May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada. This is an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the long and rich history of Canadians of Asian heritage and their contributions to Canada. It is also an opportunity to understand some of the challenges facing racialized people of Asian descent in Canada.
History of racial discrimination
Since the 1800s, immigrants of Asian descent faced racism and discrimination in the forms of restrictive immigration laws, the denial of their right to vote, segregation and other basic human rights abuses.
Subsequent human rights legislation eventually eliminated many of these discriminatory practices. However, racism and racial discrimination – both systemic and overt – against people of Asian descent continue to persist.
Signs of continuing systemic racism
According to the 2016 census, almost half (48 per cent) of the foreign-born population in Canada are from Asian (including the Middle East). Asian Canadians are more likely to have post-secondary education than the average Canadian, yet they earn anywhere from 5 to 45 per cent less than the median income of most Canadians.
Other statistics that suggest systemic racial discrimination against Asians in Canada include:
- 11 per cent unemployment rate among people from West Asia compared to the Canadian average of 7.7 per cent
- According to the 2011 Census, racialized immigrants generally had higher poverty rates than non-racialized immigrants – including South Asian, Chinese, Southeast Asian and West Asian having higher rates
- A 2017 report on child poverty in Toronto found that children of West Asian, Arab, Black and Korean backgrounds are experiencing poverty rates three to four times higher than that of non-racialized children
Community and labour activists of Asian descent have challenged discriminatory laws and practices throughout history and continue to do so. When the labour movement excluded racialized people from unions, 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.
It was through constant collective pressure led by Canadians of Asian descent that made possible the recent government apologies and redress for the victims of the Chinese Head Tax, internment of people of Japanese descent and the Komagata Maru incident which denied Sikhs coming in boats from entering Canada.
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.
Asian heritage in your community
Read about all the organizations and educational resources dedicated to promoting and commemorating Asian heritage in Canada.