Sid Chow Tan: Homeless no more, evicted no more, silenced no more

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Editor's note: Sid Chow Tan, community organizer and media and communications producer, delivered this speech in front of the Ming Sun building. Today (July 23), the former chair of the Chinese Canadian National Council announced his bid for a COPE nomination for city council.

Let me begin by acknowledging that this is First Nations land, belonging to the Coast Salish Peoples, including the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil Waututh Nations. And I'd like to ask you, if you will, to imagine what it feels like to have your lands stolen and your culture pushed to the margins.

We should also acknowledge that this neighbourhood was the heart of our city's Japanese community until the Second World War, before those of Japanese descent were forcefully removed from here, their homes and properties confiscated. Imagine how that feels, to build a community and have it heartlessly taken away, your friends and family dispersed into internment camps.

My name is Sid Tan and today I am seeking a nomination with the Coalition of Progressive Electors for Vancouver city council. I believe the good people of Vancouver want developer money out of our City Hall. I love the Downtown Eastside. I love Vancouver. With COPE, we build a better city. A city with heart. A Vancouver that everyone can afford.

I'd also like to acknowledge that, up to the present day, this neighbourhood has been a home to many chinese seniors. This building across the street at 439 Powell was home to 10 Chinese Seniors until last year.

But in July 2013, they were literally evicted onto the streets, their belongings left in the middle of the sidewalk. The City offered them inadequate housing, much like they’re doing for the tent city across the street. Imagine what that feels like, after committing your whole life to this community, to be treated so cruelly. Indeed, some of the tenants have now passed away, the process of eviction was too much for them, and too much for their health.

And I acknowledge you all for coming today. It is inspiring and humbling to be standing here with you – activists and journalists. Thank you for being here. 

We are all here today because we care about this city and its diverse communities. We care about members of our community who are mistreated, who suffer poverty and discrimination.

The idea is to build a city where everyone can live in dignity. A city where all residents can afford a home. A city where the most financially vulnerable need not fear being evicted.

That's why we’re gathered here today. But let me tell you a bit about my own journey, and how I got here.

I am China-born in 1949, and I am Canada-made. Just after the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1947, my grandfather Norman Tan, who was living in Canada since 1919, was united with his wife Nooy in small-town Saskatchewan.
 
I am a “paper son” or a so-called illegal immigrant. My arrival in Canada happened before I could walk. My grandfather, who paid the Chinese head tax, and grandmother had bought falsified papers claiming I was their son. Our family was regularized under an amnesty and became Canadian citizens in 1964. I graduated from the University of Calgary and moved to Vancouver 40 years ago. 

Here in Vancouver, I have worked with incredible people to build grassroots institutions that fill community needs. I was Chairman of the Chinese Canadian National Council. I was founding director and co-chairperson of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada. And I was a founding director and President of the Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society.

One of the incredible people I worked with is Charlie Quan, who is my personal hero. Charlie Quan fought for many decades to get redress for the Chinese Head Tax and exclusion laws. It was my honour see him work and to receive his wisdom. 

He was always there, stepping up for head-tax families when most needed. That’s what heroes and champions do. Well into his 90s, he led the movement to a partial redress. Charlie Quan passed away two years ago at the young age of 105, but not before winning an apology from government and compensation.

Charlie Quan was the first person to received his $20,000 redress payment from the government. When I visited him at his club the next day, he was beaming, took me aside, and said, “Chink no more. I get my money back.” 

Charlie put a big idea into simple words and passionate action. 

We were so happy for him that I did not comprehend the profoundness of his statement. Now, after reflecting on our time together, it was clear to Charlie the apology meant little without actual compensation.

He taught me that we are a species of ideas, words and action.

And that's spirit that I want to ignite in this city. We have to transform ideas into words, and words into action. And we have to fight as long as it takes to get justice and redress for everyone who needs it in our society.

I have watched our city government promise to end homelessness, but now homelessness has reached the highest level in recorded history. Meanwhile city hall wrote a law to fine homeless tenters ten thousand dollars. I want to amplify the voices of those tenting in the park until they can say: "Homeless no more. We got our housing back."

I have watched renters and seniors, like those at 439 Powell, pushed out of their homes and neighbourhoods as Vancouver becomes less and less affordable. I want to help amplify the voices of renters and Seniors until they can say: "Evicted no more. We got our neighbourhood back."

I have watched Vision Vancouver act as a rubber stamp for its condo developer donors, while silencing the very communities that they are displacing. I want to amplify the voices of our communities until they can say: "Silenced no more. We got our democracy back."
 
I have watched all of this happen under Vision Vancouver, and I have had enough.
 
I am proud to run for a City Council nomination with COPE because it is about time Vancouver had a government with the integrity to refuse real estate funding.
 
With COPE we have developed our policy transparently, with meaningful input from grassroots organizations and local tenants.
 
With COPE we can ban renovictions, and create a housing authority with teeth that will build and own public housing, and will take on the corporations.

With COPE we can build a Sanctuary City where everyone can access services without fear of deportation, regardless of where they were born.
 
In years from now, I hope we can all gather here again and say together: “Homeless no more. Evicted no more. Silenced no more. We got our city back."
 
Thank you again for coming, all my relations.

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Thanks for stepping up!

Jul 23, 2014 at 12:16pm

I've had enough of the politicians at city who are all bought off by the real estate companies. We need more grassroots organizers like Sid Tan to step forward, people we can trust to fight for everyone, especially those in need.

beautiful ideas

Jul 23, 2014 at 12:28pm

who is going to pay?

@Sid

Jul 23, 2014 at 12:29pm

Oh my goodness, this is so inspiring - thanks for running Sid!

Jon Q. Publik

Jul 23, 2014 at 12:39pm

But why would any taxpayer choose to support a party that at its very base wants to help those who ultimately make little or no contribution to the city coffers. COPE wants us to believe that they don't represent special interests groups when in reality they do - they represent those who don't aspire to be anything else. If anyone thinks handing the keys to a brand new home is the way forward for this city then they are clearly deluded. Development needs to happen, gentrification needs to happen, or else this city will be stuck in a past that they can no longer afford to be in. Why does COPE consistently want to hold Vancouver back from actually becoming a "World Class City".

Promising

Jul 23, 2014 at 12:42pm

YES! We need real people who can actually represent the masses - I couldn't think of a better person than Sid. No more politicians with a corporate CV and a private school educations, we need Sid at city hall. I'm voting for Sid

@Jon Q. Publik

Jul 23, 2014 at 12:58pm

"why would any taxpayer choose to support a party that at its very base wants to help those who ultimately make little or no contribution to the city coffers"

"Are there no jails? Are there no workhouses?"

Are you for real, pal? Whatever wealth you have is built on the exploitation of others and the occupation of this unceded land. You didn't build this.

Connie Hubbs

Jul 23, 2014 at 1:49pm

I am proud to support Sid for City Council!

Jon Q. Publik

Jul 23, 2014 at 2:29pm

Yes I am for real. If you think the grand majority of people in the city of Vancouver care that they live on "unceded" land then you are sorely mistaken. If you think that the majority of voters give an actual iota of care about the wellbeing of the homeless on daily basis in the city please wake up.

RUK

Jul 23, 2014 at 3:42pm

@Jon Q

While I suspect that you may be right about what people care about, I think there's a moral and business case for having programs that support those who "don't make a contribution."

The moral case is people with conscience who see a neighbour in trouble would take reasonable steps to help out.

The business case is that *not* helping out actually costs a great deal of money. If you don't provide subsistence income for people who don't have it, they'll die, get sick and make others sick (which costs money), and/or commit crimes, all of which have a considerable dollar value attached.

Moreover, what about their kids? The parents might be pretty far gone in addictions, mental illness, fetal alcohol effect and criminal lifestyle, so that it would take a heroic effort to break into the mainstream, and not everyone is a hero; but their kids are watching all of this, and they represent potential future "contributors." It's worth spending the money so that the home is a safe place with food in it, with parents who are getting assisted at life skills and material needs, to break the cycle that leads to a permanent underclass.

Otherwise you're just spending tax dollars throwing another generation of the underclass into jail.

Jenables

Jul 23, 2014 at 3:44pm

Jon q public, there are a hell of a lot of people spending vast portions of their income on rent or mortgages, and that overstuffed portion means they have less to spend everywhere else. How many small businesses have you seen shuttered? Do you have any idea how much property tax THEY pay? Upzoning every piece of land and over valuing everything really, really, doesn't help affordability, which is a concern for MOST people. As for the world class city? Being born and raised here that term fills me with a deep sense of shame, because it's embarrassing to watch people be so insecure about where they live that they desperately need to convince themselves and everyone else that it is on par with New York and London. You can't really believe that people are more concerned with living in a world class city than the escalating cost of living and Homelessness around them?

In regards to the article, I think it's wonderful and I wish Sid well.

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