Mark Marissen: Don't blame anti-Asian sentiment on the COVID-19 pandemic

A Vancouver mayoral candidate says the seeds were being planted in his city for many years

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      By Mark Marissen

      Vancouverites have long thought of our region as one of the world’s most welcoming places for immigrants. 

      So why is Vancouver now singled out as a centre for anti-Asian hatred?  

      British Columbia has a long and sorry history of scapegoating and discriminating against Asians and South Asians. 

      For much of this past decade, ambitious politicians in B.C. and opinion leaders have been pointing fingers at immigrants—Asian immigrants—as the source of most of the ills that befall us.  

      First, they said they were stealing our jobs. Then they claimed Asians were inflating the price of housing, making it unaffordable for everyone else. Then, they said Asians were bringing crime, laundering money through casinos and luxury car dealerships, and using that money to further other illicit activities. 

      After almost a decade of stoking the fire, it should come as no surprise that, in the midst of the stress of a global pandemic that started in China, all that resentment, so assiduously fuelled by our leaders, erupted into the open, causing Vancouver to now be labelled as the “North American capital for anti-Asian hate”. 

      Don’t blame it on the pandemic. It’s the result of years of sly work by politicians hoping to improve their own fortunes by pointing fingers at an easy target: minorities. 

      Starting around 2014, they blamed Asians as the primary reason for massive increases in housing prices. Never mind that interest rates were at an all-time low, or that B.C.’s economy was booming. Never mind that other Canadians were also moving here at a fast clip to land good jobs and buy homes to go with their newfound paycheques.   

      And never mind that today, when foreign immigration has crashed, housing prices are inflating at an even faster rate, one that makes 2016’s housing market look positively ponderous.  

      Last month, B.C.’s attorney general offered an apology. He said he regretted his role in producing and promoting a study in 2015 with Andy Yan—cited by many who concluded that Asian immigrants were responsible for the spike in housing prices.  

      Based on a sample of just 0.4 percent, or 172 of the 42,000 homes sold in Metro Vancouver in 2015, the Eby-Yan study found that 66 percent of all detached homes sold in the sample were purchased by people with non-Anglicized Chinese names. How did people “know” where these people were from? Based solely upon their last name!

      Once in government, the province then called an inquiry into money laundering at B.C.’s casinos after commissioning a report called Dirty Money. This report frequently points at Asians as the primary source of criminal activity in B.C. casinos, reinforcing the “Asian money is dirty money” narrative that the government had been promoting for quite some time. 

      Of course, all of us should call out criminal activities in our real estate market, casinos, and elsewhere, but we must do so because those acts are criminal, not because they may involve people of Asian descent.

      Leaders can sow unity or they can sow division. When they choose the darker path, singling out ethnic minorities for blame, dividing us based on our race or our origin, many innocent people pay the price. 

      They are our neighbours, our coworkers, our doctors, our friends, our children’s teachers.

      They are the people who have been spat on, insulted, physically assaulted or had their property defaced. Some of them are originally from overseas, and some were born here and their families have been here for generations. All of them deserve better from a province that bills itself as the “Best Place on Earth”.