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Most non-European B.C. residents have faced ethnic discrimination, poll finds

While immigration is not currently one of the three most important issues facing Canada for most would-be voters in this year’s federal election, it has been a practically inescapable topic over the past few weeks.

While immigration is not currently one of the three most important issues facing Canada for most would-be voters in this year’s federal election, it has been a practically inescapable topic over the past few weeks.

In British Columbia, we were exposed to a video where a woman uttered racial slurs at a driver in a Richmond shopping centre parking lot. A national controversy ensued after billboards favouring the People’s Party of Canada’s rejection of “mass immigration” appeared in some areas. There was also a 16-hour social media outcry over convicted criminal Jon Venables relocating to Canada from the United Kingdom – an allegation carelessly pushed by people bestowed with an immaculate ignorance of Canada’s immigration procedures.

In spite of this recent grotesqueness, there have also been developments of a different kind. Kasari Govender became the new provincial human rights commissioner, overseeing an office with the aim of examining and addressing systemic discrimination in British Columbia. MLA Ravi Kahlon finished a cross-province tour, during which he sought to quantify reported and unreported instances of racism and hate – a task that began during his tenure as parliamentary secretary for sport and multiculturalism.

Most British Columbians find out about incidents of racism and discrimination through media reports, which are, as evidenced by the case of the Richmond parking lot slurs, easier to assess when footage is available. With this in mind, Research Co. wanted to find out just how prevalent discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is in British Columbia, as well as to review how often race is cited in an attempt to diminish others.

The survey captured the sentiments of adult British Columbians who described their ethnicity as non-European. The sample allowed for direct comparisons among four specific groups as defined by Statistics Canada: North American Aboriginal, East Asian, South Asian and Southeast Asian.

Only 22% of respondents to this survey said they have never experienced discrimination on account of their ethnicity in British Columbia. One third (33%) reported enduring “a significant amount” (11%) or “a moderate amount” (22%) of ethnic-based discrimination, and a similar proportion (36%) described it as “a small amount.”

While respondents aged 55 and over are more likely to say that they have not experienced discrimination (36%), the proportion is lower among those aged 18 to 34 (19%) and those aged 35 to 54 (18%).

However, when respondents were presented with 11 different personal experiences, more than three in five (62%) were able to say: “Yes, that has happened to me.”

The most common forms of discrimination that non-European British Columbians experienced are poor customer service (24%), verbal harassment (23%) and being the subject of racist jokes (17%). In addition, 16% were mocked or ridiculed because of their ethnicity, experienced unfair treatment in the workplace or lost a potential employment opportunity.

The prevalence of these inherently negative personal experiences was decidedly higher among respondents aged 18 to 34 (73%) and aged 35 to 54 (66%) than among those aged 55 and over (35%).

There are also some differences across specific groups. Verbal harassment was a significant issue among North American Aboriginals (46%) and South Asians (32%). Poor customer service was a bigger matter for East Asians (30%).  

In any case, the most menacing forms of racism are not encountered during a scuffle over a parking spot or on a billboard. My personal experience may be limited to two of the 11 incidents included in the survey, but they both left an indelible impression.

A contractor who was directly responsible for serious damages to my home claimed that, because I was not “from here,” I did not understand the complexities of a “worksite” in Canada. My direct supervisor told me that my nascent career as a pollster would be limited to a “behind-the-scenes role” because Canadians did not want to hear statistics from someone with my accent.

Looking back, the intellectual limitations of these two individuals are massively evident, but their words – delivered to push me aside and advance their interests – still stung.

We need to look at discrimination in a holistic manner. Statements uttered “in the heat of the moment” – like the one in the Richmond parking lot – are despicable and should not be tolerated. A billboard that argues against an nonexistent policy is false advertising and should have never been approved.

Still, as a society, we need to be observant of a significantly graver form of discrimination that transpires when people in a position of influence or power gravitate to ethnicity in the absence of a coherent, rational argument. Most of these instances of bigotry are not caught on video or displayed prominently as a tactic to scare voters into submission. But, as the survey has outlined, they do exist.

Results are based on an online study conducted September 6–9, 2019, among 391 adults in British Columbia who described their ethnicity as non-European. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.