Mississauga legal group speaks out against anti-Chinese racism in wake of coronavirus outbreak


Fifteen local advocacy groups, including Mississauga Community Legal Services, are speaking out against anti-Chinese racism and xenophobia in the wake of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

The outbreak began in Wuhan, China and is believed to have stemmed from a market where animals, many of them exotic, were kept in squalid conditions before being sold to consumers as food. 

Health officials say that the risk of contracting the illness (which is associated with cold and flu-like symptoms) in Canada is low. According to the Canadian Press, more than 7,700 people in China have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus and 170 of them have died.

There are three confirmed cases in Canada.

Advocacy groups and local politicians, including Toronto Mayor John Tory, are asking GTA residents to refrain from discriminating against the Chinese-Canadian community in the wake of the outbreak. 

"We support the recent statement from the York Region District School Board that the public should avoid discrimination and xenophobia during this recent outbreak of the coronavirus," the statement reads.

The statement says that parent groups in York Region started a petition calling on their school board to publicly expose families that have recently visited anywhere in China and to suggest that their children be prevented from attending school.

The statement says the petition specifically referred to families returning from China during the Lunar New Year.

The statement points out that even traditional flu can be deadly for some Canadians.

"Influenza and pneumonia are ranked among the top 10 leading causes of death in Canada. Each year in Canada, it is estimated that influenza causes approximately12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths annually. No one has ever suggested that we should quarantine students for 17 days each time they have the flu," the statement reads.

The groups are hoping to reassure residents, adding that the country's health care system is much better prepared to respond to the latest coronavirus outbreak than in 2003 with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

"The coronavirus is not isolated to people of one nationality or race. This is a world health issue that has its most serious impact in one area of China (Wuhan), but it has affected people of all different races," the statement reads.

"Some cases have been found in other parts of China and other parts of the world. East Asian Canadians were discriminated against during the SARS crisis despite the fact that the virus affected people of all races and nationalities."

The statement points out that discrimination against East Asian people at the time of SARS did not make the public safer, adding that it isolated people, entrenched stereotypes, led to increased bullying in schools and spread fear of people of East Asian heritage.

"It is vital that we learn from the lessons of 2003 and apply them in how we treat each other today. Racism has no place in our society or in our classrooms."

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