The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is concerned about accounts from members of Ontario’s South Asian communities of hate and stigmatization in reaction to the ongoing COVID-19 humanitarian crisis in India. Some media headlines have potentially fanned the flames with racially charged descriptions of the “Indian variant.” The World Health Organization strongly advises against naming a virus after a geographic location, which leads to xenophobia and harassment.
Many vulnerable groups in Canada have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – including Ontario’s South Asian communities. Since the pandemic’s start, South Asian people have endured disproportionate impacts due to unequal access to health services in hotspot areas. They are also over-represented in precarious and front-line jobs where the risk of infection is higher, such as health services, manufacturing and transportation. Agencies and organizations serving South Asian people also expect that many South Asian people who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic will likely remain unemployed post-pandemic.
Discriminatory action against any persons or communities because of a perceived association with COVID-19 is prohibited by the Ontario Human Rights Code. COVID-19 is not isolated to people of any particular ethnic origin, place of origin or race.
This is not the first time the OHRC has had to speak out about the rise of toxic rhetoric and the impact of racial profiling of people perceived to be associated with COVID-19. Since January 2020, East Asian communities around the world have faced racism, hate and discrimination. Indigenous peoples in some Ontario communities have also experienced denial of services, online racist comments and other forms of discriminatory treatment related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, the OHRC raised concerns that an expansion of police discretionary power to enforce stay-at-home orders would likely have a disproportionate impact on members of vulnerable groups, such as Black communities.
COVID-19 has led to widespread distress in communities across the world, and right here in Ontario. We all share responsibility for making sure hate and racism do not add to that distress.
During this colossal global crisis and the unspeakable loss, sadness and fear that is gripping India, its neighbouring countries and the entire South Asian diaspora, the OHRC stands in solidarity with South Asian communities and urges all Ontarians to do the same.