Racism: Canada and New Zealand

Posted by Patrick Lam on Thursday, August 20, 2020

A few months ago, I found out that a former Ontario-based climbing partner was now in Auckland, just 600km to the north of where we’re staying in Wellington. One of the things that came up in our emails was his horror at casual racism among New Zealanders that he interacted with. This prompted me to think about my experiences in Quebec, Ontario, and Wellington. Of course, these are anecdotes and not data. I could speculate on broader politics but I won’t.

Also, I’ve been lucky that racism hasn’t personally affected my life in any major way. I mean, it’s never great in any context, but it could be much worse.

tl;dr: I’ve personally observed more decidedly non-casual racism in Quebec and Ontario than I have in New Zealand.


One can imagine that different demographics may affect the amount of racism observed. Here, I interact with mostly academics from abroad, judoka, and climbers. Plus, random people on the street.


Having grown up in Quebec, I have the most historical context about it compared to any other place. For the past 20 years, though, I’ve been following the news from afar, and visiting a half-dozen times a year.

Personal observations:

  • A few years ago, I was in (the original, now defunct) Orange Julep in eastern Montreal and was talking to the staff. Somehow it came up that, yes, of course I was Quebecois. Based on the demographic involved, this was consistent with the René Lévesque notion of Quebec identity. (I was, of course, speaking French.)
  • Unfortunately, I’ve also been a party to a conversation with anti-Muslim sentiments. My interlocutor was from the Saguenay. I did not have a witty comeback. It’s hard to do so in real-time.
  • I was crossing the street in Amqui (pop 4000) in 2018 and got chink-called by kids in an upstairs apartment.


I’m in a highly privileged position at the University of Waterloo. I’ve experienced no problems around campus. It would be surprising to. There are certainly enough non-White people in influential positions.

  • More chink-calling: I was biking in Kitchener and got a drive-by “go back to China!” yelled at me. (Even my parents are not from China; I was born in Canada.)
  • My spouse complains that people have trouble with francophone names in Kitchener/Waterloo. (Francophone population: 4.7%).

Wellington and New Zealand

  • Buying Kiwi Dip at the supermarket, the cashier (who had seen my passport after carding me) said “Oh, you’re becoming a real Kiwi now.”
  • NZ requires a $500 medical/X-ray for foreigners seeking to stay in the country for more than a year. (Thanks COVID!) The nurse said “OK, see you next time you’re back for your citizenship medical!”
  • Judo Canada requires one to fill out a form and pay $175 to get foreign grades recognized. I emailed a picture of my dan grade certificate to the Judo NZ office and it showed up in the system. Also, non-NZ citizens/residents can fight in nationals. (On the other hand, there aren’t many New Zealanders to fight.)