Asian Canadians have experienced a surge of hateful violence during the pandemic, a trend Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned Friday.
“Hate, violence and discrimination have no place in Canada,” Trudeau said at his daily news conference. “This is not who we are as Canadians.”
He acknowledged that this spring, businesses, buildings and statues have been vandalized and people have suffered verbal abuse and physical attacks.
“To Asian Canadians across the country, know we all stand with you. We will not let hate divide us,” the prime minister said.
Trudeau’s remarks are in sharp contrast to the U.S. President Donald Trump’s xenophobic and racist tweets and insistence on calling the novel coronavirus the “Chinese Virus” or “Wuhan Virus.” That terminology has stigmatized Asian communities around the world, and resulted in targeted violence.
In the U.S., there’s been more than 1,700 reports of physical and verbal attacks against Asian Americans throughout the pandemic.
Trudeau thanked Canadians who have spoken out against violence and exposed racism in their communities.
“We need to speak out against racism where it’s found so we can stop it,” Trudeau said.
Police are investigating close to eight times the number of hate crimes against the Vancouver Asian community compared to this time last year, an increase that coincides with the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
Watch: Suspect sought in racist attack in Vancouver. Story continues below.
Vancouver police say they’re handling 29 open cases of anti-Asian crimes, including racial slurs, vandalism and assaults, compared to four by the same time this year, said Deputy Chief Const. Howard Chow at a news conference Friday. Police are also investigating 10 other files that they say could be classified as hate-related in the coming weeks.
“What’s been particularly hurtful is the hateful vandalism we’ve seen to prominent landmarks in Chinatown,” said Chow. “It’s an area that truly helps define our city and it’s especially upsetting to see this crime occurring in an area with such cultural significance.”
A man was caught on camera defacing four large glass windows of a Chinese cultural centre with hateful, racist graffiti in April. And this month, racist graffiti appeared on the Millennium Gate’s lion heads in the city’s Chinatown.
Vancouver police had previously warned of a surge in hate crimes against the city’s East Asian community this spring. A man approached an Asian victim at a bus stop and punched her in the face, police said. “The assault appears unprovoked as there appears to be no communication between the victim and the attacker,” said a statement.
In another incident, a 92-year-old man with dementia was attacked in a convenience store, police said. The suspect, who police have since identified, yelled racist remarks at the victim, including comments about COVID-19. He shoved the victim, who fell to the ground and hit his head.
“When COVID-19 began to spread, a rise in incidents of shameful behaviour, blaming minorities did as well,” said Queenie Choo, CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S., a charity that helps newcomers settle in Canada. “This conduct is unwarranted, divisive and unacceptable to how we define ourselves as Canadians.”
Police departments across Canada have reported recent crimes against Asian people.
A Calgary Chinese restaurant received an anonymous threat one evening in March, which police there said is believed to have been motivated by pandemic-related racism.
And Edmonton police have reported several cases of hateful graffiti directed towards the Asian community.
Montreal police are investigating vandalism at Buddhist temples as possible hate crimes. In March, leaders at three separate temples told The Canadian Press that statues outside the buildings were damaged. One of the temples had more than 10 statues smashed, including a Buddha.
The Chinatown gate lions were also defaced, according to reports.
In Vancouver, investigators have identified suspects in six investigations, but no charges have been laid, police said. They have added patrols and cameras in Chinatown, and two other locations.
Chow, urged witnesses and victims to report incidents to police.
“To the offender, half of our residents in Vancouver are culturally diverse, they’re not a minority. It’s who we are. Know that we are all watching,” he said.
Police are asking residents to report suspicious activity by calling 9-1-1.