Low German community in southwestern Ontario experiences persecution

Rise in COVID-19 cases sparks harassment

August 26, 2020 | News | Volume 24 Issue 18D
Janet Bauman | Eastern Canada Correspondent

Members of Low German-speaking Mennonite communities in southwestern Ontario have experienced public discrimination recently because of a surge in COVID-19 cases in their population. Incidents include negative online comments, cancelled playdates with children in the Low German community, and aggressive verbal attacks at the grocery store. 

The Windsor-Essex region of the province has been a hotspot for COVID-19 cases among migrant farm workers. Some members of the Low German community, who also work on those farms, have contracted the virus. 

Mennonite Community Services (MCS) of southern Ontario, the social arm of Anabaptist churches in the region, offers a variety of support services to Low German newcomers, and advocates and promotes their inclusion.

Abe Harms, MCS’s executive director, said in an interview with CBC Windsor News, that “it is concerning to see the number of cases grow. . . . up until a couple of weeks ago, very few of us knew anybody that had [COVID-19] . . . and I think now everybody knows somebody that has had it.”

Helen Bergen, a nurse practitioner in the community, said in the same news story that the persecution, which is “painting . . . this one community with a single paint brush,” is unfortunate and disappointing. 

Hilda MacDonald, Leamington’s mayor, says that singling out one community leads to bigotry and harassment. The virus is “faceless” and “can be spread by anyone.” 

Among other resources, MCS runs the De Brigj Radio station, which offers Low German programming that provides up-to-date information about COVID-19 and addresses the myths about the virus circulating in the community. MCS also functions as a regional office for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Ontario.

MCC Ontario has more than 30 years of experience working with the Low German immigrant community, offering settlement support and serving as a liaison with a variety of community agencies. In March, the organization provided refugee and Low German communities access to correct information about the virus, and provided online information, called “Opening Doors,” for service providers working with Low German-speaking Mennonites from Latin America. 

According to Bergen, the number of cases in the Low German community is in decline, suggesting that the community is responding appropriately to safety measures.

Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Eastern Canada? Send it to Janet Bauman at ec@canadianmennonite.org.

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