Asian-Canadian anglers have been subjected to racial harassment across Ontario, says the preliminary results of an inquiry.

"Accounts reveal experiences... ranging from verbal assaults using racial slurs, to destruction of fishing equipment, to stone-throwing," says the report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

The commission launched an inquiry last November following numerous reports of assaults against Asian-Canadian anglers in small towns across the province.

Since then the commission has received more than 30 accounts from across south and central Ontario -- including Aurora, Richmond Hill, Ottawa and Lake Huron.

The majority of submissions came from three areas: Lake Simcoe, Peterborough, and the Rideau Locks -- all popular spots for local anglers and tourists.

"These incidents remind us that racism and racial discrimination exist in Ontario and show how harmful such events can be for all of us," Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall said in a press release.

"What is clear is that the simple activity of going fishing for some Asian-Canadian anglers has taken on very disturbing racial overtones."

As a result, the anglers have felt a threat to their physical and psychological safety. In some cases, police have been called in to investigate incidents of physical violence.

In one confrontation last October, a father and son were charged with assault after an Asian fisherman was attacked in a central Ontario community. Police accused one of the suspects of posing as a Ministry of Natural Resources conservation officer.

In another incident near Kingston, a 73-year-old man was beaten unconscious and his son-in-law was thrown off a three-metre high bridge.

Conservation concerns

The commission also heard from an individual who manages one of the waterways near where several assaults have occurred.

"This individual emphasized that, while racism is clearly a factor in the events that have occurred, it is arising in the context of a broader social conflict over access to resources, and these underlying issues must be resolved in order to ease tensions," says the report.

The report says locals, seasonal residents and daytrippers are having problems sharing space with each other, particularly on docks, piers and bridges.

Additional submissions raised concerns about conservation and protection of fish stocks which the report says are "essential to the livelihoods of many Ontarians."

"A number of the submissions to the Inquiry raised concerns about a lack of knowledge and awareness of the laws regarding fishing, and emphasized the importance of education and awareness campaigns for all anglers, in order to ensure conservation of fish stocks," said the findings. "These submissions also expressed considerable frustration with the lack of enforcement of fishing regulations."

However, the report said there was "clearly a racial overtone" to many submissions raising conservation issues.

"The Commission is disturbed that some are attempting to use conservation issues to justify or explain assaults or hostility towards Asian Canadians," says the report. "Again, there is no evidence to suggest that Asian Canadians are disproportionately likely to disrespect conservation laws."

Hall said it was against the law to stereotype any one community by assuming that certain people are more likely to commit illegal activity.

"In a society as diverse as ours, we need to learn about each other, from each other and how we can work together to fight racism, discrimination and harassment whenever and wherever it occurs," she said.

Based on the preliminary findings, the commission plans on reaching out to responsible organizations and institutions, in order to seek solutions and obtain concrete commitments for action.

This will include:

  • Relevant government ministries, including the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Citizenship, the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services, and the Attorney General;
  • Police forces, particularly those operating in the communities where incidents have occurred;
  • Municipalities where incidents have occurred, as well as the Association of Municipalities of Ontario;
  • Educators; and
  • Community organizations, including organizations serving anglers, those serving the Asian Canadian community, and anti-racist organizations.

A final report from the commission will be released next year.