Concerns abound that India and Pakistan travel ban will trigger racism in Canada
RICHMOND, B.C. -- Canada has banned flights from India and Pakistan for at least the next month, as those countries deal with an unfolding COVID-19 crisis.
Earlier this week, India recorded more than 300,000 new cases of the coronavirus in a single day.
British Columbia is home to a considerable number of people of South Asian descent.
“In view of public safety, I think this is the right move,” says Balwant Sanghera, spokesperson for the India Cultural Centre of Canada, a Gurdwara in Richmond, B.C.
“Hopefully, in the next month, things will improve and we get back to normal,” Sanghera adds.
Travel between B.C. and India is extremely popular, as many Indo-Canadians have family and property back in India. Sanghera’s relatives flew to India before the ban was announced. They intended to fly back to Canada in the coming days, but their plans are now up in the air.
“We encouraged them not to go, but there were some urgent issues they had to deal with,” he says. “So, they are there. And I think they’ll just have to wait until flights resume and, you know, take their lumps.”
Sanghera says the community widely welcomes the temporary shutdown of flights, but there is concern that the federal government singling out India and Pakistan will translate to hatred in Canada.
He’s worried talk of India’s double-mutant variant will lead to anti-indian sentiment, similar to what Chinese-Canadians have struggled with for the past year.
“There is some fear in our community and we’re all praying that hopefully it doesn’t get out of control,” Sanghera says. “Because it’s nobody’s fault.”
“It’s a human condition that we look to blame,” says Dr. Satwinder Kaur Bains, a professor with the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley.
She says it’s natural for people to point fingers without reason when they don’t have control of a situation, such as a global pandemic.
“You can’t blame people from India who are living there and have contracted the diseases, as much as we can’t blame people here for getting together with their family and finding out they’ve been infected, and can’t quite fathom how,” Bains says.
Backlash against the South Asian community is a concern shared by the B.C. government.
“I know there is a lot of stress in the South Asian community for their loved ones back home,” says Rachna Singh, B.C.’s parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives, in a written statement.
“The concern as to whether their community will be targeted next only adds to that stress during this difficult time. As a society, we have a decision to make about which side of history we want to be on. We must take a stand against racism and we must not let stereotypes prevail.”
Bains expects the travel ban will exacerbate racism and hate in Canada, as the pandemic drags on and fatigue sets in. She says preventing hate will require everyone to understand they’re all fighting against the same virus, regardless of what city, country, or continent they’re in.
“We all need to be compassionate about what’s happening around the world, use some better judgment and really listen to our own thoughts and find ways to overcome the ignorance and fear we have in our minds,” she says.
Anyone who experiences racism or feels they are the target of a hate crime is asked to get in touch with their local police department.