Rise in racism in Vancouver of concern, mayor says in weekly COVID-19 update
VANCOUVER -- "Hate of any kind has no place in our city," Vancouver's mayor said Wednesday during his weekly COVID-19 update.
Kennedy Stewart says he's concerned by the increase in racism, and especially anti-Asian racism, seen in the city.
The mayor said he's angered to hear of reports including hate speech scrawled on a Chinese cultural centre, and the assault of an elderly man.
He also cited reports of verbal abuse directed at people who appear to have Asian heritage.
"I want everyone to know that these actions will not be tolerated."
Vancouver police said previously that reports of hate crimes have been up in the city since the onset of COVID-19.
There were a total of 12 anti-Asian hate crimes reported in all of 2019. In an update last week, police said there have already been nine such reports in the first four months of 2020.
"We know that hate crimes and hate-motivated incidents are generally underreported. We believe the increase in March is indicative of a larger issue," Const. Tania Visintin said at the time.
Stewart issued an apology to those who've been the victim of hatred in Vancouver: "I want to say that I'm sorry. This is not what Vancouver's about, and I will do everything I can to combat racism and acts of hate in our city."
The mayor then addressed the city's response to COVID-19, in an update that came a week after warning a property tax hike could be possible without federal and provincial intervention.
Stewart said previously he has four priorities on which he will continue to update the public. Those updates follow.
Public health orders: ongoing protests
The mayor said Wednesday he's "very proud" of how many people are following orders to stay home, but that there's a "small fringe of people who deny the truth of science."
He said he knows the protests organized by those individuals are getting attention on social media, but that they do not represent the majority of the city.
Stewart said he's heartened that most people are "staying apart to save lives.
"Thanks to you, we're turning the corner in this fight, and it will be thanks to you that we start to get back to work, and to the activities we all love."
Stewart spoke a day after the city decided to further enforce paid parking in some neighbourhoods due to crowding at beaches and parks, as well as a dip in revenue.
The city initially scaled back the issuing of parking tickets, but has been phasing it back in over the last few weeks.
Vulnerable communities: Access to safe supply
He announced Wednesday that about 300 people have been provided access to a safe drug supply, an update he'd heard from Vancouver Coastal Health.
VCH is working to expand access to another 4,000 people without a physician relationship.
Still, he said, he's aware there were five suspected overdose deaths in the city last week.
"So safe supply can't roll out fast enough," he said.
Dr. Patricia Daly, VCH's chief medical officer, told CTV News earlier this week that 30 people are suspected to have died of overdoses in March in Vancouver, and just under 20 died in the first half of April.
She said there haven't been many cases of coronavirus deaths in Downtown Eastside, but the number of overdoses has her worried people have "gone too far in interpreting the public health advice."
Stewart praised the team at VCH for their work in the neighbourhood, where he says the rate of COVID-19 infection is relatively low.
He said testing, education and opportunities for self-isolation are helping slow the spread in the area.
Last week, Stewart said he'd hoped for more from the province to support those living in vulnerable communities including the city's Downtown Eastside.
Over the weekend, it was announced that residents of a tent city sent up in Oppenheimer Park and other areas would be moved into vacant hotel rooms.
Others will live in spaces set up in community centres.
Another measure by the city meant to keep homeless residents safe was the installation of public toilets and handwashing stations.
Since that time, the body of a baby was found inside one of the portable toilets, and a person died of an overdose inside another.
The City of Vancouver said earlier this week some of the toilets have since been removed from the area.
Some were taken out due to broken doors, but others were for safety reasons including "overdose prevention monitoring."
City finances: Pay cuts, reallocation
Another of Stewart's key priorities during the pandemic has been the city's financial health, including how it will recover from associated costs.
The mayor said last week homeowners should prepare for measures such as "large" property tax hikes for years, and for "deep" service cuts.
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On Tuesday, the mayor and city councillors voted in favour of taking a 10 per cent pay cut for now. Other staff members have also taken a pay cut of the same amount.
The cuts, as well as layoffs of one-in-five city workers, add up to about $12 million, Stewart said.
The city also reallocated some of its contingency funds, which were set aside for compensation adjustments.
"This action alone will save the city an additional $7 million, and help stave off another round of extensive layoffs for the time being," Stewart said.
Economic recovery: Roundtable ideas
Another priority outlined by Stewart is how Vancouver will recover economically after the pandemic, but so far, he hasn't elaborated on his plans.
He said in the coming weeks he'd provide more details on a plan to gather a group of leaders, and that he'd been asked to join a federal team, but so far, none of the steps the city might take have been made public.
Stewart said he's been holding virtual roundtables touching on many major industries in the city, including film and television, housing, tourism and technology.
Among the ideas being brought forward is a suggestion to streamline the city's development process.
He said he'll be looking to those roundtables for simple, straightforward suggestions to bring to council to reboot the city's economy and get back to work faster.