According to the United Nations General Assembly, March 21, declared the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, is celebrated around the world. That day commemorates the 1960 incident when police opened fire and killed 69 people during a peaceful demonstration against apartheid’s Pass laws. It was in 1966 that the Assembly proclaimed this international day, to urge the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

Racial and ethnic discrimination, stemming from intolerance, can lead to conflict between communities. It can take many forms, from denial of equality to hatred and genocide.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission explains that there is no standard definition for discrimination, but that the concept includes

any distinction, conduct or action, whether intentional or not, but based on a person’s race, which has the effect of imposing burdens on an individual or group, not imposed upon others or which withholds or limits access to benefits available to other members of society. Race need only be a factor for racial discrimination to have occurred.’

As COVID-19 began to spread around the world, another epidemic emerged; that of hatred and violence towards people of different ethnicities. In September 2020, Statistics Canada released data collected from 43,000 Canadians who participated in a crowdsourcing initiative, on their perceptions of personal safety. According to this data, 28% of participants reported some form of discrimination, or were treated unfairly by others, since the start of the pandemic. This figure varies by ethnicity. Canadians who identified themselves as Chinese, Korean, Southeast Asian or Black were more than twice as likely as White participants to report discrimination. Similarly, Aboriginal men and women were more likely to report incidents of discrimination than non-Aboriginals, but it was noted that incidents were particularly high among Aboriginal women.

In Canada, hate crimes against Asians have increased shockingly. In Vancouver, hate crimes were reported to have increased by 97%, with a dramatic 717% increase in crimes directly identified as anti-Asian. Ottawa police reported a 57% increase, stating that the most victimized groups were East and Southeast Asian. Montreal reported a 30% increase in hate crimes and racist acts against Asians.

We all have a role to play in ending racial discrimination. It starts with educating and listening to the experiences of others, and stopping the spread of misinformation. Every day is a day to eliminate racial discrimination.