May 2021 / Toronto - The City of Toronto announced with great fanfare that its Toronto sign- the marker of a proud city that for some rivals the CN Tower as THE Toronto landmark - would be lit in bright red to mark the beginning of Asian Heritage Month.
For Torontonians, this is par for the course as we celebrate our rich diversity of cultures and peoples from every corner of the globe. And at moments like the just –past-midnight early morning of the first day of May as our political leaders voice our collective acknowledgement and celebration of the contributions Asian communities have and continue to make to this City, Province and Country, we shared a solidarity as a people bound together working towards a common good.
Then the sun rose and the news headlines blared the news that our Prime Minister had announced that the federal government would work closely with the Ontario government to fulfill its request to close our borders to international students, the vast majority who hail from India and other Asian countries.
While there are some disagreements on whether Ontario had put in a formal request or if other provinces had made similar requests, the framing of this discussion on protecting Ontarians from the newest COVID-19 variant had echoes of the ‘Chinese virus’ and a doubling down on the belief that it is ‘those people’ who are causing the pandemic to rage on, with nods to the high numbers in Brampton and other locations with high South Asian populations.
In a blink we forgot that the communities that are highly racialized also have high numbers of essential workers, working in low waged jobs without work protections like paid sick leave, an issue that has dominated our news cycles for weeks now while we watch this third wave of the pandemic claim more and more racialized lives.
There was no sober voice pointing out that this variant and many others have been in Ontario since at least the end of January, so international students weren’t bringing in ‘new viruses’ as I heard in some quarters. If a pause in allowing international air travellers into the country is based on good health advice, then should it not apply to all travellers who arrive by air and not just international students?
We all agree that we must do all we can to contain the spread of this deadly virus starting with sound public policy. Demonizing one group or subgroup of people just adds to the pandemic of heightened anti-Asian and other racisms that we’ve witnessed over this past fourteen or so months without curbing the spread of the virus, the climbing numbers in our hospitals or the number of deaths of essential and other low-income working people in our communities.
I urge you to speak out wherever you hear racist sentiments like ‘those people’ are bringing the virus to our shores. That ‘those people’ should be kept out from within our borders. That ‘those people’ are the cause of this health pandemic and it’s the social and economic costs.
Speak out and stand in solidarity with all calling for fair and decent work, for public policies that will ensure all who want to be vaccinated will be able to access the vaccine shot regardless of immigration status, housing status or any other marker of marginalization. Stand in solidarity with those on the frontlines making a positive difference.
On another note, OCASI and the Sector were informed by provincial Minister McNaughton’s office that the programs and services to support im/migrants and refugees were being moved to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD).
This move will integrate Settlement services in the Ministry which already manage the Bridging programs, the Ontario Immigration Nominee Program (OINP) and Global Experience Ontario.
The Council will be meeting with senior bureaucrats including the new ADM and will update in this space as we get more information.