TORONTO -- The mass shooting that left eight dead in Atlanta, the majority of them Asian women who worked in spas, has left communities reeling after a marked rise in anti-Asian racism and violent attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Delaina Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon C. Park, Hyun J. Grant, Suncha Kim and Yong A. Yue died in the shootings.

The gunman told police that his attacks were not motivated by race, something repeated by local enforcement at a press conference about the shootings, which prompted massive backlash online and in the Atlanta community

South Korean media outlet Chosun Ilbo reported on an interview with a spa employee who said they heard the gunman allegedly say he was “going to kill all Asians.”

Authorities say they are now investigating the shootings as possible hate crimes. 

Advocacy groups like Stop AAPI Hate in the U.S. and Fight COVID Racism in Canada have reported surges in hate crimes across North America.

As of Saturday afternoon, Fight COVID Racism was reporting 959 incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes across Canada during the pandemic.

Justin Kong, executive director of the Chinese-Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, said the shootings were “extremely disturbing.”

“It is chilling for the entire community,” Kong said in a telephone interview with Saturday. “This type of violence isn’t new, but it is nonetheless much more chilling to see what can happen.”

Canada has a higher number of reported anti-Asian hate crime incidents per Asian capita compared to the U.S., according to Project 1907, with Toronto showing the second-highest rate of cases involving anti-Asian hate crimes among major cities, following Vancouver.

Vancouver saw a 717 per cent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes from 2019 to 2020, according to a report released by the Vancouver Police Department.

“We have definitely seen a huge uptick in anti-Asian racism along with COVID-19,” Kong said. “But this racism is in many ways foundational to the founding of Canada and in the United States – right from the early treatment of the Chinese railroad workers and the South Asian communities who came here.”

Kong said that Asian communities have been “scapegoated as being the ones responsible” for the COVID-19 virus.

“Obviously everyone is frustrated with the virus…but it’s not the fault of Chinese people or Asian people and the shooting happening in this moment, there’s no way in which we can feel like this is separate,” he said.

In the U.S., women have taken the brunt of the crimes and violence, with women reporting hate incidents at 2.3 times the rate of men, according to a Stop AAPI Hate report.

On Wednesday, Xiao Zhen Xie, an elderly Asian-American woman in San Francisco, Cali. was attacked in the street in yet another incidence of anti-Asian violence.

She fought back and put her attacker in the hospital.

“The white supremacist kind of misogynistic tendencies that prevail in the United States, but also here as well need to be recognized,” Kong said of the recent spate of violent attacks. 

Here are some ways you can help, including reporting incidents, becoming informed and donating to advocacy groups.


Kong said Asian communities are dealing with a “double component” of racism and trying to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In addition to the challenges that we know everyone faces [with coronavirus] the added racism and the added stigmatization of our community has led to this sense of fear,” Kong said.

“People are scared that when they go out, they’re going to be shouted at, they’re going to get hit…and that atmosphere continues to this day – it’s a sense that you don’t know if you’re going to get assaulted.”

Stop AAPI Hate has compiled resources detailing what people can do to assist someone experiencing a racist attack or hate crime.

Here are five ways to help if you witness hate, according to the organization:

  • Take action: Approach the targeted person, introduce yourself and offer support.
  • Actively listen: Ask before taking any actions and respect the other person’s wishes. Monitor the situation if needed.
  • Ignore the attacker: Using your discretion, Stop AAPI Hate says to attempt to calm the situation by using your voice, body language or distractions.
  • Accompany: If the situation escalates, invite the targeted person to join you in leaving the area.
  • Offer emotional support: Help the other person by asking how they’re feeling and assist them in figuring out what they want to do next.

Social justice organization Hollaback! and Asian Americans Advancing Justice have partnered to create free bystander intervention training to provide skills for identifying and de-escalating anti-Asian and xenophobic harassment and racism.

Stop AAPI Hate also recommends supporting Asian-owned businesses, reaching out to your workplace, schools, faith-based institutions, unions and community groups to issue statements denouncing anti-Asian racism, and encouraging people to report any incidents they see or experience.

Kong said the number one thing that needs to be recognized is that the pandemic “is not the fault of Chinese or Asian people.”

“We need to be so cognizant of that narrative – it’s not our fault,” he said.

Kong also said his organization and many others will be looking to different levels of government to implement anti-racism policies to “alleviate” some of issues facing Asian communities.

For the average Canadian, Kong urges them to “recognize that we need to fight against racism in all forms.”

“Reach out to local organizations, support local organization and your local communities,” he said.

Donations can be made directly to support the victims of the Atlanta shooting and their families through the Atlanta chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s donation page.

Earlier this month GoFundMe launched a crowdfunding effort called #StopAsianHate to highlight fundraisers centred around victims of anti-Asian racism, including the victims of the Atlanta shootings.


The Atlanta gunman is thought to have targeted Asian-owned massage parlours specifically, with local law enforcement saying the suspect “may have frequented” some of the targeted locations in the past.

The gunman also told Georgia law enforcement that the spas were a place of “temptation,” and made comments about an alleged sex addiction. A man who shared a room at a rehabilitation centre with the gunman confirmed he was being treated for a sex addiction and would go to massage parlours “explicitly to engage in sex acts,” according to CNN.

It is not known if the victims who worked in the spas were sex workers, but advocacy groups say racialized women working in spas and massage parlours are at high risk of violence due to the hypersexualization of their work.

In light of the shootings and increased anti-Asian racism and attacks, advocacy groups are demanding better protections and awareness surrounding the specific risks facing Asian spa employees and sex workers.

Alison Clancey, executive director of SWAN Vancouver, a support and advocacy group for immigrant and migrant indoor sex workers, says that her organization was “horrified” by what unfolded on Tuesday.

“We were deeply heartbroken about the Atlanta massacre,” Clancey said in a telephone interview with Thursday. “But violence and experiencing anti-Asian racism are not new to the women who access our services.”

“While the pandemic has been a watershed moment for many labour sectors, unfortunately, informal unregulated work such as sex work has been largely left out of these conversations, with few to no increased calls for protections,” she said. “Women are experiencing greater economic precarity, but some of the systemic issues around what contributes to violence…them not having legal or labour protections have always been there.”

Clancey says the two main things affecting sex workers, especially sex workers of colour, are “stigma” and “criminalization.”

“Misunderstanding and misinformation, particularly when it's conflated with human trafficking, [are] a major barrier to women accessing community support, social service supports, health-care providers and even law enforcement,” Clancey said. “The women who we support experience multilayered criminalisation, criminalization through Canada’s laws, through anti-trafficking laws, and also the immigration prohibition on sex work.”

It is a sentiment echoed by advocacy groups like the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), who say that Tuesday’s shootings highlight the compounding factors of race, gender and sex work when it comes to hate crimes.

“Last nights mass shooting in Atlanta is a continuation of the long history of the erasure, dehumanization and hypersexualization of Asian women in service professions, especially salon workers, massage parlour workers sex workers and hospitality workers. Working class and poor East Asians and Southeast Asian are disproportionately targeted because of their representation in these industries,” a statement from the New York City NAPAWF chapter reads.

“Asian women are often considered disposable – especially when our immigration status, our socioeconomic status, our cultures, ideologies and languages and what we do to survive is heavily policed,” The statement continues. “This pushes us outside of the circle of who is deemed valuable by white supremacy and racial capitalism and it subsequently leads to our hypersexualization and violent execution.”

Clancey said if people want to help sex workers who are experiencing racism and criminalization, the major step is to reach out to their local sex worker organization to educate themselves.

“People need to learn the difference between human trafficking and sex work…. The anti-trafficking narrative, oftentimes it's the only language that's accessible to people, it's the only framing of the sex industry that's available,” she said. “We have a lot of well-meaning people out there who want to do well, but they don't always understand that in their efforts to support systemically vulnerable women in the sex industry, that they're often exacerbating the criminalisation and stigma.”

Clancey said SWAN Vancouver and other sex worker organizations are concerned that recent violence will result in calls for a greater police presence.

Organizations like Red Canary Song, a grassroots coalition for Chinese massage parlour workers, explain in statements released after the Atlanta shooting that they reject calls for increased policing as “policing has never been an effective response to violence” because they see police as “agents of white supremacy.”

Clancey said that sex workers in Canada “do not trust police,” and are “impeded” from reporting violence to law enforcement through laws that criminalize their livelihood.

“Police do not offer any protection whatsoever,” she said. “It's the laws that need to be examined.”

“I think there's one key thing that despite anyone's moral perspective on the sex industry, I hope that we can all agree that when predators act with impunity, that no one in society is safe,” Clancey said.

Sex worker advocacy organizations like SWAN Vancouver, Butterfly Toronto, Maggie’s Toronto and Red Canary Song can be donated to through their websites.