COVID-19 in Vancouver: Anti-racism campaigns launch to counter anti-Asian assaults and vandalism

Actors like Ludi Lin, Steph Song, Olivia Cheng, and more are participating in awareness efforts to counter hatred

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      May is Asian Heritage Month.

      Yet instead of simply celebrating Asian culture and people, numerous individuals and organizations have been launching efforts to address anti-Asian racism that has arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

      Several incidents involving assault or vandalism took place in Vancouver.

      On March 6, a white male shoved a 92-year-old Asian man with dementia out of an East Vancouver store while yelling racist remarks about COVID-19 at him.

      On April 2, a male suspect scrawled racist slurs on windows of the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown.

      In early May, a Queen Elizabeth Park bench dedicated to a Chinese Canadian widower and his late wife was defaced with racist remarks. 

      The Vancouver Police Department stated on May 1 that 20 anti-Asian hate crimes have already been reported this year whereas there were only 12 reported in all of 2019. Out of the 15 hate crimes reported in April, 11 incidents involved anti-Asian elements.

      Such crimes have been occurring across North America. In Canada, all levels of government have spoken out against the anti-Asian attacks in addition to numerous film and TV stars.

      Government responses

      All levels of government have spoken out against the anti-Asian attacks, from Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

      The City of Vancouver honoured the launch of Asian Heritage Month and the start of Virtual ExplorASIAN 2020 by illuminating city hall in red light on May 1.

      “We must acknowledge and confront racism and discrimination when and where they occur,” Vancouver general manager of arts, culture, and community services Sandra Singh stated in a City of Vancouver news release issued on May 1 that denounced the increase in racism against Asian people. “Each of us has a responsibility to stand against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes.”

      When B.C. Premier John Horgan revealed the provincial reopening plan on May 6, he also emphasized the need for inclusion and everyone working together—and condemned discrimination against Asian people.

      “When I heard about people of Asian descent being pushed to the ground and buildings being defaced with anti-Chinese slogans, I was angry,” he said. “Hate has no place in British Columbia. Period. We need to stand together united against that type of racism whenever we see it. COVID-19 does not discriminate—British Columbians shouldn’t discriminate either.”

      He added that it is a matter of necessity.

      “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,” he added.

      When B.C.’s Minister of Citizens’ Services and Multiculturalism Anne Kang, who is of Chinese ancestry and immigrated from Asia, issued a statement for Asian Heritage Month, she noted the increased discrimination.

      “I have seen the rise of anti-Asian racism and hate crimes in our province due to the COVID -19 pandemic,” she said. “In this time of global crisis, we must remember that our communities are richer because of the contributions of all British Columbians.”

      She cited the examples of British Columbians of Asian ancestry who have contributed to the province’s economy and social success, such as the 25th lieutenant governor of British Columbia, David Lam; Sikh immigrant Asa Johal, who became the founder of B.C.’s largest independent lumber company, Terminal Forest Products; and Canadian soldier Masumi Mitsui who was decorated with the Military Medal for bravery during the Battle at Vimy Ridge.

      On May 5, the B.C. government announced that it chose the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society and has provided the organization with $240,000 to help communities address acts of racial discrimination as well as systemic and institutionalized racism in the province.

      The organization offers a network of information, support, and training to help communities respond to racism and hate.

      Resilience BC, which the provincial government launched in November 2019, is accepting proposals from organizations for leading anti-racism or anti-hate efforts in their communities. All proposals must be received by May 19.

      Screen stars respond

      Talent and organizations from screen industries are participating in awareness efforts to tackle the hatred.

      The Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF) announced on April 30 that it launched the Elimin8hate campaign, with the help of actor and UBC graduate Ludi Lin (Power Rangers).

      VAFF is asking filmmakers and the public to make 60-second public-service announcements that feature their personal experiences of empowerment, education, or eliminating racism. For full details, visit the Elimin8hate website.

      Also from screen industries, several Asian actors addressed the racism in an April 27 article.

      Vancouver’s Olivia Cheng (The Stand) said she witnessed a man in Vancouver throw trash at an elderly Chinese woman while yelling “This is your fault”.

      Hong Kong–born but U.S.–raised Tzi Mah (Tigertail) said a male driver told him that he should be quarantined before driving off.

      Will Yun Lee (The Good Doctor), Jeannie Mai (The Real), Alain Uy (Marvel’s Helstrom), and director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) also expressed their concerns and experiences.

      Vancouver’s Osric Chau (Supernatural), Celia Au (Wu Assassins), Lin, and Ma were among those who participated in a U.S. anti-racism campaign called #WashtheHate to promote handwashing while addressing Asian discrimination.

      Vancouver marketing agency Hamazaki Wong creative director Sonny Wong drew upon his connections to film and television industries—but went beyond Asian communities for involvement.

      The #HealthNotHate campaign features a series of public-service advertisements in which actors, social influencers, and other well-known individuals are featured with surgical masks over their eyes, ears, or mouths, based on the Japanese maxim of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.

      Among those involved are Vancouver actor Steph Song, who is one of the campaign’s organizers; actors of East Asian descent, such as Russell Yuen, Russell Wong, Ma, and Lin; as well as Sandy Sidhu, Fiona Forbes, John Cassini, Teach Grant, Benjamin Ratner, Aleks Paunovic, Roger Cross, Gabrielle Miller, and Robin Ross.

      All involvement is pro-bono.

      Hamazaki Wong creative director and #HealthNotHate founder Sonny Wong

      Wong told the Georgia Straight by phone that he had the idea for the project about a month ago when saw reports emerging from the United States, with some in Canada.

      Because he has generally considered Vancouver and Canada to be colour-blind, he feels it is “even worse that it’s happening here”.

      Although he said he has only ever experienced two incidents of racism in which he was targeted in his lifetime, he said he feels self-conscious at first when he goes out.

      “You’re not sure who you can trust anymore,” the Vancouver-born and -raised Wong said, adding that he is more wary when he goes out.

      When the pandemic hit, he noticed that media had excess capacity and space and as a producer of the Leo Awards, B.C.’s annual film and television awards, he thought “Why don’t I take the opportunity to use the strength I have in my network and in my system to do good?”

      He explained that instead of telling people not to discriminate, he wants the campaign to redirect attention and energy back to the central issue at hand.

      “What we’re saying in our campaign is that the trigger for all of this is not hate and it’s that we should be focussing on health,” he explained. “Public welfare and health…is what we should be focussing on and we shouldn’t be misguiding it and misdirecting it toward hatred of another race.”

      Because the response from screen industries has been so “amazing”, Wong said they have had to unfortunately turn some interested people away.

      “But that’s a good problem to have,” he said. “We want the entire community to say that this is unacceptable.” 

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.