South Asians in Calgary, Canada are demanding an apology from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney for attributing family gatherings to high cases of COVID-19 in the community.
The province of Alberta, located in Western Canada, recently started collecting data on the racial and ethnic background of COVID-19 patients.
In a Nov. 25 interview with Red 106.7FM, a radio station in Calgary, Kenney announced that COVID-19 cases are high in the South Asian community, which he believes must be due to “big family gatherings.”
“We see a very high level of spread of COVID-19 in the South Asian community. And I don’t say that to blame or target anyone,” Kenney told host Rishi Nagar. “We know that it’s a tradition to have big family gatherings at home and we think this is one of the reasons why we have seen a much higher level spread in the community than other parts of the population.”
In response, Nagar said that the cases may be attributed to the fact that many in the South Asian community have jobs that force them to work outside their homes. The Canadian Muslim Research Think Tank, which is based in Calgary, echoed the idea, noting that members of the population work as janitors, taxi drivers or warehouse workers.
Dr. Mukarram Ali Zaidi, a spokesperson for the think tank, demanded an apology from Kenney, saying the premier’s comments are racist.
My interview with City TV, demanding @jkenney
to publically apologize to the South Asian community for his statement & admit that he failed to protect Albertans by dismissing physicians and public health advice@RachelNotley
he blames South Asian for the spread of COVID-19. pic.twitter.com/4SS9BFY3SS
— Dr. Mukarram A.Zaidi (@zaidi71) November 30, 2020
“Clearly, there is micro-aggression in all of Kenney’s statements to ethnic minorities regarding the virus. From one ethnic community (Filipino) to another (South Asians), Kenney has displayed scapegoating ethnic minorities to cover his own governing inadequacies,” Zaidi said in a statement.
“If Albertans were to be blunt and honest the way Kenney was, we would conclude that the reason Kenney looks the other way from multiple anti-mask protests without safety precautions is because the protesters are predominantly Caucasian.”
South Asians from Alberta and other provinces also called out Kenney for his remarks. One Twitter user described the premier as “unfit” to govern.
“F*** you @jkenney — from the entire South Asian community. Racist, prejudiced and unfit to run Alberta,” the user wrote.
Jason Kenney: blaming South Asians for spreading Covid.
Also Jason Kenney: pandering for that South Asian vote.
— rob (@robinksg) November 30, 2020
On Nov. 30, Matt Wolf, the premier’s issues manager, posted a Twitter thread in response to critics, reiterating that the official does not blame any groups of Albertans.
“Some are arguing that the Premier is ‘blaming’ or ‘stigmatizing’ Albertans by trying to raise awareness amongst cultural communities about how to slow the spread,” Wolf wrote. “No, the Premier is not ‘blaming’ any groups of Albertans. COVID-19 affects all elements of our society. But data does show that some cultural communities are disproportionately affected.”
Wolf went on to share a snippet of the said data.
“For example, Albertans of South and East Asian descent account for just under 20% of COVID-19 cases, but represent only 11% of the population. Many factors are at play, including larger multigenerational households, type of work, and cultural/religious groups.
“Again, this is not to cast blame. But if we want to slow the spread, we need to increase awareness.”
For example, Albertans of South & East Asian descent account for just under 20% of COVID-19 cases, but represent only 11% of the population.
— Matt Wolf (@MattWolfAB) November 30, 2020
Alberta has not publicly released its race-based data as it remains incomplete. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, described the numbers Wolf cited as “preliminary.”
“We have been working over the past several months on putting that data together and doing some analysis so that we would be able to communicate it as a comprehensive whole, with complete analysis,” Hinshaw said, according to CBC News. “That’s not complete at this time.”