أخبار عاجلة

South Asian newcomers to Canada say online hate is taking a toll

اخبار العرب-كندا 24: السبت 22 يونيو 2024 05:30 صباحاً

International student Miran Kadri had many things on his mind when he made the move from Gujarat in western India to Windsor, Ont., last year. Among them, concerns about how he would be perceived in the country he would shortly call home.

Even while in India, Kadri had come across social media pages online filled with anti-Indian commentary.

And as hate crimes toward South Asian communities have seen a steady increase, the topic of racism, typically shied away from within South Asian cultures, is at the forefront of the community's mind as they grapple with how to confront it.

"I used to go through these pages and see comments about how Indians take jobs away, how people feel insecure about Canada's future because of Indians coming to Canada," said Kadri.

International student Miran Kadri has been in Windsor, Ont., for just over a year. He started witnessing discriminatory comments online about Indians before he moved to Canada.

International student Miran Kadri has been in Windsor, Ont., for just over a year. He started witnessing discriminatory comments online about Indians before he moved to Canada.

International student Miran Kadri has been in Windsor, Ont., for just over a year. He started witnessing discriminatory comments online about Indians before he moved to Canada. (Josiah Sinanan/CBC)

At 24 years old, Kadri is active online and sees comments like this on a regular basis, even after being in Windsor for over a year now, pursuing his master's degree in electrical and computer engineering. He says those comments are not easily disregarded.

"It definitely has an impact, because we already have a lot to stress about, like exams, finding jobs after we graduate. On top of that, we get these comments on us and it continuously revolves around our heads," he said.

"It kind of stays [with you] and we have nobody to talk to about it, because even if we share with our friends, they have their own issues with racism."

Kadri outlined that even on posts such as a local promotion about an Indian festival, comments were filled with foul language and discriminatory remarks.

Gaganeet Kaur, a 25-year-old master's student in criminology who came to Ontario from Chandigarh, India, has seen it as well. She says that the online landscape has changed the way she shows up in everyday life, even after being in Canada for seven years.

Gaganeet Kaur, 25, is studying in Canada for her master's degree in criminology. She has been in Windsor, Ont,. for the past seven years.

Gaganeet Kaur, 25, is studying in Canada for her master's degree in criminology. She has been in Windsor, Ont,. for the past seven years.

Gaganeet Kaur, 25, is studying in Canada for her master's degree in criminology. She has been in Windsor, Ont,. for the past seven years. (Josiah Sinanan/CBC)

"I find myself being twice as cautious. I don't want to be the problematic one, the way they are playing us out to be on social media," Kaur said.

Kaur has also witnessed social media pages dedicated to discrimination of Indian people in Canada.

Trend of anti-Indian hate growing online

A handful of now-viral TikTok accounts with no names attached have caught attention. They use AI-generated images of Indian flags and people, alongside the caption "Canada in 2050."

One example, a video that has gained over 200,000 "likes," has not been removed despite thousands of anti-immigration comments. The rhetoric has had a real-life effect on people like Kaur and Kadri.

"This is probably the hardest time I've had finding a job, which of course has to do with the current state of the market, but it also makes me think, does that also have to do with some of the tensions and opinions that people have about the South Asian community?"

A program run by the South Asian Centre of Windsor, called the Windsor Essex Anti-Hate Youth Collective, provides space for students from racialized communities to share experiences and support one another.

Nandini Tirumala is one of the programs directors at the South Asian Centre of Windsor. She's been working with youth to discuss instances of racism.

Nandini Tirumala is one of the programs directors at the South Asian Centre of Windsor. She's been working with youth to discuss instances of racism.

Nandini Tirumala is one of the programs directors at the South Asian Centre of Windsor. She's been working with youth to discuss instances of racism. (Josiah Sinanan/CBC)

Nandini Tirumala is the programs director at the centre.

"To see how the community is having this whole anti-immigrant and anti-international student propping up on social media all of a sudden is what surprises us," she said.

"I think a lot of this is propelled by the economic conditions that have started to happen in the country. When people see there are no jobs, there's inflation, we're not able to find affordable housing, they want to find someone to blame. And oftentimes, it's the immigrants who are blamed."

The South Asian Centre of Windsor's main location in South Windsor, Ont., is where the Windsor-Essex Anti-Hate Youth Collective meets to discuss racism and discrimination with one another as a means of building community and finding support.

The South Asian Centre of Windsor's main location in South Windsor, Ont., is where the Windsor-Essex Anti-Hate Youth Collective meets to discuss racism and discrimination with one another as a means of building community and finding support.

The South Asian Centre of Windsor's main location in South Windsor, Ont., is where the Windsor-Essex Anti-Hate Youth Collective meets to discuss racism and discrimination with one another as a means of building community and finding support. (Josiah Sinanan/CBC)

Tirumala says that the situation has become increasingly difficult due to lack of resources available for the South Asian community in particular.

Reluctance to report 

Though the anti-hate youth collective offered them reprieve and community, neither Kaur or Kadri have engaged with or reported any of the activity they've seen online.

According to Statistics Canada's latest report, hate crimes toward South Asian communities have increased by 143 per cent from 2019 to 2022, with an increase of 18 per cent between 2021 and 2022.

In contrast, in the city of Windsor, the police service said there were zero hate incidents toward South Asians reported between 2018 and 2024.

Shalini Konanur is a lawyer and the executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, based in Toronto. She says there are several reasons why there is hesitancy to report incidents of racism or hate.

"Sometimes people are coming from countries where the police are not trusted. There is also a view in these communities that when you try to report these types of things, nothing happens, so it's not actually [seen] as an effective mechanism" she said.

Konanur also cited language barriers and fear of potentially losing status or being detained if someone is in a situation with precarious or no immigration status.

As an international student, Kadri has his own reasons.

"We don't want our image to get damaged by reporting somewhere," he said.

"We always have a fear of 'what if we get deported back to India?' We came with all of these dreams and now we're going back to India with nothing. We took huge loans for our university fees and it won't be good for our family if we move back to India again."

Resources from within 

Samya Hasan, executive director of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, says the group has asked for the strategy to include training, a review of hiring practices, a curriculum review and mental health supports for Muslim students and teachers.

Samya Hasan, executive director of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, says the group has asked for the strategy to include training, a review of hiring practices, a curriculum review and mental health supports for Muslim students and teachers.

Samya Hasan is the executive director of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA). The group has provided an online toolkit called 'Eradicate Hate' to combat online discrimination for the South Asian population. (Submitted by Samya Hasan)

Tirumala said that the anti-hate collective helps students acknowledge incident of hate, and educate them on how to go about reporting it.

She also acknowledges that especially for international students, who are already working to learn a new culture, being away from family and dealing with financial pressures — focusing on racism can be debilitating.

The Council for Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) works throughout Ontario to provide resources for newcomers and business owners of South Asian descent. The group has developed an online toolkit called Eradicate Hate that they hope will provide some advice on how to engage online in instances where commentary may be overwhelming or have mental health implications.

"Social media platforms do have the mechanisms and algorithms to regulate what happens on their platforms. And governments have the ability to create legislation that will penalize them for not ensuring that the communities using their platforms are safe," said executive director Samya Hasan.

Gaganeet Kaur and Miran Kadri stand with a poster board outlining the Windsor-Essex Anti-Hate Youth Collective at the South Asian Centre of Windsor.

Gaganeet Kaur and Miran Kadri stand with a poster board outlining the Windsor-Essex Anti-Hate Youth Collective at the South Asian Centre of Windsor.

Gaganeet Kaur and Miran Kadri stand with a poster board outlining the Windsor-Essex Anti-Hate Youth Collective at the South Asian Centre of Windsor. (Josiah Sinanan/CBC)

"It really is just a matter of enforcing those regulations. If they want to operate within Canadian law, they have to make sure they follow those regulations."

Hope for the future, speaking out

Konanur says that from a legal perspective, governments could do more, despite the Online Harms Act potentially playing a role.

"I think they are trying, but I think they can get stronger on education campaigns and getting public messaging out there."

Nandini agrees.

"I would say we need a counterattack," she said.

"We would really want political leaders and others of influence to come out. We need champions who could speak up for the international students."

Kaur says she is hopeful that with more conversations come potential change.

"I feel like we need to become a less hesitant community. We don't like to talk about problems and that's contributing to the problem."

"We have to take agency over our own voice. We have to put our stories out the way they are, and that's going to encourage other people to share their stories and come together to find a solution for it."

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