One second, David Ma was fishing at Lake Simcoe; the next, he was shoved into the freezing waters, his arms flailing as he struggled to keep his head above the surface.
Ma, a 30-year-old carpenter from Toronto, vividly remembers the night. “It was around midnight in late May (2008). I was fishing alone when two men pushed me into water,” he said. After the initial shock, he swam back to the shore but hasn’t since returned to that particular spot. “I’m still scared. I could have died,” he said.
Yesterday, even as a report on such incidents was released, Asian-Canadian anglers said they still face harassment despite efforts made by police services, government agencies and community groups, with many cases of assault being reported last year and one in January.
“There’s a lot that has been done but more work needs to be done,” said Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. She was releasing the final report on a string of alleged assaults against Asian-Canadian anglers that first made headlines in 2007.
“We know people still face barriers in reporting harassment to police; language is one reason,” said Hall to a packed banquet hall at an outlet mall in Markham.
The commission launched an inquiry after the Star broke the story of targeted assaults against Asian-Canadian anglers in the Lake Simcoe region. Initially in October 2007, there were four confirmed cases of assault, mischief and theft against anglers. Almost immediately, dozens of fishermen came forward, saying they, too, had been a victim of what some local youth call “nipper tipping” – pushing Asian anglers off docks and bridges.
Eleven incidents were reported in 2007 and many more in 2008. An incident was reported during an ice fishing tournament on Jan. 31.
Police, who investigated the assaults as hate crimes, laid charges in five of the six reported assaults.
The commission’s inquiry spanned two fishing seasons. Yesterday, Hall released a follow-up report on the initial inquiry and highlighted the progress the 22 organizations made in response.
York Region and Ontario Provincial Police received special praise for increasing presence in areas where incidents of harassment had been reported. The two services also started a poster campaign titled Fish Without Fear, which provided anglers of all backgrounds with safety tips.
The Ministry of Natural Resources included an anti-racism message in its 2009 fishing regulations.
The Community Reference Groups, a coalition of community groups, appreciated these efforts but lambasted the provincial government for not addressing public safety concerns.
“He (McGuinty) didn’t show political leadership,” said Avvy Go of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. “There was no message sent out that we don’t condone racism. It was disappointing. You know, these incidents changed people’s lives forever.”
In one case, a 25-year-old Toronto man was in hospital for months. Shayne Berwick had been fishing off Mossington Bridge in the town of Sutton, late at night Sept. 16, 2007, when two of his friends were pushed into the river by some locals. A fight broke out between the two groups. Shayne and his friends sped away. One of the town kids chased them in a truck, police said, eventually running them off the road. Shayne and a friend were thrown from the car. He’s now out of hospital but still recovering.
Two local men were charged.
“With these cases being highlighted, at least anglers know they have the right to complain if someone is harassing them,” said Danny Leong of the Outdoor Venture Fishing and Hunting Club. “They know now these are hate crimes and the police will take it seriously.”