September 30, 2020

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Campaign targets racism linked to pandemic

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Hani Ataan, project director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, at his home. The organization is launching an anti-discrimination campaign today.</p></p>


Hani Ataan, project director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, at his home. The organization is launching an anti-discrimination campaign today.

Newcomer settlement organizations say fear of the novel coronavirus is fuelling racism and discriminatory behaviours against minority groups in Manitoba.

Immigration Partnership Winnipeg will launch an anti-discrimination campaign Tuesday following increased reports of racist incidents related to COVID-19 toward people of Asian heritage.

Project director Hani Ataan said people have shared numerous stories with IPW and its partner organizations detailing experiences of xenophobia and discrimination during the pandemic.

Members of Winnipeg’s Asian community have reported being verbally harassed on public transit, shunned in public spaces, refused tenancy by property managers, and the subject of workplace gossip and derogatory social media posts, Ataan said.

"It seems to be once you look at these anecdotal or personal examples, it really reflects a fear-driven type of racist behaviour, or racism based on pure ignorance and scapegoating, and neither of them should be tolerated," he said in an interview Monday.

"I don’t think we can do our work in the midst of this type of atmosphere. This is not an atmosphere that encourages integration nor is it a welcoming behaviour that can create a cohesive society."

Ataan said a recent survey of 1,877 provincial health care workers by Canadian Union of Public Employees Manitoba backs up the community reports. According to CUPE Manitoba, one in five respondents who self-identified as Asian had experienced racism at work throughout March and April.

Public opinion polling conducted by Leger Marketing for the Association for Canadian Studies early in the pandemic indicated 32 per cent of Manitobans expressed worry about being in contact with people from Asia or Iran.

Perla Javate, co-chair of the Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba-Stronger Together, said members of the Chinese community have been targeted simply because the contagion was first identified in China.

She’s also aware of Filipino-Manitobans experiencing harassment after local arrivals on a flight from the Philippines had tested positive for COVID-19. In Manitoba, arrivals from more than a dozen international destinations have tested positive for the virus since early March, according to the province.

"Even without a complete report they will jump into it and use it as an excuse to discriminate against people," said Javate, who is also president of the Philippine Heritage Council of Manitoba.

"I personally feel very sad about people who are discriminating at this time because if there’s any one clear lesson everybody should learn from this experience, being a global one, is we are all equal," she said. "We are bound together by this and I’m hoping people will come out of it kinder and more loving of each other knowing we’re all in it together."

The three-pronged "Manitobans: COVID-19 Doesn't Discriminate. Nor Should You" campaign focuses on bringing attention to discrimination experienced by racialized communities during the pandemic and condemning racist behaviours; equipping people with tools to respond to discrimination in-person and online; and highlighting newcomers working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response.

"We need to dissociate the COVID-19 as a pandemic with any of those groups," Ataan said.

The effort is also supported by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations, Pembina Valley Local Immigration Partnership, Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba-Stronger Together, Réseau en Immigration Francophone du Manitoba, Manitoba Association of Rights and Liberties, and CUPE Manitoba.

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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Updated on Tuesday, May 12, 2020 at 9:02 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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