VANCOUVER -- Hundreds of people gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday afternoon to rally against anti-Asian hate crimes.

The protest was organized by the Asian Canadian Equity Alliance.

“If we don’t take action and don’t start having our opinions get out, it’s going to get worse and worse,” says David Zhang, a member of the non-profit group.

The demonstration was held simultaneously with rallies in several other Canadian cities, including Coquitlam, Victoria, and Toronto.

In Vancouver, the protest began with several speakers addressing the crowd from the steps of the Art Gallery. One of those speakers was Eileen Park Robertson, who faced an onslaught of racist and sexist comments earlier this month, when her marriage to former Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson was made public.

“Historically, Asian voices like mine have been silenced, have been ridiculed, and, when we do speak out, we are shamed. We’re called opportunists. We’re called self-serving. But the time for our silence is up,” she said to a cheering crowd.

Also in attendance was Ujjal Dosanjh, the former premier of British Columbia. Dosanjh offered a challenge to politicians holding office across Canada.

“Politicians like to keep us in silos; in different communities,” he said. “They need to stand up and talk about multiculturalism, equality, and diversity, in every meeting they go to. That is how racism has to be stopped.”

According to the Vancouver Police Department, anti-Asian hate crimes jumped by 717 per cent in 2020. Incidents included racist taunts, spitting on people of Asian descent and physical assaults.

Rally attendee Steve Ding says he no longer allows his family to take public transit, and knows many others who have felt obliged to alter their daily routines for their personal safety.

“Some of my friends say they don’t feel safe walking down the street anymore, especially women and children,” said Ding.

The most tragic example of anti-Asian violence so far happened in the United States earlier this month. A gunman opened fire in Atlanta spas, killing eight people. Six of them were Asian-American women.

Rally organizers fear the hatred in Canada will turn deadly if action isn’t taken soon.

“We’ll work with our people, we’ll work with government, we’ll work with everyone trying to see if there’s something we can do stop this,” said Zhang.

He added speaking out publicly doesn’t come easily for much of the Asian-Canadian community, but said the situation is too dire to stay silent.