British Columbia

'I'm not going to hide': Richmond woman describes how she stood tall against alleged racist taunts

Clara Kan says she and her mother were told their face masks are 'what's wrong with society today' and to 'go back to your country' while they were out for a stroll in Richmond recently.

WARNING: This story contains offensive language

Clara Kan says she was wearing a mask and walking down the street in Richmond when two men hurled racist Asian slurs at her and her mother. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Richmond's Clara Kan and her mother were out for a stroll on Friday afternoon near Garry Point, when the duo allege they were verbally attacked by two white men sitting in a car.

"They're like, 'Hey you! You f--king ch--k ... go back to your country!'" recalled Kan about the expletive-filled taunt. "Look at you with your masks, you're what's wrong with society."

Kan says she was shocked and angered by the incident.

"I've been here since I was six," she says. "Go back to where? This is my country. I'm a Canadian."

Her family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong more than 25 years ago.

She says she and her mother had done nothing to provoke the men.

The encounter comes at a time when reports of anti-Asian crime have been on the rise in nearby Vancouver since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with at least one physical assault and many other reports of Asian-Canadians being verbally attacked.

'I'm not going to hide'

Kan and her mother were walking down Moncton Street on their way to get ice cream with their masks on, she says, when the men started calling out to them.

The 33-year old says she and her mother didn't hesitate to defend themselves, yelling expletives back to the men and telling them to shut up.

"If you say something that is so demeaning to me ... I'm not going to lay down and I'm not going to hide," she said. "I deserve to be here."

She says she doesn't want anyone to be fooled into believing the stereotype that Asian women are submissive, timid or easy to scare.

Kan says she hopes that by speaking up, others who have been victims of racist attacks will find the strength to make their voices heard as well. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

At the time, she tried to fight back by taking photos and filming the men but it didn't seem to deter them, she says.

It eventually turned frightening, says Kan, when they tried to walk away. She says she heard the driver rev his engine loudly, which she believed was an attempt to threaten them.

She turned around and demanded to know what he was planning to do and said, "hit me then."

That's when the driver's car lurched forward and Kan's mother started screaming for help.

Before any bystanders could make their way down the empty street, Kan says the two men drove off.

She called 911 immediately, gave the licence plate of the suspect vehicle from her photograph and a Richmond RCMP officer arrived within five minutes, she said.

While RCMP are now investigating, Kan says she was surprised by the initial response she received from the officer on scene.

'He said, she said' incident

After relaying the incident to the officer, Kan says he told her because the vehicle didn't belong to a Richmond resident, it would be up to police in another jurisdiction to contact the owners.

Even then, she says she was told the owners may not be the men who were allegedly involved and it appeared to be a "he said, she said," situation.

"None of it really added up to me," says Kan, who says she felt like she had done her due diligence by reporting the incident.

Clara Kan revisits Moncton Street where the alleged racist attack took place while speaking with CBC News reporter Lien Yeung. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

She says she even pointed out to the officer the car was parked next to a shipyard which had surveillance cameras nearby.

"It just felt like I wasn't really being helped," she says. "I felt kind of hopeless."

She turned to her social media channels to share her story, posting on an Instagram account featuring her dog, which has more than 250,000 followers. It subsequently went viral.

On Saturday, Richmond RCMP released a brief statement, saying "a recent racially motivated incident ... is currently being investigated and is being treated extremely seriously."

The statement also said if an incident occurs within the city, it is within their jurisdiction, but did not directly address Kan's concerns.

They say they take all allegations of hate-related crimes seriously and, "strongly do not condone racism in any form."

Mounties sent out an additional statement Monday afternoon reiterating an investigation was taking place while adding that all individuals involved had been contacted.

Kan confirmed two Mounties, including one who spoke Cantonese, took her mother's statement for the first time that day.

The officers asked the women what they wanted to see happen. They offered to meet the two men, sit down with them and talk about what happened, Kan said. 

Police told them they couldn't promise that would happen and asked if they would be open to an apology letter.

Need for dialogue

Kan says she's pleased the RCMP appears to be investigating the incident thoroughly now despite their initial response.

She said they never wanted to see charges laid but wanted to police to make them feel safe and supported.

"I always think that you shouldn't judge people on their worst day or on their best day," she says."They're taking responsibility so that's good."

As for the men who yelled hateful words at her, she say she wants them to know, she forgives them.

"There just needs to be dialogue ... it's a hard time for everyone."

About the Author

Lien Yeung

@LienYeung

Lien Yeung hosts CBC Vancouver News Weekends. As a multimedia reporter, she has covered stories locally and nationally from coast to coast on television, radio and social media. You can reach her on Instagram or Twitter @LienYeung or via email at lien.yeung@cbc.ca.