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Police host forum to address anti-Asian racism in Metro Vancouver, find solutions

During the height of the pandemic, there was another virus spreading: anti-Asian hate.

Even though COVID-19 is no longer a global emergency, racism is still an issue in B.C., prompting police, politicians and advocates to gather to find solutions.

Burnaby RCMP hosted the community forum, which had about 140 attendees Wednesday.

According to the BC Hate Crimes Unit, police saw a 181 per cent jump in hate incidents targeting East and Southeast Asians between 2019 and 2021.

It was highest in 2020, with a 235 per cent spike.

But advocates believe hate crimes are vastly underreported.

“Asian culture operates out of honour and shame culture, meaning that we love honour and we downplay the shame,” explained Doris Mah with Stand with Asians Coalition.

Mah said the event is long overdue and she’d like to see similar events happen at community centres and seniors centres in other cities to help educate people on how to report a crime and why it is important to do so.

But it isn’t always straightforward.

“Being a victim of a hate crime, I started to notice the barriers of reporting,” said Steven Ngo, a lawyer who’s now also an advocate after experiencing a racist incident

Ngo said there need to be avenues to report a hate crime online in each municipality and in different languages.

He believes laws around hate crimes also need to be modernized.

“The Criminal Code on hate crime provisions were introduced in 1970, that’s over 50 years ago,” Ngo said. “The status quo isn’t working anymore.”

Sgt. Freda Fong with the Burnaby RCMP also wants to see laws changed to give police officers more tools to deal with perpetrators.

She pointed out the Safe Streets Act, which allows officers to arrest a pandhandler without a warrant and issue fines.

“If you are confronted by an aggressive panhandler, for example, there's a law that the police can use right away at hand to enforce that. Whereas if you're an Asian person, or any person discriminated in any way, and you're faced with a confrontation that's clearly motivated by hate and you’re spat at for example. Isn’t it absurd we don’t have anything to deal with that?” she said.

Retired crown prosecutor Winston Sayson, said legislation is important, but to dismantle hate, it is important to understand what is causing it.

“One of the root causes that is so significant that we are afraid to say it is white supremacy,” he said. “Asians are frequently and permanently seen as outsiders and when there is a dispute, or the pandemic, what do they say? ‘Go back home.’ Why are they told to go back home?” he asked.

While verbal attacks of racial slurs and assaults are not as rampant, racism still lurks in microaggressions, he noted.

“Racism is like the COVID-19 virus; it evolves, it mutates into different forms. For example, ‘We don't hire Chinaman, or we don't hire Pakis.’ Now, we don't hear that anymore. But what do we hear? ‘Oh, we are looking for people with local experience and local background,’” he explained.

With the room filled with like-minded individuals, Ngo warned change needs to happen before the issue gets swept under the rug.

“With the people, the right energy, we have to make a change. Otherwise it's going to be a blip in history,” he said. Top Stories

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