On December 14, 2007, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (“Commission”) released its Preliminary Findings of the Inquiry Into Assaults on Asian Canadian Anglers. The goal of the Inquiry was to learn more about the nature of verbal and physical assaults reported by Asian Canadian anglers that occurred in regions of southern and eastern Ontario in the summer and fall of 2007. Additional goals were to:
- Learn more about the extent to which a systemic problem exists
- Support those affected and refer them to appropriate resources
- Build capacity within communities and responsible government bodies to deal with issues of tension and conflict
- Identify possible solutions, and
- Raise public awareness about racism and racial profiling.
In November 2007, the Commission worked in partnership with the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (“MTCSALC”) to develop a hotline to hear the public’s concerns. In its preliminary findings report, the Commission showed how racism was linked to physical and verbal incidents reported by Asian Canadian anglers. The Commission noted its intentions to do further work with responsible institutions with the aim of combating racism on a broad level, to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. This report is an account of the results of the Inquiry.
The Commission has undertaken this Inquiry as part of its mandate to promote the Ontario Human Rights Code (“Code”). Section 29 of the Code gives the Commission the authority to conduct inquiries into incidents and conditions leading to tension or conflict based on prohibited grounds of discrimination and to take action to eliminate the conflict. The Commission is also responsible for assisting and encouraging organizations from the public and private sectors to engage in programs to alleviate tension and conflict based on prohibited grounds of discrimination.
This Inquiry took place within the context of a changing human rights system in Ontario. Under the new system, the Commission will continue to engage in policy development and public education. It will also have a broader mandate to conduct public inquiries, do research into discriminatory practices, and work with responsible institutions to facilitate solutions. The Commission anticipates that the Inquiry Into Assaults on Asian Canadian Anglers is an example of the work it will do in the transformed human rights system.
In its preliminary report, the Commission recognized the collective responsibility of organizations and individuals in combating racism and racial profiling. Each organization has its own unique role to play in addressing racism. After the release of the preliminary findings report, the Commission began to focus on problem solving with responsible organizations and institutions.
The Commission contacted several organizations, including mayors from municipalities where assaults were reported; the Ministries of Citizenship, Attorney General, Education, Natural Resources and Community Safety and Correctional Services; York Regional Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (“AMO”), Boards of Education serving southern and eastern Ontario, as well as organizations serving anglers. In addition, the Commission consulted with organizations and individuals representing the Asian Canadian community.
In all, the Commission asked for commitments from 21 organizations and consulted many others about the assaults reported against Asian Canadians. Before meeting with the responsible institutions, the Commission requested that each organization consider implementing certain commitments that would address concerns about racism against Asian Canadians and racialized people. These recommendations were developed to correspond to the unique mandate of each organization, and took into account any anti-racism work already undertaken by the organization.
Many of the proposed commitments focused specifically on the incidents involving Asian Canadian anglers, to facilitate a plan of action that could be put in place quickly to increase community safety starting with the fishing season in 2008. However, other recommendations were more comprehensive, and focused on broader goals of addressing hate activity, racism, and discrimination generally. It is the Commission’s hope that by implementing these commitments, organizations and communities will increase their ability to prevent and combat incidents of racism and hate activity against all groups.
Overall, the key areas that the Commission raised were: ensuring the physical safety of Asian Canadian anglers, increasing access to community and police support, identifying barriers when integrating immigrants and racialized people into small communities, defining leadership on the part of the government, ensuring increased criminal justice intervention around hate crimes, facilitating ongoing work between the community and responsible institutions, and combating stereotypes through public education.
The Commission was also interested in learning about the initiatives that organizations had undertaken to combat racism, specifically in response to this concern. Overall, the Commission found that many organizations and institutions took reports of the assaults very seriously and were already engaged in attempts to facilitate solutions. After meeting with the Commission, many other organizations made plans to develop leadership around this issue. In total, the Commission obtained 59 commitments from 21 organizations and municipalities, and made an additional seven commitments. A chart detailing the types of commitments proposed and obtained is contained in section 6.
 Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c.H. 19, as amended by the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, S.O. 2006, c.30.