Negative attitudes towards Asian Canadian anglers

The history of Asian Canadians has been shadowed by the experience of racism. Laws were passed to limit Chinese immigration. The 1885 Chinese Immigration Act imposed a $50 “head tax” on all Chinese persons entering Canada, and in 1903, this was raised to the prohibitive amount of $500. In 1872, the right to vote in provincial and municipal elections was taken away from Chinese Canadians in British Columbia; Japanese Canadians and South Asians were similarly disenfranchised in 1895 and 1907 respectively. A range of discriminatory laws and policies prohibited Chinese Canadians from owning property, serving the public, and entering certain professions. As many know, during World War II, Japanese Canadians living on the West Coast of Canada were deprived of their property, forcibly relocated, and detained. Asian Canadians were subjected to racist stereotypes as an unassimilable “Yellow Peril”, and as being unsanitary, scheming, and underhanded. Negative attitudes towards Asian Canadians survive in characterizations of these Canadians as “foreigners” and “aliens” whose values and culture are incompatible with the Canadian way of life. Concerns about negative attitudes towards Chinese Canadians and South Asian Canadians came to the surface again during the 2003 SARS outbreak. Recently, the media reported that two young men calling themselves the “Port City Aryans” were sentenced in a New Brunswick Court for physically assaulting Chinese university students.

The Commission received 14 submissions from non-racialized members of the communities where assaults against Asian Canadian anglers have taken place. Most, though not all, of these focussed on the fishing practices of Asian Canadians, while denying that race was a factor in the incidents that have occurred.

A few of the submissions pointed out that Asian Canadian anglers are highly visible in the relatively homogeneous communities that they are visiting. According to the recently released 2006 census data, in the areas where incidents occurred, such as the environs of Peterborough and Lake Simcoe, recent immigrants make up between 0 and 3.8% of the total population; by comparison, in some areas of the GTA, that figure is up to 47% of the total population.

Part of the social conflict is clearly related to larger numbers of visible minority citizens using a region that is not very diverse. (#2)

The Lake Simcoe area is and has been a predominantly white community; racism has also been evident for a long time in the school setting. (#14)

It is quite clear to me the park I take my kids to is being populated by people not in our neighbourhood .... The first encounter that lead me to look upon people that do not live in our community was when I witnessed an Asian family digging holes in our park to locate worms for their fishing trip. (#17)

Being highly visible as presumed “outsiders”, the activities of Asian Canadians may also be subject to greater scrutiny than others. For example, submissions raising concerns about the practices of Asian Canadian anglers frequently cited a single incident, often several years in the past, as the basis for sweeping negative statements about the Asian Canadian angling community as a whole. One individual cited a single incident where he observed Asian Canadians keeping undersized bass as the basis for concluding that “More and more Asians are raping our lakes”. Another submission stated that “Asian has no respect for the country” based on a single incident where Asian Canadians camping at a popular fishing spot were untidy and left their garbage behind.

It is worth emphasizing that there is no evidence to indicate that any one community is more likely than another to violate conservation laws.

A number of submissions made generalizations about Asian Canadian anglers as being too noisy, or taking up too much space on docks, piers or bridges.

Several submissions displayed outright hostility towards Asian Canadians; for example, drawing a distinction between “Asians” and “Canadians”, and expressing opinions that “Asians” “keep everything that they catch”, “have no respect for the country”, “have a reputation for cheating”, and have a “cultural disrespect for Canada’s laws and decency standards”. Language and accent appear to be a particular trigger for hostility with some submissions describing individuals as “pretending not to speak English” or mocking stereotypical speech patterns of persons for whom English is a second language. Some submissions even went so far as to blame Asian Canadian anglers for the assaults that have occurred; for example, one submission stated:

Just a note about the articles I read about “racial hatred on Asians”. I believe it’s the end result. Time after time people like me are trespassed against till finally we get to the point where some of us lose it and lash out. (#19)

The Inquiry also received hate calls, containing death threats and racist abuse against persons at MTCSALC.

Clearly, not every expressed concern about improper fishing is an expression of racism. There are individuals within every community who do not follow the rules, are inconsiderate towards others, or break the laws. Further, as noted in the following section, Recreational Fishing in Ontario, there currently appear to be broad tensions and difficulties over access to what is, after all, a limited resource.

What is of concern is when Asian Canadian anglers, as visible outsiders in relatively homogeneous communities, are subjected to disproportionate scrutiny, and assumed to be more likely than other Canadians to be breaking the laws, with the result that all Asian Canadian anglers are then viewed or treated in a hostile manner.

A White teacher in the Lake Simcoe area emphasized the importance of anti-racist education for youth, citing incidents that she has witnessed as an educator:

Some families promote feelings of intolerance, and unfortunately sometimes their children demonstrate that “the apple does not fall far from the tree”. As an educator I have witnessed many incidents in the hallways, cafeteria, and outside which I find intolerable and at times disgusting...[C]ontinuing and consistent support from all levels of the community, including the schools, is warranted. Professional development for staff and students must be mandated. (#14)