Chinese in Vancouver become hate targets

City talk | David Ball 2 Jun 2020

Vancouver resident Trixie Ling recalls her disgust and anger after a passing stranger taunted her with racial and sexual slurs in early May. Then he spat in her face. "I felt a mixture of shock, disgust and sadness that it happened to me," Ling said near the scene. "But I know I'm not the only one this has happened to."

Ling is indeed not alone. From violent attacks and spitting to verbal assaults and vandalism of cultural sites, Chinese residents of Canada's third largest city - 26 percent of its population, according to the last census in 2016 - say they feel increasingly unsafe and unwelcome.

A new survey suggests the problem is deeply rooted: one in four British Columbians of Asian descent (70 percent Chinese) said someone in their household had been targeted with "racial slurs or insults" since March, according to the ResearchCo poll of 1,600 adults. Vancouver police are also investigating 29 anti-Asian incidents over the past two months - seven times more than in the corresponding period last year.

Another Vancouverite who experienced racism during the pandemic helped launch an online reporting form for others to share experiences anonymously. Ellen says the database will help guide advocacy to combat racism.

"Very lewd, inappropriate and derogatory remarks and gestures - I've experienced quite a bit - mostly referencing characteristics of being Asian," she says. "The anticipation of what might happen to me is quite stressful, scary and disturbing."

A stone lion statue on the gate of Vancouver's 125-year-old Chinatown was vandalized last week with "China" and "Covid" graffiti. A nearby Chinese cultural center's windows were also vandalized recently, so a mobile police surveillance camera trailer now monitors the area.

Canadian singer Bryan Adams, who recorded his biggest hits in Vancouver, inflamed tensions with a tweet blaming Covid-19 on "bat eating, wet animal market selling, virus making greedy bastards."

Wet markets sell fresh food and produce, including farmed animals and wildlife, and one such market in Wuhan has been identified by the World Health Organization as a possible source or "amplifying setting" of the outbreak.

Adams later apologized for the "racist" post.

Vancouver church pastor Daniel Louie, who coorganized an online anti-racism effort town hall in mid-May, says criticism of China's rulers must be distinguished from stereotypes about Chinese people.

The hate-mongering has also spilled out against people mistaken for Chinese or through association. They include people of Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese descent.

The ResearchCo poll also found 24 percent of South Asians reported racist insults. And even indigenous Canadians have been targeted. "It's so shockingly high," says pollster Mario Canseco of the data. "I had to go back to the calculations to make sure there was nothing wrong with the numbers." The survey is considered accurate within 2.5 percent."There's this element that comes out blaming an entire ethnicity for what is going on," Canseco adds. "It should be cause for great concern."

Vancouver resident Dakota Holmes, an indigenous Canadian, says a man told her to "go back to China" before punching her in the head and leaving her bruised on the ground after she sneezed because of a seasonal allergy. "He had all these racial slurs," she recalls.

British Columbia premier John Horgan condemns the rising acts of hate as "unacceptable," saying "racism is a virus" and "hate has no place in our province."

But while political leaders, police and community advocates alike condemn the incidents, others want to see more aggressive preventive action by authorities, such as financial support for organizations serving the Chinese-Canadian community, offering victims mental health services, and backing initiatives to educate witnesses on how best to respond."If someone is being verbally abused I'd focus the attention on the victim, not the person harassing them," Louie says.

Some advocates suggest racist incidents are not a short-term fad but that the pandemic is bringing long-standing prejudices to the surface.

Recalling her assault, Ling says it "lit a fire" in her to speak out. "People are afraid of going outside not because of Covid, but because of their skin color," she says. "It's important for all of us to do something when you see it happen, to not be ashamed or silent, because if many people speak out, that's how we fight racism."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 

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