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by Mai Mazloum and Nandika Ravi
New (ongoing) research conducted by the Canadian Arab Institute suggests that COVID-19 has exacerbated the inequalities in all ethnic populations, including the Arab community, as unemployment rates soar.
A young Arab, Palestinian, first-generation immigrant woman in Canada, Shireen Salti said she has lived with race-based inequities “throughout her life.”

“The Palestinians carry Palestine with them wherever they go,” Salti told OMNI’s Mai Mazloum.

“I came to Canada at the age of 15, and wherever I went, I felt that I was the only Arab person here. And it was very surprising that no one in Canada heard about Palestine at that time or about the Arab countries, and I was amazed how we know a lot about them while they do not know anything about us,”

This sparked Salti’s interest to dive into Canadian law and politics, and as Executive Director of the Canadian Arab Institute (CAI), she’s actively bridging the gap between the Arab and Canadian cultures, tackling obstacles in order to integrate youth into Canadian society.

Shireen Salti speaks at a Millennial Women in Policy panel discussion in October 2019, unpacking what that year’s federal election means for the Canadian Arab community. Photo by Shay Conroy.

“Preliminary research indicates that unemployment rates are very, very high and are a major concern to all racialized communities, they are the ones on the frontlines facing the brunt of the pandemic without the option of working from home,”Salti said.

Salti said there is a lack of research-based data on how ethnic communities are faring during the pandemic and how they can be better informed in curbing COVID-19. To fill this gap, the CAI partnered with Brock University and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management in a community-based research project to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on Arab, Black, Indigenous and South Asian communities in Canada.

The most recent data from the city of Toronto indicates that Black people and people of colour make up for 83 per cent of recorded COVID-19 cases. To understand the the underlying reason,  70 racialized research assistants were sent to Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Windsor to conduct interviews with people from ethnic communities.

“We really wanted to look at this from a race-based data collection lens and we wanted it to be research done for the community, by the community,” Salti said.

“It is very important that the Arab should feel that they are part of this society, but unfortunately, most of them don’t feel that because of the challenges that they are facing,” Salti added.

According to Salti, Arab youth are dealing with three major challenges: lack of job opportunities, systemic racism and general prejudice towards the Arab community, which are making it tough for them to integrate into the Canadian society.

Salti feels that there is a need for a positive dialogue when it comes to the people of her community.

“Negative messages against the Arab community here in Canada are surprising, but Arabs in Canada are facing racial discrimination. I want to encourage Arab youth to participate in Canadian society and tell them that there is room for them in this society and they should make their word heard.”