Pembroke won't be 'defined by racism,' mayor vows

Mike LeMay is promising to take action after a group of teenagers targeted 80-year-old Nga Doan in what police are investigating as a racially motivated assault. 

Mike LeMay promising to take action after teens assault 80-year-old Nga Doan

Nga Doan, left, stands with granddaughter Crystal Tran, Cindy Tran's younger sister. (Supplied by Cindy Tran)

The mayor of Pembroke, Ont., says he won't let the city be "defined by racism" after a group of teenagers targeted an 80-year-old woman in what police are investigating as a racially motivated assault. 

Mike LeMay said he felt both anger and sadness when he heard about the Aug. 20 assault against Nga Doan. 

"As a city, we committed ourselves to be a welcoming community for everyone," LeMay told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday. "Diversity is very important for us. Immigration is very important to grow our community."

Elderly woman assaulted by group of teens in Pembroke

3 years ago
Duration 0:57
Cindy Tran says her grandmother, who is 80 years old, was assaulted by a group of teens who gathered around her home, yelled racial slurs and threw a rock at her head.

Last week, Doan's granddaughter, Cindy Tran, told CBC her grandmother was home alone when a group of teenagers banged on her door. Tran said her grandmother doesn't speak English, but when she opened the door she was able to tell the teens were swearing at her.

"They were also egging the house," Tran said. One of the teens threw a rock at Doan, striking her in the cheek.

"I just started sobbing because you don't expect this to happen to an 80-year-old woman. Like, this is not something that should ever even occur, regardless of how old a person is," said Tran, a Carleton University student living in Ottawa.

Racial slurs

She said Ontario Provincial Police told her the teenagers shouted racial slurs at her grandmother, and later returned to the house. 

Angered by the incident, Tran wrote a blog post detailing the racism she faced as a Vietnamese-Canadian growing up in Pembroke, and said her post prompted many others to write to her with similar experiences.

"In Pembroke, so many people have been subjected to racism and discrimination," Tran said.

This should not have happened. Now let's look at correcting it.- Pembroke Mayor Mike LeMay

But Lemay is vowing not to let the community of about 14,000 be "defined by racism." 

"This type of attitude really does a lot of damage," he said, adding he reached out to Tran to ask her advice about what to do next. "This should not have happened. Now let's look at correcting it."

After that conversation, LeMay said he also reached out to other members of the local Asian community, and plans to set up a diversity committee with the aim of not only giving racialized communities a voice, but also documenting racist acts and preventing further racism.

"We're going to be working together moving forward," LeMay said.

Start with schools: Tran

Tran said she would like to see more done to create safe spaces for people to talk about racism, especially in schools.

"Because that is where a lot of this discrimination happens," she said. "The people who did this to my grandmother, they were teenagers. It's really heartbreaking to see that there are still teenagers and young adults who learn from their role models." 

Pembroke mayor says assault on elderly lady hurts the whole community

3 years ago
Duration 0:51
Mike LeMay, mayor of Pembroke, says the attack on an 80-year-old resident has made it clear that the community must work harder to fight racism.

"These kids are going to be the leaders one day," Tran said. "If their mindset is stuck towards one form of thinking and being narrow-minded towards other people in other cultures, then how are we meant to move forward?"

LeMay said he agrees with that approach.

"There has to be conversations in the school," he said, beginning in elementary schools. "We're on the same page when it comes to her expressing what she hopes will be done."

With files from Ottawa Morning

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