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A critical juncture of hate

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October 5, 2020

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Today, OHRC Chief Commissioner Ena Chadha released a statement on how Canada is facing two pandemics – COVID-19 and the pandemic of brazen hate, extremism and brutality.

With the rise of toxic rhetoric during the early days of COVID-19, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) publicly condemned the intensifying xenophobia and scaremongering. Yet, 10 months later, Canada continues to face a pandemic of brazen hate, extremism and brutality.  

It appears that COVID-19 stresses have brought out the worst in some people, who now feel emboldened to announce and act on their previously latent bigotry. Last month, multiple public manifestations of discriminatory hate occurred throughout the country, signalling that respect for human rights is regressing and that open racism and escalating hate have become normalized in our social fabric.

At this juncture, it is difficult to discern precisely whether COVID-19 anxiety and pressures have caused the rise in hate, or whether the correlation has more to do with other factors like politics or backlash to zealous social justice movements. Of course, they are all intricately related. Regardless, it is obvious that Canada is besieged by two dangerous pandemics, and both are targeting marginalized communities. 

For example, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly, a Black man, was ridiculed in an offensive video portraying him as Adolf Hitler, because he supports human rights. This cruel depiction was brought on merely because Sloly dared to acknowledge systemic discrimination and that racial biases exists in policing. Vancouver police have created a taskforce because reports of hate incidents have more than doubled over last year.

As universities resumed operations, racialized students from different corners of the country reported being regularly subjected to discrimination, including microaggressions from professors and widespread use of the N-word. High school students also voiced their hate, including a Grade 12 Markham student who was charged for making derogatory anti-Black comments that caused his virtual classroom to be shut down.

OHRC community stakeholders report an unprecedented wave of hate against historically vulnerable groups, like homeless people and people with mental health disabilities. Many such individuals have been cut off from the supports they had before society entered the era of virtual service delivery, and now face intensifying acts of hatred on top of other mounting barriers and lack of protection.

On the extreme end of the hatred spectrum, a 58-year-old Muslim man was stabbed and killed outside his mosque in Etobicoke. Preliminary investigation reports connected his killer to neo-Nazi and Islamophobic groups.

Indigenous communities, who are routinely subjected to racism, abuse and even murder, are also experiencing increased instances of flagrant hate. The recent grim video of abhorrent comments and mistreatment perpetrated against a dying Indigenous woman in a Quebec hospital is simultaneously gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. When a woman on her death bed is denigrated by health care workers because of pernicious prejudicial stereotypes about her Indigeneity and gender, we have an urgent duty to eradicate those entrenched systems of racism that have subjected Indigenous and racialized people to oppression.

It’s time to ask: are we at a tipping point here? Have we reached a critical mass of attacks and unconcealed hatred where we, as a society, are capitulating to patent racism and discrimination simply because we are exhausted by COVID-19? If several overt hate incidents occur in one month in policing, education and healthcare, does this not reveal that we are at a point of crisis?

As a society, we are beginning to have a heightened awareness of systemic racism as one root of xenophobia and other discrimination. In general, Canadians contend that they are less prejudiced than our American counterparts. However, it is evident that racism and hate have no borders, recent tragic events compel us to re-examine the artifice of the Canadiana-narrative we tell ourselves.

COVID-19 will end, and there will be a new normal after the pandemic. We are responsible for what that “after” will look like for our society. There is still hope that we can look back at our actions during this global crisis and see that we chose to protect human rights rather than allow ourselves to succumb to fear and anger. To promote a culture of compassion and human rights, everyone is responsible for speaking out against discrimination and harassment.

We need to remain vigilant against the open hate and insidious racism that has engulfed our society, so we come out on the other side of this pandemic with our humanity intact. We need to champion equality and dignity, monitor our human rights temperature as Canadians, and refuse to be fatigued by COVID-19 in our fight to combat racism and condemn hate.

Ena Chadha
Chief Commissioner
Ontario Human Rights Commission