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3. Racism and Racial Profiling

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When the Commission and the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic set up the hotline to inquire into alleged assaults against Asian Canadian anglers, the Commission heard of many accounts of racial harassment, ranging from verbal assaults, to destruction of fishing equipment, to stone-throwing. In some of the cases under police investigation, people were subjected to physical violence. During its meetings with various organizations and individuals to talk about solutions, the Commission heard of further reports of racial harassment against individuals in the Asian Canadian community.

In York region, the York Regional Police engaged in Project Fisher, a 30-day operation in which Asian Canadian police officers in plainclothes fished at night under a bridge that had been the site of several incidents. The Commission heard that 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. From two additional organizations, the Commission heard of incidents in which racist comments were directed at Asian Canadian people fishing, with one person describing this as a long-standing and common occurrence.

These reports, coupled with the incidents already recorded, point to the very serious nature of anti-Asian Canadian sentiment among some individuals in different regions across Ontario, which seems to be embedded in stereotypes about Asian Canadians and fishing.

Racial Profiling and Misperceptions about Fishing

The Commission has defined racial profiling as any action undertaken for reasons of safety, security or public protection that relies on stereotypes about race, colour, ethnicity, ancestry, religion or place of origin rather than on reasonable suspicion, to single out an individual for greater scrutiny or different treatment. The reliance on stereotypes is not always overt. People may rely on unconscious or unquestioned stereotypes based on limited information, misunderstandings or misperceptions.

Throughout this Inquiry, the Commission has been concerned that some people have relied on stereotypes that Asian Canadians are more likely than people from other communities to engage in over-fishing, fishing in sanctuaries, fishing without a licence, and other activities that are against the law. Further, the Commission has been concerned that these stereotypes may to be used to “explain” or justify the reported assaults. Racial profiling occurs when individuals act on stereotypes about Asian Canadians and illegal fishing and use these stereotypes as a rationale for greater scrutiny, discriminatory treatment or even violence (which is portrayed as vigilantism). Engaging in this kind of discriminatory behaviour is against the law and strong messages need to be provided that it is not tolerated.

As was noted in the Commission’s preliminary findings report, there is no evidence to suggest that Asian Canadians are more prone to fish illegally than people from any other community. In any of the incidents that were recently investigated by police, there has been no evidence reported that suggests that victims engaged in activities that were against the law.

The Commission is concerned that a focus on fishing regulations as a solution to this problem misplaces the debate and minimizes the experiences of people who have been harassed while fishing.

Some individuals who came forward during the Inquiry indicated that they were not relying on stereotypes that Asian Canadians were over-fishing, based on their experiences of seeing some Asian Canadian people catching large numbers of fish. However, other people identified that this perception is erroneous and that it could lead to stereotyping. They indicated that misperceptions may be developed when some Asian Canadians are seen to catch many fish of smaller varieties that are different than those historically caught in lakes and rivers in Ontario. Many of these smaller fish have high limits on the number that can be caught, which may lead to assumptions that Asian Canadians are over-fishing.

It should be stated that even in an instance where someone may break the law, this does not provide cause for violence or harsh treatment. Where race is a factor, such treatment can still be considered a form of racial profiling. In a situation where a racialized person breaks the law and is subjected to harsh treatment or violence, it raises a question as to whether a non-racialized person would be subjected to the same scrutiny and similarly treated in a comparable situation.

It is important to distinguish between a hate crime and racial profiling. As noted above, racial profiling may occur on a subtle level. A person may not be fully aware that he or she is operating on the basis of stereotypes attributing group characteristics to individuals from different backgrounds. In contrast, hate crime activity requires an overt motive.

In meetings with various individuals and organizations, the Commission again heard concerns about the lack of public access to many waterways, decreasing fish stocks, and about individuals from all communities who are believed to be conducting illegal fishing. The Commission heard that responsible institutions, such as the Ministry of Natural Resources and different municipalities, are looking seriously into these issues to ensure equal access to fishing areas and resources. The Commission urges that dialogue continue about these issues, with the understanding that no one community should be held responsible for these concerns, and that people from all communities should benefit from improvements in these areas.

Through their public education and outreach activities, provincial and local organizations have a key role to play in combating negative attitudes and stereotypes about Asian Canadians and fishing. The Commission sought commitments from the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and the Ontario Chinese Anglers Association that were aimed at combating stereotypes, addressing racial profiling, providing strong public messages that racism should not be tolerated, and identifying support systems for people experiencing hate activity.

The Hate Crimes Community Working Group Report

When the attacks on Asian Canadians anglers were first reported in the mainstream English-language media at the end of September 2007, they were quickly condemned by many community groups as being hate crimes[3], and were referred by police to their respective Hate Crimes units. Part of the concern was not only that Asian Canadians, or people fishing with Asian Canadians, appeared to be targeted, but that a racist name referring to Asian Canadians was associated with reports of assaults in some areas.

Incidents involving hate create a broad chilling effect across the community. The impact on people in the Asian Canadian communities was made clear to the Commission in its Inquiry and in the news media. Many people reported changing their behaviour to increase their safety and some expressed that the events caused “an atmosphere of fear” for Asian Canadians. News media reported that some Asian Canadians were “terrified” to go fishing.[4] Similar sentiments were expressed to the Commission by others.

These incidents demonstrate the far-reaching impact of hate and bias crime on affected communities, and the need for quick, effective responses. In these incidents, Asian Canadians appeared to have been targeted for hate activity; however, hate incidents also affect people from other Human Rights Code protected groups, including Aboriginals, African Canadians, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and intersexed individuals, Jews, Muslims, Arabs, those from South Asian communities, and women.[5]

It is for these reasons that many of the commitments the Commission proposed to organizations stem from the work done by the Hate Crimes Community Working Group (“HCCWG”). A discussion of the commitments proposed and the HCCWG’s report can be found in Appendix A.

Initiatives in Schools

Some of the commitments sought by the Commission were focused on education initiatives that could be delivered in the school system. School programs aimed at teaching anti-discrimination and anti-racism are critical tools in combating stereotyping, interrupting discrimination when it occurs, eliminating barriers for racialized and other equity-seeking groups, and increasing understanding of human rights. The Commission was concerned that many of the people who were charged by police in connection with assaults were young adults, only a few years from school-leaving age. The Commission also received a particularly notable submission from a teacher, calling for greater education in the schools to deal with discriminatory attitudes. These examples provide support for further integration of anti-discrimination initiatives in schools. For a more detailed description of the commitments proposed and obtained from educators, please see Appendix A.

[3] On September 27, 2007, a coalition of community groups held a press conference denouncing the incidents in York region as hate crimes and demanding that individuals be charged accordingly.
[4] Ontario Human Rights Commission (2007). Preliminary Findings: Inquiry Into Assaults on Asian Canadian Anglers. Ontario. p. 9.; Peat, D. Fishing in Fear, Anglers of Asian descent call it a hate crime, Peterborough Examiner, October 26, 2007.
[5] Gannon, M. and Mihorean, K. (2004). Criminal Victimization in Canada. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, p.7.; and Hate Crimes Community Working Group (2006). Addressing Hate Crime in Ontario: Final Report of the Hate Crimes Community Working Group. Ontario. p.19.

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