A Richmond city councillor is apologizing for comments he made about an assault at a city-led open house earlier this month, which critics are calling an attack on the city’s Asian populations.
Harold Steves sent the tweet in response to a March 1 story on a video showing a man kicking an elderly librarian and running away during a community meeting meant to discuss modular housing.
The tweet suggests the assailant, who he called “an opponent of housing,” was at the meeting along with 500 people of Asian descent that were there to oppose the project on 7300 Elmbridge Way, and that the group had organized a protest on WeChat.
The resulting discussion below the tweet shows a lengthy back-and-forth between Steves and various other users who accuse the longtime councillor of taking a negative stance on multiculturalism, specifically on how it may impact protecting farmland and helping the homeless population.
When one person asked what issues of race had to do with zoning disputes, Steves replied, “That is the question I am asking. These are not zoning issues. They are social issues. What does race and multiculturalism have to with with social values in Richmond? It appears that there is a clash in values between cultural groups.”
In a series of tweets Thursday night, Steves revisited the issue, pointing to a tweet posted on March 2 where he appeared to walk back his assertion that the assailant was part of the protest group, and said he was “the first person to suggest that he may not have been at the homeless meeting.”
The RCMP confirmed on March 2 that the incident was unrelated to the community meeting, and “was not racially or ethnically motivated,” according to a release.
Although the first tweet was originally posted March 1, the Richmond Farmland Owners Association (RFOA) sent a statement Friday denouncing Steves’ comments.
“This tweet is divisive, unwelcoming, and does not represent the values of our community,” spokesperson Gunraj Gill said. “It has [one] goal — to divide Richmond residents based on their ethnicity.”
Mandeep Athwal with the RFOA told Global News he was “horrified” when he saw the tweet.
“It was a punch in the gut,” he said. “This man is sitting in city council and saying these things? It’s unbelievable.
“Our parents left oppression to come here to be free, to be able to do what they want. And you know, everybody’s allowed to say what they want, but if you’re representing a public office, you shouldn’t be saying these things. You should be uniting the community, you should be talking about the issues.”
In a statement to Global News, Richmond-Queensborough MLA Jas Johal called the comments “hurtful” and said he hopes Steves understands how he may have angered some people in the community.
“I believe finding solutions to tackle homelessness or protecting farmland in Richmond is a non-partisan issue. We will only solve these problems when we consult in a respectful and thoughtful manner,” Johal wrote.
“Mr. Steves’ recent comments do nothing to help address these community challenges, encourage engagement, or build a stronger Richmond.”
‘I was shocked’
Speaking to Global News by phone, Steves at first stood firm on his comments, but eventually apologized, saying he regrets the way the tweet was worded.
“I think I’ve apologized 10 times over and I tried to explain it,” he said. “I think my tweet was just somewhat misunderstood, and I guess I misunderstood how it was going to be taken.”
Steves did say he remains concerned about the development, which he opposes, saying he actually agrees with the stance taken by the alleged WeChat group despite questioning their methods.
The councillor added he was reacting emotionally to the video of the assault.
“I was shocked just like everyone else at what I saw, and I guess I gave an emotional response,” he said.
The statement also called on Steves to recuse himself from any council votes on the project. Steves did not comment on whether he would do such a thing.
—With files from Julia Foy
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.