A vigil and rally will be held in Victoria Park on Friday as Londoners look to honour lives lost to anti-Asian racism and to raise awareness of the longstanding issue.
Organizer Ayeza Tahir tells Global News that she and her co-organizers, Teigan Elliott and Erika Mitsushima, were inspired to organizer the vigil and rally following the March 16 shootings in Atlanta, Georgia.
A 21-year-old white man is accused of killing four people inside two Atlanta spas and four others at a massage business about 30 miles (50 km) away. Six of the eight people killed last Tuesday were women of Asian descent.
“We were all heartbroken, but we’ve been talking about this since before that. I mean, anti-Asian hate crime has been increasing since the pandemic and it’s existed our whole lives,” Tahir explained.
“We’re all women of colour. We’ve all faced microaggressions and racism our whole lives. So we really think that COVID and the shooting were our trigger for this event but it should have always been happening, these kinds of conversations should never have stopped.”
Friday’s event begins at 6:30 p.m. in Victoria Park.
Attendees are asked to wear masks and practice physical distancing due to the ongoing pandemic. The event will also be livestreamed on Facebook and hosted on Zoom, with organizers planning to upload it after the fact with closed-captioning.
“The event itself, we’re going to begin by mourning the victims of recent hate crimes. So we’ll be naming some recent victims, first of all, and then we’ll be having a number of speeches from my co-organizers, from some of London’s other Asian community groups, from some community groups that are based at Western University,” Tahir said.
“We really do hope to have a speaker from Safe Space London, which is a nonprofit for sex workers, and then perhaps some poetry as well from Asian Londoners and maybe even a few words from some of London’s public officials.”
For those who don’t feel comfortable attending the event due to the pandemic but who still want to contribute to the fight against anti-Asian racism, Tahir says they will be sharing resources on their Facebook and Instagram pages.
Anti-Asian racism is an ongoing problem in Canada with a long history, but the recent violence south of the border and an uptick in hate crimes reported since the onset of the pandemic have thrust the issue into the spotlight.
Just last month, the Vancouver Police Department reported a 717 per cent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes over the past year.
Tahir shared a story from a friend who was recently sitting in Square One shopping centre in Mississauga when a woman walked up and threw food at them.
“And then she told them, ‘look at your eyes. You’re not even human.’ I mean, it keeps getting worse. People aren’t just blaming Asian people for COVID. They’re also dehumanizing them. And I think that’s a whole other level of danger that Asian people in Canada are facing nowadays.”
While the public discourse is important, Fareed Khan, founder of Canadians United Against Hate, says “we need to move beyond conversations.”
Speaking with Global News about International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination held March 21, he says citizens need to speak out if they see something.
Beyond that, he says, he’s also advocating for legislative action.
“For years now, I and others in the anti-racism activist community have been calling on the federal government to take very strong action with regard to racism and hate in Canada,” he said.
“We welcome the statements when the Prime Minister or ministers or MPs make them about how, you know, ‘racism and hate have no place in this country.’ But until you have the tools available to challenge it legislatively and legally, then all you’re doing is issuing words and feel-good statements.
“Feel good statements are not going to cut it. We are at a time where hate and white supremacy is on the rise.”
Canadian MPs vote to condemn Atlanta mass shooting, anti-Asian racism
— with files from Reuters’ Gabriella Borter and Global News’ Arti Patel.
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