism and racial profiling, build capacity within communities and responsible government bodies to deal with issues of tension and conflict, and identify possible solutions.

When a local Chinese-radio talk show host asked his callers about their experiences while fishing, he received four calls from people who related their experiences of having been harassed while fishing, or knew of Asian Canadians who had been harassed.

Submissions to the Inquiry

In partnership with the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, the Commission set up a hotline and survey to understand the nature of the problem and its impact on people in the Asian Canadian communities. The Commission’s Preliminary Findings: Inquiry into Assaults on Asian Canadian Anglers revealed stories of frightening fishing experiences. People related having experienced a range of encounters, including verbal assaults, destruction of fishing equipment, stone-throwing, and physical assault. These incidents appeared related to racism against Asian Canadians.

I have been fishing on a boat on Rice Lake from early October to mid-November for the last several years. During this month and a half, on average two times, there is a man...who would come out of his house and say out loud, the fxxking Chinese (sometime he would say the fxxking Vietnamese or the fxxking Korean) is invading his backyard.

The report also made note of 11 incidents that were reported to police in 2007, most of them involving allegations of assault. These are noted in Appendix A. One particularly devastating incident involved multiple victims and perpetrators, and left one individual in hospital for several months with severe permanent injuries. These incidents were recognized as being potential hate crimes and were investigated by the hate crimes units of various police detachments, which made several arrests. Most are still being pursued through the courts at the time of writing of this report.

These incidents had a significant impact on many people in Asian Canadian communities. The Commission heard reports of people feeling fearful of going fishing, and feeling that they needed to change their behaviour and increase their safety when engaging in activities in the community. For some, their faith in Canada’s ability to live up to values it expresses, such as multiculturalism, was undermined.

Through the Inquiry, the Commission heard that some people’s experiences of harassment or assault made them feel unwelcome in the communities where they had occurred. At the same time, the Commission heard from people living in communities across Ontario that they were fearful they or their communities were being painted as “racist”. The Commission has stated that no town or community is racist, but emphasized that all municipalities have a role to play in acknowledging and addressing incidents of racism when they occur. Everyone has an obligation to provide for an environment free from harassment and discrimination, and the actions of elected leaders, government officials and police services are critical in this regard.

From others, the Commission heard that negative sentiments and incidents of harassment of Asian Canadian anglers were related to concerns about protecting scarce natural resources. The Commission recognizes and upholds the significance of conservation of natural resources to the economic and cultural livelihoods of communities across Ontario. Everyone should obey the laws to sustain the natural environment, and people who don’t should be subjected to appropriate penalties. However, the Commission was alarmed that submissions conveying concern about protecting natural resources were often accompanied by stereotypes about Asian Canadians, portraying them as more likely than others to break fishing laws, and portraying them as “outsiders” in communities.

Human rights concerns arise when Asian Canadians are targeted for greater scrutiny, or it is assumed that because people are Asian Canadian they are fishing inappropriately. It was alarming that some people appeared to rationalize incidents of harassment and assault as the natural extension of frustrations around perceptions that Asian Canadians are more likely to fish illegally than others. Assaults or vigilantism targeting a particular group cannot be justified by raising allegations of illegal activity.

It is worthwhile to note that in all of the incidents investigated by police, there was no evidence that victims had broken any fishing regulations.

In September 2007, a racial slur referring to Asian Canadians was found spray-painted under a bridge in Hastings, Ontario. Asian Canadians were referred to as “fish thieves.”

Where tensions in communities exist because of legitimate concerns around conservation and resource protection and illegal fishing, the Commission encourages that these be resolved with a focus on community engagement, changing behaviour and holding perpetrators accountable, not on perpetuating stereotypes against a particular ethnic group.

In York Region, the York Regional Police engaged in Project Fisher, a 30-day undercover operation in which Asian Canadian police officers in plainclothes fished at night under a bridge that had been the site of several incidents. Within a few hours of setting up the operation on the first night, the officers were subjected to racial comments from several different people in passing cars.

One officer described his experience on Project Fisher: “I was fishing, and there was a pickup truck with two guys, who yelled, ‘Go home.’ My first thought was that, ‘I’m not welcome here.’ I thought this guy had a problem with me, [but] I don’t think he could tell my skin colour from where he was.” However, the officer indicated that he was fishing in an area frequented by mostly Asian Canadians.

York Regional Police Chief Armand La Barge provided a strong response to the assaults by noting that “such incidents of hate have no place in this or any other community in this country.” [1]

Meeting with Responsible Institutions

The Commission met with 21 organizations with the goals of raising awareness about racism against Asian Canadian anglers and problem-solving around this issue. The Commission met with municipalities, government ministries, school boards, community and angling organizations and police services. The Commission obtained over 50 commitments from these organizations, and made seven commitments of its own. The commitments range from short-term projects designed to address safety issues experienced by Asian Canadian anglers, to longer-term initiatives that address issues of racism, racial profiling and hate crimes on a more widespread scale.

The Commission emphasized collective responsibility to this problem. Some communities and organizations were quick to denounce these incidents and many were eager to work with the Commission and the police on ways to prevent and respond to any further incidents of racism. These can serve as examples of “best practices” when responding to racism.

The Community Reference Group

In order to fully understand the impact of this issue on Asian Canadians, it was important for the Commission to be able to respond quickly to the concerns and work in collaboration with people from the affected communities. Community engagement and outreach is a critical part of the Commission’s new mandate and its future systemic work.

In addition to partnering with the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic to establish the Inquiry hotline, the Commission worked with the Community Reference Group, which consisted of advocates and educators from organizations serving people in Asian Canadian communities. The group has publicly raised concerns about the assaults against Asian Canadian anglers through a series of press conferences. The group worked in an advisory capacity on the Inquiry and provided regular feedback to the Commission on the issue and its impact. The Community Reference Group has developed an independent assessment of the commitments and the progress organizations have made on them. A link to the report can be found at the Commission’s web site at

[1] Tobi Cohen. “Race played role in attacks on Asian fishermen: Ontario Human Rights Commission.” Metro. (13 May, 2008).

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