Establishment of Asian Heritage Month
Asian Heritage Month was first officially recognized in December 2001 when the Canadian Senate adopted the month of May as Asian Heritage Month. This is an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the long and diverse history of Asian Canadians and their contributions to Canada, as well as the many struggles they face.
History of racial discrimination
Since the arrival of the first immigrant of Asian descent in the 1800’s, they faced racism and racial discrimination in forms of immigration laws, the denial of the right to vote, segregation and other basic human rights abuses.
Some of these overt racist laws, policies and practices were eliminated gradually when human rights legislation was enacted. However, subtle forms of racism and racial discrimination against people of Asian descent continues to persist.
Temporary Foreign Workers Programs
Unfortunately, history seems to repeat itself. Chinese immigrants built the railroad in the late 19th century with few rights and less pay than white workers. Currently, many racialized workers come through the government’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) which has been greatly expanded over the last decade.
Workers under the TFWP have very limited access to permanent residency and citizenship and they do not have the same access to labour standards and other protections that all other workers in Canada have.
They also cannot access Employment Insurance or Canadian public pensions despite being obligated to pay into them. The jobs under the TFWP are low-paying and precarious, and forces the worker to be tied to a specific employer which leaves them open to abuses with little oversight.
The new federal Liberal government has announced that there will be a review of the TFWP. It is vital that the workers themselves have a strong voice in this process.
Anti-Terrorism Act (2015), Bill C-51
Also of great concern are the anti-terrorism laws that were first introduced after September 11 and now Bill C-51, Anti-Terrorism Act (2015). This legislation gives greater power to Canadian government security agencies to share information about individuals without a warrant or any oversight. It also expands the mandate of the Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS).
Asian communities, particularly the Muslim and South Asian communities, fear they will bear the brunt of the civil liberties and human rights violations allowed under this legislation.
Many human rights organizations have called for the repeal of Bill C-51 passed by the previous federal Conservative. The current Liberal government has not committed to repealing the full legislation but are reviewing it. It is vital that Bill C-51 be repealed and that there be an oversight body that can monitor national agencies responsible for national security.
World War II precedent
Again, there is precedence for stripping basic rights of racialized people in the past. During World War II when Canada was at war with Japan, all people of Japanese descent in Canada were forced into internment camps and their homes were liquidated. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King issued a series of orders-in-council to remove all persons of Japanese origin and to protective areas.
At the same time, Canada was at war with Germany and Italy. However, people of German and Italian descent were only interned if there was suspicion to do so.
Community and labour activists of Asian descent have challenged these discriminatory laws and practices. For example, when the labour movement was not yet ready to be inclusive of all people, activists of Asian descent formed their own organizations such as the Chinese Trade Workers' Association in British Columbia or the Asian Canadian Labour Association in Ontario.
Community activists of Asian descent started a campaign for redress for the victims of the Chinese Head Tax and for the internment of people of Japanese descent. Sikhs are also demanding an apology for the Komagata Maru incident which denied Sikhs coming in boats from entering Canada, a move that ended up killing many.
Celebration and Solidarity
PSAC encourages members to take part in the events that celebrate the legacy and contributions of Canadians of Asian descent and show solidarity against the laws and policies that target racialized communities.