Statistics from the Vancouver Police Department show a 717-per-cent rise in hate crimes against East Asians from 2019 to 2020.
A federally-funded study conducted by several groups under the umbrella of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice found that B.C. has the most reported incidents per capita of any sub-national region in North America.
The alarming increase has put many Canadians of East Asian descent on edge.
Const. Byron Yee of the Vancouver Police Department has worked in the city’s Chinatown neighbourhood for several years and has seen the hatred firsthand. He said the uptick started last year at the beginning of the pandemic and appears to be heating up again.
“In the last couple of months, it seems like things have started to increase again,” Yee said.
“I’ve had more people approach me talking about fears of the neighbourhood, fears of walking through here, fears of having their elderly family members walk through here. There’s a lot more fear now.”
He said that even he has concerns about his own family.
“I didn’t worry about my dad coming out here but ever since COVID hit I do worry about him coming out here a lot more,” Yee said.
Metro Vancouver is often thought of as Canada’s “most Asian city,” but the sharp rise in attacks has revealed a racist undercurrent that some say has always existed. Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program, said one of the factors behind deeply-rooted anti-Asian attitudes is the question of Canadian identity.
“The history of Canada has been, in certain times, a kind of narrowing of who is a Canadian,” he said.
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“And I think that how it narrows and broadens itself, that has shaped the kind of country and city that we’ve lived in.”
Right now, Yan said, that definition is narrowing.
“A lot of this deals with this age of anxiety that we now live in. COVID is, of course, the latest issue to come in that age, but I think prior to this you can imagine that it’s the issue of housing and residential real estate mixed in with the economy and jobs,” he said.
Members of Canada’s East Asian community have become very vocal in condemning the rise in racism.
Trixie Ching-Hui Ling, the founder of the non-profit refugee support group Flavours of Hope, said it’s important to speak up and stop minimizing the violence. Ling was targeted in May by a man who made racist and sexist comments to her and spat in her face as she passed by him on the sidewalk.
Despite what happened to her, she said she is optimistic about the progress that’s being made.
“I have a lot of hope because I have seen many Asian leaders speaking up — particularly Asian women speaking up, on the streets, in the media, in their homes, in conversations with friends and their workplaces,” Ling said.
“More leaders than ever, particularly women of colour, are speaking up and not being silent and that gives me hope.”
While people of East Asian descent are the direct victims of this current outbreak of hate crimes, Yan said racism hurts everyone, even the racists.
“In one way, you can think about it as racism is the cage that encapsulates individuals, but systemic racism is the prison that actually traps everyone, all Canadians,” Yan said.
“I think in that prison the opposite of racism isn’t necessarily anti-racism, it’s actually liberation and finding how ideas of racism trap us all as Canadians and ultimately undercut our potential as human beings, our identities, our shared passions of what kind of society we want to be and who we are.”
The Global News special ‘Hidden Hate: Anti-Asian Racism’ airs on Global TV and the Global TV App at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.