COVID-19: As anti-Asian hate crimes increase in Vancouver, Lululemon apologizes for employee's link to racist shirt

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      Update (April 23):

      The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) announced today (April 23) that investigators have identified a suspect in what the VPD describes as a "racially-motivated assault" against a 92-year-old Asian man at an East Vancouver store.

      The VPD stated that they received tips and information from the public and are thanking the community and partners for their support. 

      Original article (April 22):

      Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous concerns have been repeatedly raised about the increase of anti-Asian sentiment in Canada and around the world.

      While Vancouver police are reporting a recent rise in hate crimes against Asian individuals, a Vancouver-based athleticwear company is apologizing for an employee’s promotion of a shirt considered racist.

      Lululemon apologizes

      Canadian athletic apparel brand Lululemon Athletica has apologized for a controversial t-shirt that was not the company’s product but was promoted by one of its staff.

      Lululemon senior global art director Trevor Fleming posted a link on Instagram to promote the sale of a shirt called “bat fried rice” on the website of California artist Jess Slunder.

      The long-sleeved shirt featured an image of chopsticks and bat wings on the front and a Chinese takeout box on the back. It also had the words “no thank you” in bamboo font.

      Critics accused the shirt and its promotion as contributing to anti-Asian sentiment related to the coronavirus pandemic.

      Lululemon apologized for the employee being affiliated with the shirt; deemed the image as offensive, inappropriate and inexcusable; and stated that the individual is no longer working for the company.

      Increase in anti-Asian hate crimes

      The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) issued a news release today (April 22) that they have observed an increase in anti-Asian hate-motivated behaviour and criminal behaviour over the past few weeks.

      In March, the VPD received eleven reports of hate crimes and five of those reports (almost half) involved anti-Asian elements. A total of nine anti-Asian hate crimes have been reported this year, compared to a total of 12 for all of 2019.

      “We know that hate crimes and hate-motivated incidents are generally underreported. We believe the increase in March is indicative of a larger issue,”  VPD spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin stated in a news release. “We are making a plea to victims or people who witness hate crimes to please come forward and report the incidents to police so they can be investigated.”

      Vancouver police are seeking to identify this male suspect who assaulted an elderly Asian man at an East Vancouver convenience store.
      Vancouver Police Department

      One such incident took place last month.

      The VPD stated in a news release that on the afternoon of March 13, a 92-year-old man who wandered into a convenience store near Nanaimo Street and East 1st Avenue. As he suffers from severe dementia, he was distraught and confused. 

      As staff at the store attempted to assist the senior, a suspect began yelling racist remarks at the man, including comments about COVID-19.

      The suspect grabbed the elderly victim by the arm, forced him out of the store, and shoved him to the ground, causing the victim to hit his head. The suspect left before police arrived at the scene.

      “Everything about this assault and the behaviour of the suspect is despicable,” Const. Visintin stated. “As a police department, we do not tolerate incidents motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate. It’s even more disturbing considering the victim’s age.”

      The suspect is described as a white male in his 50s. He is believed to be six feet tall (183 centimetres) with a heavy build. He has dark, short hair and is balding on the top. 

      At the time of the incident, he was wearing a grey, button-up shirt over a black t-shirt with a white skull design on the front, black plants, and black running shoes. He was also wearing a thick, gold bracelet, a gold necklace, and several gold rings.

      Anyone with information is asked to call VPD investigators at 604-717-2763 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.

      Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

      The VPD released the following surveillance video of the incident.

      Other incidents

      Previously, CBC News reported on March 6 that a female stranger approached a pregnant woman wearing a mask at a grocery store and told her to “go back to China”. The incident was under investigation by the VPD. 

      However in another incident, an Asian shopper did not believe an attack at a grocery store was racially motivated. 

      On April 19, CTV News reported that a female Asian shopper at a grocery store in North Vancouver was talking on the phone when another female shopper yelled at her to stop talking so loud because she was spreading the virus and called her a “bitch”.

      When they later encountered each other again, the aggressive woman kicked the woman who had been on the phone.

      However, no racial remarks were made during their exchanges.

      Although the dispute was reported to North Vancouver RCMP, the woman on the phone eventually decided not to press charges.

      Meanwhile in Quebec, the Montreal-based Center for Research-Action on Race Relations and several other community organizations are calling upon the federal government to take action against anti-Asian racism connected to COVID-19.

      When Lost and Hawaii Five-O star Daniel Dae Kim (who is of Korean descent) was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March, he took to social media to plead for attacks against Asians and Asian Americans to stop.

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