COVID-19: Anti-Asian hate crimes in Vancouver skyrocketed by over 700 percent in 2020

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      Although many Asian Canadian communities have been celebrating Lunar New Year, newly released statistics about hate crimes in Vancouver cast a pall over the previous year.

      In its year-end report for 2020 released on February 3, the Vancouver Police Department stated that hate crimes increased by 97 percent from 142 incidents in 2019 to 280 in 2020.

      More specifically, anti-Asian hate crimes escalated by 717 percent from 2019 (12 cases) to 2020 (98 cases).

      After the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in B.C., numerous reports of anti-Asian attacks and vandalism arose, including the lions at the Millennium Gate and the Chinese Cultural Centre in Chinatown being defaced with racist graffiti, and several individuals being verbally or physically attacked (including non-Asian people mistaken for being Asian).

      At a news conference today, Premier John Horgan said that the provincial government will bring forward anti-racism legislation this year.

      Horgan said that MLA Rachna Singh has been appointed the Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives and is working with Attorney General David Eby on those issues. Horgan said he can’t currently provide specific details on the legislation yet as work is still underway.

      He added that B.C. Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has been contacting law enforcement across B.C. to reinforce the importance of prosecuting hate crimes. 

      As he noted that prevention starts with education, Horgan also said the Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside is working with school boards, B.C. Teachers Federation, and others in the education system.

      Horgan stated that nonprofit SUCCESS CEO Queenie Choo, who is a member of the Provincial Economic Recovery Task Force, has been raising concerns about these attacks over the past year, and that he has been hearing from Chinese Canadian communities about their frustrations and concerns.

      What he says is comforting is hearing that communities are responding in positive ways and he said he believes that the “vast majority of British Columbians are appalled when they see their fellow citizens behaving ignorantly, inappropriately, and violently against fellow citizens of a different colour”.

      He added that responses to discrimination involve everyone, not just government.

      “More and more people are stepping up to defend people if they find themselves being attacked verbally in public places,” he said.

      In addition, Horgan cited recent examples of violent and fatal attacks on Asian people in the U.S., including a 19-year-old male who was arrested for allegedly pushing an 81-year-old Thai immigrant to the ground in San Francisco on January 28. The senior later died.

      Oakland police arrested a male suspect who assaulted three seniors, including a 91-year-old man, in the city’s Chinatown on January 31.

      In September, several Asian Canadian organizations released a national report that found that B.C. has the highest rate of anti-Asian hate crimes per capita in North America, followed by California.

      Over the past year, some Vancouver organizations have launched awareness campaigns to counter the anti-Asian sentiment, including the Vancouver Asian Film Festival Elimin8hate and Hamazaki Wong’s Health Not Hate, which recently launched a campaign featuring local doctors to promote social inclusion and mask wearing.

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