Activists criticize gov't over Asian angler issue
TORONTO - Community activists are giving the provincial government low marks for its response to a series of attacks on Asian-Canadian anglers since 2007, despite a report by Ontario's Human Rights Commission indicating the situation has improved.
The commission issued a followup report Tuesday to last year's Fishing Without Fear document, which examined a series of 30 attacks on Asian fishermen in various Ontario communities, and said there has been some progress.
"Now members of the affected communities know more about their rights and how to respond to and prevent hate activity," chief commissioner Barbara Hall said in a release. "We hope victims feel more comfortable coming forward and reporting incidents."
The commission said Ontario Provincial Police and York Regional Police both increased their presence in areas where there had been attacks on Asian fishermen, and commended the provincial government for promising to train 70 Crown attorneys on prosecuting hate crimes.
However, the community reference group -- made up of human rights activists, business people, lawyers, doctors and educators -- issued its own report card Tuesday, and was far less pleased with the institutional responses.
The group gave only one A in its report card, to York police for assigning a hate-crimes investigator to its Culture and Diversity Unit and for training officers about the attacks.
It gave provincial police a grade of B, saying the force should have done more when attacks on Asian fishermen were reported in the 2007 and 2008 fishing seasons.
"We're tough markers, so B is pretty good," said Avvy Go of the Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.
"We want the public institutions to understand they are accountable to the people and that we will be monitoring them and grading them on actual performance, and not just on what they say that they will do."
Various provincial ministries were given grades of D, while the Education Ministry was given the highest mark for the Ontario government, a B-minus for promising education about anti-racism efforts.
"We were disappointed that they weren't being more proactive about things," said Karen Sun of the Chinese Canadian National Council.
"They seem to agree to doing some things, but I think that if the human rights commission wasn't there to prod them along they would be doing even less."
The City of Kawartha Lakes was given a B for taking direct action to oppose racism, while Peterborough was given a C-minus for putting its "focus incorrectly on immigration as the issue."
The Village of Westport was given an F for refusing to make any commitment to deal with attacks on Asian-Canadian anglers in its jurisdiction.
"They couldn't even be bothered," Go said. "We need to send a message that that kind of response from a municipal council is simply not acceptable."
The community reference group gave the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters an F for showing "a failure to understand the issue of discrimination against Asian-Canadian anglers."
The federation posted a letter to the editor urging members to question Asian-looking fishermen about their legal documentation, but the attacks started months before that letter.
Police warned at the time that Natural Resources Ministry conservation officers and police were the only people who had the authority to make those demands.
A number of Asians had been harassed by people demanding to see their fishing permits and inspect their catch, resulting in some anglers being pushed into the water or attacked in other ways.
The community reference group said assaults or vigilantism cannot be justified by raising allegations of illegal activity.
The attacks started in late 2007 and continued through 2008, with one incident reported as recently as Jan. 31, 2009, during an ice-fishing tournament.