British Columbia

'Hate has no place in British Columbia,' says premier on rise in anti-Asian crimes

The premier and others are urging British Columbians to stand against racism after a spike in hate crimes directed at people of Asian descent during the pandemic.

Vancouver police say there has been a rise in racially motivated incidents since the beginning of the year

B.C. Premier John Horgan announces plans to reopen British Columbia on Wednesday. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Saying he was angry after hearing about recent incidents of hate crimes directed against people of Asian descent, Premier John Horgan implored British Columbians to stand together against racism on Wednesday.

"Hate has no place in British Columbia. Period," the premier stated during a news conference to announce the province's next moves in the pandemic.

"If we're going to get through this, we have to stop finger pointing. Put our differences aside and work together to get it done."

The Vancouver Police Department said 20 anti-Asian hate crimes have been reported to police so far this year. In comparison, there were 12 anti-Asian hate crimes reported in all of 2019.

Some of the incidents include offensive graffiti on the Chinese Cultural Centre, a verbal and physical assault on an elderly man in a convenience store and another assault on an Asian woman on Granville Street.

Doris Chow, a longtime volunteer in Vancouver's Chinatown, says she's experienced four or five racist incidents since January.

In one case, she was walking with a friend and a passerby directed racial slurs and derogatory remarks at them. 

"It was very obvious that it was directed at us, and very obvious that it was because we were Asian," Chow said.

Watch Premier John Horgan's comments on racism:

'COVID-19 does not discriminate. British Columbians shouldn't discriminate either,' says B.C. Premier John Horgan. 0:32

A different way to report 

But Chow says reporting these incidents can be tough. 

"Technically nothing criminal happened. Uttering racial slurs isn't criminal. So do we call the VPD around this?" she said.

Nevertheless, these incidents have a serious impact on people and Chow wanted a way to document this behaviour. So, helped by Ellen Kim, she started an online data collection form. 

The COVID-19 Racism Incident Report Form is available in multiple languages and is anonymous, although people can submit their name or contact information if desired. 

Chinese Cultural Centre board chair Fred Kwok reads the hateful graffiti written on windows at the centre in Vancouver on Friday, May 1. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Chow says they've received 80 responses since launching the form on April 22. 

The majority of the reports are from women who have been verbally harassed or coughed at in public spaces like the grocery store or transit. 

Chow acknowledges there's no way of verifying whether each incident took place as reported — since the reporting is anonymous — but says it's an important outlet for people. 

"Culturally in the Asian community, [being targeted in racist incidents] are very hidden and not spoken about because there's a lot of shame and feelings of not wanting to be a nuisance," Chow said.

"We want to give a clearer picture of what's going on and those kinds of experiences."

Historical context

Henry Yu, a professor of history at the University of British Columbia, says he isn't surprised by the rise in hate crimes against people of Asian descent in B.C. 

Yu notes the long history of racist legislation against non-whites in the province, starting from confederation. 

"Even though we took away the legal support for that by the 1960s ... still there's a lot of political rhetoric and an access to that kind of blaming when things go wrong."

Henry Yu, associate professor in UBC's department of history, says the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in B.C. is not surprising given the province's history of scapegoating Asian people for various problems over the years. (Matt Meuse/CBC)

Yu says its important to take these incidents of racist violence seriously and not dismiss it as though racism is a thing of the past. 

He says combating these racist incidents is comparable to our fight against COVID-19. 

"There are very few people that may have COVID-19, but it's how the rest of us respond that really will contain it and keep it suppressed and make that statement that this is not who we are." 

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca

With files from On The Coast