Inuit getting caught up in anti-Asian hate crimes in Montreal, advocates say

As advocates continue to condemn a reported rise of anti-Asian hate crimes in Montreal, Inuit living in the city are also alleging harassment by strangers in the era of COVID-19.

“Inuit people are often mistaken for Asians, and they may be as well the target of anti-Asian hate,” explained Fo Niemi, Executive Director of the Montreal-based Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR).

“It’s all about scapegoating. People need a target to unload on to because of their insecurity, paranoia – and in some cases, just plain racism,” Niemi added.

The issue of anti-Asian hate crimes was even acknowledged by the province’s Human Rights Commission earlier this month.

In a statement, Vice-President Myrlande Pierre said the COVID-19 pandemic “must not be a justification for any form of discrimination.”

But reports of street harassment – even violence – are mounting.

In a widely-circulated Facebook post, a woman from the northern Quebec community of Kuujjuaq, Nunavik alleged that a stranger approached her at a downtown metro station, spat on the ground, and told her to leave the country after mistaking her as Chinese.

Since mid-March, CRARR – which investigates racially-motivated incidents across the city – has received dozens of emails, calls, and formal reports from people alleging they were subjected to what Niemi calls “gratuitous” race-based violence.

Asian shopkeepers say they’re accosted. Statues outside a Buddhist temple were pulverized with a sledgehammer. Some people living in apartment buildings are finding strange, ominous notes – even death threats – slipped under their door.

People doing groceries are being spat on, and told to “go back to China.”

Last week, according to Niemi, a teen riding the Montreal metro was punched in the face in a random blitz attack by two men.

“It’s not just about your physical safety, but also your psychological safety. If people feel unsafe because of any act done by any other person. They should report it,” Niemi added.

After he was called a ‘f***ing prick’ and told to go back to to his ‘home country’ while walking in the Milton-Parc neighbourhood, one man reached out to CRARR expressing concern for the Inuit who congregate at a prominent wet shelter nearby.

An intervention worker at The Open Door shelter told APTN News that clients hadn’t yet complained, but are used to taking street harassment in stride.

Despite the prevalence of these stories, few people affected go on to file formal complaints. CRARR hopes that will change.

Their most recent awareness campaign – “COVID-19 does not discriminate. Neither should you” – provides guidance for people who experience a hate-motivated act.

Avoid reacting, for example, but do use reasonable force if you are in danger. If possible, take photos or video of the aggressor, and note all important details – including date, time, place, description, and the names of possible witnesses.

Taking these initial steps will facilitate the eventual filing of a police, civil rights, or youth rights complaint, if necessary.

With close to 20 per cent of the province’s Inuit living in Montreal, Niemi believes it’s imperative to inform citizens of their rights.

“For Indigenous people, who are usually taken not seriously by the justice system, this is something that we really have to be vigilant about,” Niemi explained.

CRARR also hopes to translate educational material into Indigenous languages to ensure accessibility.

Reporter / Montreal

Lindsay was born and raised on the unceded territory of Tiohtià:ke (Montréal), and joined APTN News as a Quebec correspondent in 2019. While in university, she collaborated on a multiplatform project about the revitalization of the Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) language to commemorate the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Before APTN Lindsay worked at the Eastern Door, CTV Montreal and the Montreal Gazette.