We are in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. In the next two or three weeks, the outbreak in Canada will reach its peak.
During this critical period, the issue of wearing masks will rise to the forefront yet since the beginning of the outbreak in North America, wearing a mask in public areas has been a very controversial subject.
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Chinese Canadians and other Canadians of Asian background who’ve worn masks while in public have been criticized, discriminated against, and, at worst, assaulted. Why is this happening in a country that holds multiculturalism as a core value?
The simple explanation is the divide between the cultural habits of Asian and Western countries. In Western countries, only sick people wear masks, so the appearance of people wearing masks brings panic.
Additionally, the World Health Organization and Canadian government officials at different levels have stated repeatedly that wearing masks will not protect against the spread of COVID-19. Sadly ,the “professional viewpoint” seems to be distorted, with the resulting discrimination against people wearing masks in public.
This is wrong. According to Canadian values and the constitution, there are four reasons that discrimination should not be happening against mask-wearers.
First of all, it has already been proven that wearing masks is a successful way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. I understand that the government and medical professionals have stated that there is no need to wear masks because they may worry that if the entire community begins looking for them, it will affect the supply of medical masks, such as the N95 in hospitals and especially in the emergency departments.
However, from the experience in China and other countries that were hit earlier, wearing masks is a key way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Masks capture droplets carrying the virus before they can spread into the environment, which is the main method of transmission of COVID-19 in public areas.
Many countries, including Austria, have just made masks compulsory under certain circumstances in order to contain COVID-19, and other European countries may soon follow suit. Even the White House is now advocating wearing masks in public places.
Thus, the Canadian government and medical chief officers in different levels should not deliver a false message to the public, even if the ulterior motive is to prevent a shortage of masks for health-care professionals. I am glad to see the premier of Ontario wearing a mask in public. He is sending the right message to Canadians.
Secondly, attacking mask-wearers due to their cultural habits is an affront to the multicultural values of Canada. It is ethnocentric to ridicule the act of wearing masks, which is seen as a sign of cleanliness and protecting others’ health in Asian cultures. The uproar over mask-wearing has only made it clear that the talk of cultural acceptance in Canada is hypocritical, and many Canadians still believe that Western culture is intrinsically superior and 100 percent correct.
According to the principle of multiculturalism, even if you don’t like to wear a mask when you are not sick, you must respect other people’s choice to wear the mask.
Thirdly, in discussions about mask-wearing, the one point that has not been brought up is that it is a basic human right to wear a mask. It is the same thing as choosing what clothes to wear, or which tattoo to ink. Above the cultural and medical discussion, basically this is a human rights issue. The government must clearly state that discriminating against or verbally attacking a person who chooses to wear a mask is an attack on basic human rights. In the most egregious cases, it should go before the judicial system.
I strongly believe that in a crisis such as this pandemic, cultural barriers must be overcome. When we see the United States and Canada make decisions to close down cities and restrict travel, we must realize that we are facing unprecedented times. Why are masks such a big issue?
It is ridiculous to make a fuss over cultural differences when wearing masks can save lives. If the mask supply is adequate, I hope that everyone will wear a mask when they leave their homes.
When I see people wearing masks and practising social distancing in public areas, I start believing that Canada will prevail over COVID-19 soon.
Guo Ding is a Vancouver journalist, columnist, historian on the immigration history of Chinese Canadians, and an author. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.