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Statement: OHRC urges respect for human rights during Coronavirus health event

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January 28, 2020

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Ontario Human Rights Commission urges Ontarians to respect the human rights of Ontario’s East Asian community in light of the potential health event following confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Toronto.

The OHRC has learned that parent groups in York Region started a petition calling on their school board to track students who recently travelled to any part of China and inform parents about these students. The petition also calls for the school board to send out communications asking that students who have recently returned from China to stay at home for a minimum of 17 days.

Discriminatory action against any persons or communities because of an association with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), perceived or otherwise, is prohibited by the Ontario Human Rights Code. The coronavirus is not isolated to people of any particular ethnic origin, place of origin or race.

Ontarians should heed the lessons from the SARS crisis. At that time, East Asians were stigmatized, discriminated against and harassed, which did not make the public safer. Instead it isolated East Asian people, entrenched stereotypes and spread fear.

The OHRC encourages people to take precautions based on the most current advice from public health officials. Reactions based on stereotypes must not replace responsible actions based on evidence.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health is working with its partners in the health care system implementing a plan to monitor for, detect and, if needed, isolate any cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). People who want to learn more about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) can visit the ministry’s web page.

Revised February 26, 2020