West Vancouver councillor outs ‘shocking’ racism in B.C. real estate — but it’s not the only example

Click to play video: 'Racism and discrimination in Canadian real estate' Racism and discrimination in Canadian real estate
A politician in British Columbia is calling on his municipality to erase an age old and racist covenant that stops people from selling their homes to non-white buyers. – Jul 18, 2020

As the only kid of Chinese heritage in his class, Marcus Wong, who grew up in the posh West Vancouver neighbourhood known as the British Properties, says he got some strange looks.

“People would look at me and remind me subtly, ‘This is why the British Properties are called the British Properties,’” said Wong, 39.

When Wong bought a house, he realized why he felt so unwelcome. There it was, in writing: a covenant on the land title barring people of African and Asian descent from living in this enclave.

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“No person of the African or Asiatic race or African or Asiatic descent except servants of the occupier of the premises in residence shall reside or be allowed to remain on the premises,” it read.

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“The language is very striking and shocking,” said Wong.

Wong is now a councillor for the municipality and has introduced a motion to have this particular language redacted from land titles. Technically, the province of British Columbia declared these types of covenants null and void in 1978.

But this part of Canada isn’t the only neighbourhood that has had a history of real estate rules that promote racial segregation.

In 1920, an equally troubling covenant was enacted in the Calgary neighbourhood of Victoria Park to deter Black families from settling there.

Residents who lived in the Broadview Avenue and O’Connor Drive area of Toronto weren’t allowed to sell to “Jews or persons of objectionable nationality.” That was deemed illegal in 1945.

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And it wasn’t until 2019 that the same anti-Semitic sentiment was removed from the books in the city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, a community near Montreal.

“It was like a contract. You couldn’t sell to a non-white, and if you did, they could take you to court,” said historian Henry Yu.

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Yu teaches history at the University of British Columbia and has studied racism in real estate as far back as the beginning of colonialism in Canada.

He doesn’t believe these covenants should actually be erased.

“I’d be opposed to this because it is as if the history didn’t occur,” Yu said.

Meanwhile, Wong is steadfast in his resolve to have the covenant redacted to serve as a history lesson.

“We really have to have frank discussions about who we want to be as Canadians and our values,” Wong said.

Wong says he’s had other residents say how uncomfortable they are when they read the covenant.

West Vancouver’s council votes on the motion in the fall.


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