MONTREAL -- As Asian Heritage Month kicks off, a recent report shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant increase in hate messages to both China and Chinese people.

Quebec is no exception, and people of Asian origin have decided to come together online to denounce racism and to share resources to deal with it.

Moonshot CVE, a British company that specializes in the analysis of online extremism, says that during a single week in March, it noticed a 300 per cent increase in Twitter hashtags that support or encourage violence against China and Chinese people. 

Among the most popular hashtags were “NukeChina,” “BombChina” and “DeathtoChina.” 

Montrealer Laura Luu decided to create a mutual-aid Facebook group for Asians in Quebec because of the racist messages on social media amid the pandemic, as well as hateful attitude towards Asians in public places. The group, called “Groupe d’entraide contre le racism envers les asiatiques du Quebec,” has nearly 4,000 members. 

Online racism adds anxiety to an already-stressful situation, Luu to The Canadian Press.

“I think it’s important to create a site for people like me – who were born here, who feel Quebecois, but who are told that they aren’t welcome,” said Luu who is a 37-year-old Vietnamese woman. “It’s our Quebecois identity that this affects, and it hurts.” 

Luu created the group in part to denounce racist acts, but also to equip people who’ve been victims of them. 

“In Montreal, it's less bad than what we see in the United States, but in my group, there are testimonies from people who were insulted at the grocery store or the pharmacy,” Luu said. “There are also people who write to me personally to tell me that they’re afraid, or others who have suffered vandalism at home.”

The Facebook group has received the support of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, which offers members advice, sometimes of legal nature, to deal with the situation. Group members who shared their anxiety and “fear of going out to the grocery store” had asked Luu for professional resources. 

Luu also asked professionals from the health sector to be present on the Facebook page.

“In Asian culture, mental illness is even more taboo than in Quebec culture,” Luu explained. “The purpose of ‘exposing’ a psychologist to the Facebook group is to break down this barrier to invite people to consult if necessary.” 

The Longueuil police also published various recommendations on the page. 

Helping students return to class

Luu is now planning on setting up a toolbox for parents of Asian children who may be bullied when they return to school.

"I am anticipating that at the start of the school year, other children will have seen things on social networks or will have heard their parents say things, and there will be bullying,” she said. 

The Montrealer said she’s looking for partners to fine-tune the project.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2020.