Hate crimes against Vancouver’s sizable East Asian population have surged for the second straight month, with police renewing their pledge to the public that the force will not tolerate these attacks, which are tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, Vancouver police said 11 hate crimes against East Asian people were reported last month, double the five reported in March. To date this year, 20 hate crimes have been reported against people of this ethnic background, which dwarfs the 12 registered throughout all of 2019, department spokesperson Constable Tania Visintin said at a news conference.
“It’s a really difficult time right now, not only is everybody dealing with this [pandemic], but now this specific race is targeted, and it’s awful,” Constable Visintin told The Globe and Mail after the briefing. “This type of crime is underreported, and that is concerning.”
Police divulged the new statistics while appealing to the public to help them catch a white man who walked into the courtyard of the Chinese Cultural Centre, which sits next to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, and wrote disturbing racist remarks on four large glass windows in the afternoon on April 2.
The department has put a special trailer with elevated cameras in that block of Chinatown to deter future incidents or capture them on video, Constable Visintin said. Officers with the diversity unit are also out in the community educating people about what constitutes a hate crime and how to report one, she said.
Constable Visintin said she did not know whether this concerning trend will lead the department to add more officers to its hate crimes unit, which has just one dedicated investigator.
Vancouver police have identified the suspect in a shocking racist attack in March on a 92-year-old East Asian man with dementia, but no charges have been recommended and the investigation is continuing, she added.
Police across the country don’t typically release up-to-date statistics on hate crimes, so it is unclear whether other police departments see a similar uptick in such attacks amid the global pandemic that started in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Statistics Canada collects hate-crime data across the country from police each year, but it can take up to two years to release this information to the public.
Toronto Police Service spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said her agency is investigating a few reports of hate-related crimes, but Toronto has had no notable increase over the past two months.
Susan Eng, director of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, said her organization has heard of cases where Canadians of East Asian descent have been yelled at or spat upon, among other forms of harassment, in relation to COVID-19.
“It’s not limited to Vancouver,” Ms. Eng said on Friday from Toronto.
Ms. Eng said her group is trying to gather data on the incidents, and is planning a campaign to deter such behaviour.
On Friday, B.C. Premier John Horgan called the recent racially motivated attacks “disheartening and completely unacceptable.”
The City of Vancouver’s city manager, Sadhu Johnston, acknowledged the recent surge in hate crimes and said in a news release that “no one should feel unsafe, harassed or that they don’t belong.”
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.