Vancouver webcaster Clay Imoo was finishing up a YouTube live show about the Vancouver Canucks National Hockey League team when a derogatory Chinese name raced across the comment board. A moderator quickly eliminated the remark and removed the person from the virtual audience.
"But then right away, another person came in; exact same message. Booted that person out. And then a third time, another person came in 10 or 12 times. So, by the time it all happened in a span about 30 to 45 seconds, we saw three different people come in, all copy and paste the same thing," said Imoo.
Of equal Chinese and Japanese ethnicity, Imoo, who is a second-generation Canadian, says he was not particularly offended personally, but his audience reacted strongly. "People in there really got offended and even non-Asians, people in there really came to my defense," he said.
The wave of anti-Asian hate crimes sparked by the coronavirus pandemic has not spared Canada's Pacific coast city of Vancouver, where 42% of the population is of Asian descent — the largest concentration of Asians in a major North American city.
A recently released report from the Vancouver Police Department shows a 717 percent increase in hate crimes targeting the Asian community, rising from just 12 incidents in 2019 to 98 last year. A recent online survey by Insights West found that of 725 ethnic Asians polled in the province of British Columbia, where Vancouver is located, 49 percent indicated they had been subjected to racial remarks.
The numbers mirror disturbing trends in the United States and are startling in a diverse city with a large and well-established Asian community.
Many ethnic Asian families have been in Canada for generations, descended from people who immigrated during an 1858 Gold Rush, or a decade later to work on the country's first transcontinental railway — an enterprise that was integral to British Columbia becoming part of Canada.
Vancouver is also home to North America's second-largest Chinatown, surpassed only by San Francisco.
Through the first few months of 2021, anti-Asian hate crimes are continuing to attract attention. On March 30, a 47-year-old was charged under a rarely used "public incitement of hatred" statute and with mischief to property after writing racist graffiti on windows of the Greater Vancouver Chinese Cultural Center.
Fred Kwok, the chairperson of the center, says the vandalism was planned and intentional. "I would say, malicious intent to spread the xenophobia to general public and on top of that, after I mentioned that to the police, I said, this is almost like, you can compare that to act of terrorism, that that is the whole sole purpose is to put fear in all Chinese," he said.
Queenie Choo is the CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S., a local nonprofit organization that helps new immigrants, predominately from Asia, adapt to Canada.
Choo says there has always been some racism directed at the Asian community, but that the problem was inflamed by political efforts to link COVID-19 to China, where the first cases emerged.
"When the pandemic happened, it exacerbated the whole situation," she said. "You know, as you might already heard, some people said, that is a China virus. So that didn't help the situation either."
Echoing Kwok, she says the attacks are frightening the Asian community. "So, you know, people living in fear, literally, especially women, seniors, and immigrants," she said.
Choo called for more research on the issue. "One of the ways to do it is to collect race-based data in consultation with communities," she said. "Be open about why and what data is collected, and how it will be used to make improvements so that we understand the magnitude of the situation, and also the degree of impact that we can make over time."
Choo says Canadians must accept there is systemic racism in all institutions in Canada. She called for governments to fund anti-racism initiatives, crisis counseling helplines, and education about historical and contemporary racism in Canada.
Constable Tania Visintin, spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department, said it was "kind of shocking" when her department began seeing the surge of hate crimes. "It was quite baffling, especially because we're such a multicultural city. So the fact that there was so much hate towards those of East Asian descent in particular was quite upsetting."
Visintin says the department has made it easier to report hate crimes online in hopes that more data and documentation will help the city reverse the trend. "We want to nip this in the bud and stop this from happening."