As it turns 150 years old in 2017, Canada faces a surge in hate crimes amid growing nativist anger against Chinese migrants, Muslim refugees, and public officials for their alleged role in worsening the country’s socio-economic conditions, said community leaders and analysts.
After years of hibernation, extremism and xenophobia in Canada are waking to the new fiery anti-globalisation tide that has swept Donald Trump into the US White House and Britain to vote to leave the European Union. As in other parts of the world, a new generation of Canadian politicians and activists is riding on populist anger fuelled by a mix of declining public trust in elected officials, past ethnic animosities, and unbalanced media reporting.
In separate interviews, Ryan Scrivens, a PhD scholar studying right-wing extremism, politicians, community workers, church leaders and anti-fascist activists said liberal Canada should prepare for an uncertain socio-political climate that will become more hostile towards diversity and minorities with the possibility of ethnically targeted violence.
Calling the confluence of political events in the US and Europe together with Canada’s own socio-economic challenges “a perfect storm”, Scrivens said extreme right-wing groups in Canada are boosting their presence and recruitment efforts in urban centres that have sizeable ethnic minority populations.
“The more extreme individuals and violent groups are in recruitment mode right now. We’re going to see more activity from them,” said the Simon Fraser University (SFU) scholar in a phone interview. This will include acts of violence.
Collaborating Scrivens’ observation, Barbara Perry, a professor in the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, told MetroNews that Canada is in denial about its hate crime problem and the “presence of right-wing extremism in this country.”
“The Trump election has brought these seedy characters out of the shadows,” said the hate crime specialist who co-authored a major study with Scrivens on the subject last year. “Uneasy Alliances: A Look at the Right-Wing Extremist Movement in Canada,” was published by Routledge’s Taylor & Francis Group.
While Jews and Muslims are being targeted in the US and Europe, in Canada, the Chinese are starting to feel the heat once again. British Columbia (BC) province, which began receiving Chinese settlers in the 1770s, continues to struggle with its Asian legacy despite recent official attempts to heal nearly a century of racial animosity, and new efforts to expand ties with Asia. From 1885 to 1967, the provincial and Federal governments implemented and enforced racist laws and policies to prevent the Chinese population from becoming part of mainstream Canadian society.
“Anti-Chinese agitation became a powerful force in British Columbia politics,” according to an entry in Library and Archives Canada.
“Blaming Chinese immigrants when the economy turned bad became a way of organizing migrants from Great Britain and Europe around the idea of ‘white supremacy’.”
Relations between the province’s white majority and its Chinese minority have improved over the past three decades as the Chinese have quietly integrated into Canadian society while various levels of Canadian governments have apologized and compensated for past injustices. But the slew of official apologies, also issued to the Japanese and Indian communities for separate wrongs, have met with criticism from some white Canadians who argue that the present generation should not be punished for then justifiable actions of past governments.
In trying to reduce its dependence on the US economy, Canada’s recent efforts to court trade and investment from Asia, particularly China, have revived racial tensions. Repeat surveys by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APFC) have found that Canadians do not want closer ties with the region, particularly China. In the 2016 survey, 46% of Canadians said they felt threatened by the growing Chinese presence in their country.
The creeping yellow peril fear is likely linked to the growing number of migrants from China, particularly into Metro Vancouver where ethnic Chinese now make up 20% of the region’s 2.5-million population. Their buying power has been cited as the main cause of Metro Vancouver’s unaffordable housing and rising cost of living. Largely ignored are the corollary of the region’s strong economy, and the increased wealth of its majority (white) property-owning population as a result of rising asset values. The media has focused the public’s attention on high-profile cases of criminals and corrupt officials fleeing China along with wealthy Chinese families paying astronomical sums as “proof” of the migrants’ impact on the housing market. The reporting tends to downplay or dismiss a host of other factors responsible for rising housing costs in major cities, including Vancouver, that can be found here, here and here. The most popular narrative is that of a city under siege from uncontrolled Chinese immigration and offshore investments aided by incompetent or corrupt Canadian government officials. “Hard working” Canadians are crushed by the housing affordability crisis that benefits only the real estate industry and the politicians it controls.
Riding on this narrative, last November, the shadowy Immigration Watch Canada (IWC) distributed flyers in the Metro Vancouver city of Richmond calling on white people to stop the “plundering of Canada” by “recently-arrived tens of thousands of wealthy Chinese”. Supported by reports purported to explain Metro Vancouver’s ‘housing crisis’, the group blames Chinese buyers for the city’s “grossly inflated house prices”. Another flyer wants “whitey” to join the Alt-Right movement to avoid “being marginalized” as “the Chinese are taking over”.
The flyers were swiftly condemned by BC Premier Christy Clark, and other political and community leaders.
“It’s not what British Columbia is about and I think the way to stop it is for all of us to condemn it,” she said, briefly deviating from the topic of oil pipelines at a November 30 press briefing.
Yet, it was Clark who inadvertently produced the high point of BC’s latest anti-Chinese outburst when her government imposed a 15% tax on foreign buyers of Metro Vancouver’s real estate last August. After having vigorously denied that foreign money was behind the region’s housing woes, the government’s shock move was seen as official confirmation that Chinese buying was indeed the cause.
Although the IWC’s “blame-the-Chinese” message was nothing more than a footnote in the context of years of media reporting and Clark’s 15% tax move, it was sufficient to spark public panic, including a police investigation, all-round condemnations, protests, and even editorializing from the Richmond News.
Scrivens said the flyers were significant as it was the first time in memory that a hate message had called the Chinese a threat to white Canada.
“From a national perspective, it’s a drop in the bucket. However, we’ve never (before) seen Chinese communities being the targets of flyer campaigns,” he said.
Describing “flyering” as an “age-old tradition” of the right-wing extremist movement, Scrivens said its messages often attack multiculturalism, immigration, and the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender communities, with the overall goal of stirring fear to recruit new members and supporters.
“We’ve seen white power flyering campaigns pop up across major urban centres, including Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Edmonton. We’ve also experienced a spike in this activity following Trump’s victory, but flyering, racist graffiti, and mosque burnings really took off immediately after the ISIS-inspired attacks in Paris and the welcoming of Syrian refugees in Canada.”
The IWC flyers in Richmond provoked a strong grassroots reaction, with religious and secular groups holding a series of protests to call out the group’s “racism and bigotry”. Richmond’s Christians, Muslims and Jews organised a first-ever joint rally to show their solidarity “against hate”.
In an interview, Pastor Victor Kim, who led the December 9 rally comprising representatives of 16 churches, a mosque and a synagogue, criticised the flyer distributors for scapegoating “a segment of Richmond’s population” for socio-economic challenges facing the fast-growing city of over 220,000.
One of the rally’s participants, Gary Gaudin, pastor of the South Arm United Church, said he is aware of “small groups” that are actively spreading their anti-Chinese and anti-immigrant sentiments in Richmond and other parts of Metro Vancouver.
“They have been emboldened by the rhetoric from the US and Europe, and the language of the Alt-Right,” he said in an interview.
“This is a hugely political, cultural, and spiritual issue. That’s why the churches organised this rally.”
Either side of the rally, Richmond resident and journalist Edward Liu organised two citizens’ gatherings that brought together several secular organisations to denounce the racist revival.
Anna Ohana, a Sephardic Jew who’s a teacher and social activist, likened the IWC’s anti-Chinese message to hate associated with “anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and mysogyny”. Her friend, Lisa Descary, who also spoke at one of Liu’s rallies, described the flyers and the message blaming the Chinese for the region’s housing problems as an extension of “a long history of anti-Chinese racism in Vancouver.”
But the protests did not stop the extremists from distributing more hate flyers targeting Sikhs, Jews, Muslims and gays in other suburbs. This was followed by one of Canada’s worst hate crimes on January 29 when a right-wing gunman shot dead six Muslims and injured 19 others in Quebec City.
Richmond’s Chinese challenge
Metro Vancouver’s Richmond City is becoming an important chapter in the Chinese story in Canada. It is North America’s only city where the majority population, of about 55%, is ethnic Chinese. Their accelerated migration over the last two decades has transformed a once quiet rural community into a bustling frontline city for Canada’s growing connection to Asia. But Richmond’s rapid growth has also alienated some of its longtime residents. They complain about living amongst strangers who can’t or won’t speak English, and fear that their adult children have been pushed out by the city’s increasingly expensive housing.
Richmond has a different migrant experience compared with Europe and the US where mostly refugees arrive poor and desperate, and are blamed for boosting crime rates and burdening social and health services. In contrast, the Chinese migrants who congregate in Richmond and Metro Vancouver are wealthier, better educated and more adaptable than any in the past.
For many Canadians, the recent Chinese migrants have been something of a culture shock, said Victor Wong, the Vancouver-born Executive Director of the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC).
“On arrival, they often buy houses and apartments instead of living in crowded basement suites. Many start businessess,” he said. Their children compete against Canada’s middle class for places in schools and universities.
While acknowledging the migrants’ role in boosting the housing market, Wong said critics downplay other major factors. This includes the prolonged low cost of borrowing that has led many Canadians, not just foreigners, to invest in Vancouver’s coveted real estate, and government regulations and inefficiency that have restricted construction to boost supply of new apartments. Critics also fail to mention that Metro Vancouver’s growing economy has underpinned the decade-old housing booming.
“The new Chinese have upset many Canadians’ long-held image of the migrant who started life at the bottom. There is racism in some of that resentment,” he said. Media reports have not helped by focusing on the sensational and negative behaviour of the few.
But housing isn’t the only source of concern. Many Chinese migrants struggle to speak English, contributing to a communications breakdown and a cultural divide in the city. According to Statistics Canada, immigration has boosted the share of Richmond’s ethnic Chinese population from 34% in 1996 to just over 50% last year. The white population, in steady decline over the last two decades, now account for less than a third of the city’s population.
Kerry Starchuk, 59, a fourth-generation Richmond resident, has emerged as an unlikely spokesperson for the city’s now minority white population.
In separate interviews over the past year, she decries the unfairness of being labelled “racist” and “xenophobic” for speaking up for those marginalised by the Chinese influx. She said the buying power of Chinese migrants is pricing out her children and younger Canadians from living in Metro Vancouver.
She is also angry that the government has let in Chinese migrants who cannot speak English, and are unlikely to integrate into Canadian society. While the young have adapted and are learning both of Canada’s official languages, English and French, adult migrants, especially the elderly, are struggling. The result? Mandarin and Cantonese have become popular languages in downtown Richmond, with Chinese language signs proliferating to the annoyance and alienation of other ethnic groups.
Birth tourism is her most recent target. In her neighbourhood, she uncovered a business catering to helping pregnant women from China deliver their children in Richmond, automatically qualifying them from Canadian citizenship.
“How did we come to this? I blame the government for allowing too many people to come in over too short a time,” Starchuk said. She and another long-time Richmond resident, Ann Merdinyan, have been campaigning local and Federal officials as well as the media to “do something” about these social problems.
The right-wing Council of European Canadians is more damning in declaring that Chinese migration has destroyed Richmond by turning it from “a once healthy, balanced, British city into a loud, crass, Chinese-only commercial land lot.”
The left is also blaming the Chinese in demanding that these migrant “plutocrats” be stopped.
Some of Richmond’s non-Chinese residents complain of “reverse racism” as they don’t feel welcomed to shop in places that have mostly or only Chinese language signs.
The city has taken note and is encouraging Chinese merchants to be more respectful and sensitive to the needs of others, and to put up more English language signs.
But not everyone shares these experiences or the dire outlook of Canada as a multicultural hell.
Kelly Greene, a Caucasian woman who is raising three young children with her partner in Richmond, said they do not feel alienated.
Greene, who participated in Pastor Kim’s rally, said: “I’ve gone into a lot of stores and people are very nice. We need to remember not to be afraid of things that we don’t know.”
She acknowledged that “some people” are not happy with Richmond’s rapid demographic and urbanisation shift.
“Richmond has changed a lot in a short period of time, from a sleepy rural town to what it is today. There are some people who are afraid of change.”
Howard Segal, rabbi of Richmond’s Beth Tikvah Congregation Synagogue, praised the Chinese community for making the city a “better place” and for “contributing to its growth and prosperity.”
“Racism is humankind’s greatest threat to humankind. It’s the maximum of hatred for the minimum of reason,” he said, citing his teacher.
Henry Yu, a University of British Columbia history professor, laments the media’s failure to highlight Richmond’s success despite the challenges brought on by its rapid growth and demographic shift.
“For anyone who lives in the lower mainland and visits Richmond, you’d know it’s a peaceful place where people want to come and live in. There’s no gangland clash or people literally fighting over language signs,” he said.
“That’s the positive version that we don’t get to read about. There are no gangs in schools organised along ethnic lines creating social problems. Students are not failing and dropping out. Richmond’s immigrant families are not facing generational difficulties between parents and children.”
KanwarJit Sandhu, 72, a community leader and Richmond resident since 1974, said he agrees with Starchuk that the Chinese should step up to learn and use English, and reach out to other communities.
However, he’s concerned about the animosity among those campaigning against the use of Chinese language signs.
“Say your piece, but cut out the hate. There’s too much anger in the message,” he said in an interview at a community lunch event.
Canada’s first anti-multiculturalism political party
There’s certainly plenty of anger in Brad Salzberg who, unlike Starchuk, has stepped up from years of grassroots activism to founding possibly Canada’s first political party opposed to globalization, multiculturalism and mass immigration.
“I believe Cultural Action Party (CAP) is the first party in Canadian history to exist on a platform of this nature. I am extremely proud of this accomplishment,” he declared in an interview. The rookie politician is leading CAP to contest in BC’s upcoming provincial election in May.
Salzberg, 55, is a well-known presence in online forums and public events that discuss issues of multiculturalism, immigration, housing affordability and diversity. In public, he wears a permanent scowl as he lashes out at both the provincial and Federal governments for their support of multiculturalism and mass migration in “destroying” white Canada.
For years, Salzberg has campaigned against the use of Chinese language signs in public places in Richmond and other Vancouver suburbs. On CAP’s website, he also criticizes what he sees is Canada’s support for the spread of Islam, citing Europe’s experience as a warning of dire things to come.
Like Starchuk, he’s angered and saddened by “how did we come to this?” in relation to the dilution of Canada’s European identity resulting from the country’s growing non-white population, particularly the Chinese in British Columbia.
“By way of mass immigration, multiculturalism and political correctness, our nation has reached a point in history where the culture, identity, and heritage of the founding peoples of Canada needs to be maintained and promoted in a pro-active manner,” he writes in an email reply.
CAP has chosen the English, French and Aboriginals or the First Nations as Canada’s three “founding peoples”. But this is inherently and philosophically problematic as Canada’s First Nations have always viewed the European settlers as colonialists who stole their land and implemented cruel racist policies that have only recently become the subject of a national enquiry.
This fundamental conflict remains unresolved. Meanwhile, First Nations groups have been empowered by Asia’s growing demand for Canada’s natural resources. They are demanding a bigger voice in the development of Canada’s resources on the basis that they are owners of much of the territory that was never ceded to the European invaders.
This undermines CAP’s “founding peoples” platform from the start. It also contradicts CAP’s opposition to today’s “mass migration” as Canada’s founding, through the influx of English and French migrants, took place without the consent of First Nations peoples.
Salzberg accepts the contradiction but offers no solution with this vague reply:
“Present-day Canadians played no role in whatever social injustice occurred in our history. All nations have an element of social injustice as a part of their history, and many were far worse than Canada.”
CAP’s premise of building the Canadian identity on its “founding peoples” raises another intriguing question as to whether the Chinese should be considered for membership. There was already a significant Chinese population settled as farmers, miners and builders in British Columbia by the time Canada was formed on July 1, 1867. Chinese workers played an instrumental role in linking western Canada to the rest of the country with their construction of the Canadian Pacific railway. On a philosophical level, it can be argued that the Confucianist values for education, hard work and family would be a great addition to the Canadian identity.
None of these facts mattered to Canada’s first government under Prime Minister John A. Macdonald who began excluding the Chinese and First Nations peoples at the country’s birth. Its official policy of white supremacy and the racial exclusion of First Nations and Chinese peoples gave Canada its ‘white’ identity, an artificial colonial concept that CAP, the Immigration Watch Canada, and the Council of European Canadians are now fighting to restore and institutionalise.
“Macdonald not only excluded the Chinese, he personally introduced biological racism as a defining characteristic of Canadianness,” according to an entry in ActiveHistory.ca, a website managed by Canadian historians.
The founding exclusionist policies have left a lasting imprint on the Canadian consciousness. In 2010, Vancouver excluded its Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Filipino heritage and their Canadian stories from the official portrayal of its hugely successful Winter Olympics to the world. None of Canada’s politicians and high-profile media pundits spoke up against this act of exclusion. Even Wikipedia’s entry detailing the 2010 game’s controversies did not mention the protests of Metro Vancouver’s Asians against their non-representation even though they form about a third of the region’s population.
The irony of Canada’s rejection of its Asian peoples for decades is lost on today’s nativists who complain that the Chinese are not integrating fast enough even though many have long been a part of the country.
In campaigning to restore Macdonald’s European Canada, Salzberg denies being an extremist, racist or a white supremacist even though the fight for the country’s “white identity” is a top agenda of the far right.
“As we know from our history, racism has resulted in some extremely nasty situations for innocent people. I do not condone, nor support this form of prejudice,” he said.
He regularly emails his commentaries to a list of public figures with messages like “our citizenship is entirely fed up with the politically correct, anti-Anglo, anti-Hetero and anti-Christian agenda of our government and their multi-cult practitioners.”
How did this man of Jewish background end up adopting the language of the Jew-hating white supremacist movement?
Salzberg sidesteps questions about his personal background. He said he began his political activism as a “social conservative” shortly after moving to Vancouver from Halifax in Nova Scotia province in the 1980s. He is deeply opposed to what he sees is “an organized, well-funded political movement to divest Canada of its national heritage”.
This would include the country’s numerous Chinese organisations, thinks tanks and Canadian agencies promoting closer ties with China and Asia. Here, his position aligns with the far right who oppose those seeking to “transform our nation into a global village devoid of English and French Canadian identity.”
Salzberg said he doesn’t belong to any organised religion, but that hasn’t shielded him from anti-Semitic attacks. A reader commenting on the Vancouver Sun’s online story about CAP’s launch last October wrote hate messages with references to Hitler and gas chambers, drawing complaints of racism from Salzberg. But Salzberg was happy to accept a congratulatory message from the Immigration Watch Canada that has been distributing the racist Richmond flyers.
Fairly or unfairly, he is viewed as a tool of extremist groups such that even those he believes shares his beliefs have openly attacked him.
Kellie Leitch, a high-profile right-wing politician, rejected CAP’s endorsement of her campaign for the leadership of the Federal opposition Conservative Party. She explained her repudiation of CAP in a statement: “I have no time and no interest in people and organizations that seek to place any one ethnicity, race, language, or religion over any other.” Yet, Leitch herself has been criticized for running a divisive campaign of “negative politics” that blames “all our problems on immigrants.”
Ian Young, the South China Morning Post (SCMP)’s Vancouver correspondent, has labelled Salzberg a “bigot” for “his anti-Chinese rants.” At the same time, Young’s extensive reporting blaming Vancouver’s rising housing cost on Chinese migrants and offshore money has helped the publication of a pseudo-scholarly report and the rise of a grassroots group that have further inflamed the city’s populist anger against foreign investment. In 2014, Young wrote this provocative comment that “linking affordability and immigration doesn’t make you a Nazi.”
Salzberg rejects their criticisms as he insists that neither he nor CAP subscribe to racist beliefs.
“I say they are uninformed. The concept of white supremacy, or any form of ethnic supremacy, is anathema to myself and to Cultural Action Party. The idea that one identifiable community is somehow superior to another holds no currency in my books,” he said.
He calls Young’s criticism “ironic” as “in many instances, CAP and Mr Young share similar views on the issues.”
Despite Trump’s shock election as US President and Britain’s vote to leave the EU, Salzberg is modest about CAP’s chances at the poll.
“Our prospects for the coming election are limited. Our minimum target is to run five candidates,” he said.
The ruling BC Liberals party isn’t taking him for granted.
Asked about Salzberg’s entry into politics, Teresa Wat, BC’s minister responsible for Asia and multiculturalism, said she would leave it to the people to “see whether racism has a place in British Columbia.”
Nevertheless, a BC Liberals member who requested not to be named said there is concern that CAP’s emergence could provide an official launch pad for more extremist voices.
Scrivens, the scholar studying right-wing extremism, placed Salzberg and CAP “somewhere on the border between the right-wing and the far-right. They intentionally do that.”
“They have a really important role to play in trying to legitimise extremist views. They want to make the hatred more subtle and acceptable.”
Preparing for violence
Edward Liu’s rally on December 11 drew more than just grassroots leaders and citizens to speak out against the IWC.
The Soldiers of Odin (SOO), a right-wing group with roots in Europe, and their opponents, the Vancouver AntiFascist (AntiFa), were in attendance too. SOO broadcast its presence with three boisterous members wearing jackets that displayed the group’s name to draw media attention. The AntiFa stayed in the background to observe proceedings.
Ohana and Descary, the two women who spoke at the rally, called out the SOO’s presence and demanded that they leave. They did so after engaging in a verbal confrontation with the Richmond protestors for about 15 minutes.
Scrivens describes SOO as “a white power group, or at the very least, an Alt-Right group, which still falls within the framework of right-wing extremism.”
In Canada, SOO’s strategy aims to create “a façade of legitimacy” by separating its brand from the extreme-right wing movement.
“They present themselves as a community-based group serving to protect the public,” said Scrivens.
An AntiFa member, who wants to be known only by his first name as Jay, said SOO had a much larger presence than thought at the December 11 rally. Most had probably melded into the protesting crowd gathered outside the Canada Line Brighouse station.
When the rally ended, Jay said the two groups squared off in a tense encounter. The AntiFa was outnumbered, surrounded by about 15 SOO members, but thankfully, it did not end in violence.
“The presence of these extremists groups is why our group exists,” said Jay.
“We’re all watching these groups become bolder. Taking steps to protect ourselves and the community seems necessary. I do all this with a sense of dread.”
Concurring with Scrivens, Jay said the SOO is waging a PR offensive in presenting its members as community activists while using the names, tactics and symbols of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.
“They turned up at the march in Richmond to take pictures of themselves ‘supporting’ anti-racism (activities),” he said.
This deliberate paradoxical behavior is a sign of the times. Trump, who denies he’s racist and has been forced to repudiate links with the Hitler-saluting Alt-Right, has the firm support of the KKK and other supremacist groups who regard him as one of their own. Trump’s far right chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has enormous clout in the new administration.
Jay suggests that Canada’s SOO is in a transition or identity crisis phase as some of its members are “genuinely confused” about its ideology, and whether it’s reconcilable with other groups and the prevailing liberal, democratic values of Canadian society.
Given the far right’s propensity for violence, Jay said his group is taking self-defence training and forming a volunteer security group as citizens cannot rely entirely on law enforcers for protection.
There have been fatal racist attacks on ethnic minority members in Canada as was most recently shown in the Quebec massacre of Muslims on January 29. There were other serious cases as reported here, here and here. Canada’s history of racist violence includes attacks against Chinese workers in 1887 and 1907 with Japanese and Indians also targeted during the white supremacist years. In 2015, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) warned that white supremacists have become a far greater threat to domestic security than Islamic extremists.
According to Scrivens, violence is a core element of the right-wing extremist movement, whether it is an Alt-Right or a neo-Nazi skinhead group.
“Most who are attracted to the movement have a propensity for violence, and it is the movement itself that facilitates it,” he said.
Canada’s Chinese Question
On its 150th birthday, Canada faces its own Chinese Question at the same time that a new US president is rejecting the global liberal order and a Chinese president wants to take over as its new torchbearer.
Right wing groups, white supremacists, religious leaders, anti-fascists, scholars, economists, and housing experts are’t the only ones looking at the place of the Chinese in Canada. Given its growing global presence, China wants an input too.
The government of President Xi Jinping, who took office in 2013, has taken a greater interest in the welfare and interests of ethnic Chinese abroad, not just Chinese nationals, observed Paul Evans, an international relations professor at the University of British Columbia.
The rise of Metro Vancouver’s anti-Chinese sentiments will provide an early test of Beijing’s intent to intervene on behalf of the diaspora. Last December, Liu Fei, China’s Vancouver-based consul-general, told the Vancouver Sun that her office plans to launch an active campaign this year to highlight Chinese and Chinese-Canadian contributions to BC.
Will this help or hurt race relations in Canada? Will China overstep diplomatic boundaries? What happens then?
In 2015, China spoke up in Malaysia following racially-motivated attacks against the indigenuous Chinese community in Kuala Lumpur. Tensions receded after China’s ambassador to Malaysia issued an unprecedented warning to right-wing Malay Muslim groups to stop. But relations between the two main racial groups remain tense in a country with a long history of anti-Chinese politics.
Commenting on Liu’s interview, Professor Evans described the situation as “complicated and disturbing” amid the anti-Chinese sentiments, and the rise of both racist and anti-fascist groups in a relatively small multicultural city.
Beijing’s planned PR campaign carries significant risk even if it is intended to counter the Canadian media’s unbalanced negative reporting of the country’s ethnic Chinese minority and recent immigrants. The heavy hand of the Chinese government will only fan the fear-mongering about its influence in Canada. Already, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s drive for closer ties with China has been tainted by allegations that he is under the influence of Chinese business groups. His pro-immigration policies to admit Muslim refugees and close friendship with the Aga Khan have strengthened the hands of his critics and the xenophobic crowd.
And, far from welcoming Beijing’s “help”, Canada’s 1.5 million citizens of Chinese descent will likely be put in a difficult spot. Unknown to many Canadians, the very un-monolithic Chinese community includes people holding a diverse range of political and cultural identities and loyalties. While some are pro-Beijing, the majority opposes communism and do not identify with Xi’s authoritarian regime, especially those with links to Taiwan, Hong Kong and parts of Southeast Asia. Canadians of Chinese descent of more than a generation are also in the latter camp.
The pro-Beijing Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations (CACA) was among those present at Edward Liu’s December 11 rally. Sources said a reluctant Liu came under pressure to admit CACA’s participation.
Months earlier, CACA was involved in two events celebrating the 40th anniversary of the death of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) founder Mao Zedong in Richmond, and the 67th anniversary of the PRC’s founding in Vancouver’s city hall.
Anti-Beijing protestors led by The Alliance of the Guard of Canadian Values attended both events.
In an interview at the Mao celebration in September, Louis Huang, the alliance’s spokesman, demanded of the organisers: “Why are they celebrating the life and death of history’s biggest mass murderer?” Mao oversaw the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962 that led to mass famine and the death of at least 30 million Chinese. His Cultural Revolution between 1962 and 1976 killed off another estimated 45 million people and further impoverished the country.
Huang’s alliance members confronted CACA again in October at the PRC’s 67th anniversary celebrations where acting mayor Kerry Jang and Richmond East MP, Joe Peschisolido, wore red scarves and raised China’s national flag.
But even Huang and other protestors including Meena Wong, a China-born immigrant who contested for the Vancouver mayor’s job in 2014, appeared confused about the Chinese identity in Canada.
After accusing Jang of supporting the PRC government and endorsing Mao’s Cultural Revolution, they demanded that he apologise and resign from the Vancouver City Council. But they did not make the same demands of Peschisolido.
This appears to be a case of double standards. For the same alleged infractions, Jang was told to resign because he is ethnic Chinese while Peschisolido was let off because he isn’t. Jang, a third-generation Canadian of Chinese descent, did not apologise or resign as the allegations that he supports China’s communist government and Mao’s Cultural Revolution are absurd. He and Peschisolido had followed council’s standard protocol in participating in the national day celebrations of countries that have friendly ties with Vancouver. Jang said the protest was racially-motivated and that he was further subject to racist abuse after the event.
Gabriel Yiu, a Vancouver politician and businessman, agrees that the call for Jang to resign was “not fair” as this was “politics playing with the anti-China sentiments out there.”
“I don’t think Kerry Jang would support China’s repressive human rights policy,” he said in an interview.
Yuen Pau Woo, who leads the non-profit HQ Vancouver to attract Asian investments into BC, is another public figure of Chinese ethnicity whose loyalty to Canada has been questioned on account of his work. Woo, a newly appointed Senator, has been accused by senior members of the opposition Conservative Party and the New Democrats (NDP) of working for China instead of Canada.
Like Jang, he has also been criticised by other Chinese-Canadians for supposedly selling out the country.
Commenting on the Vancouver Sun story about Woo’s appointment last October, Justin Fung wrote online that as a Chinese-Canadian, he’s “normally excited” about Asians being named to senior levels of leadership.
“In this case, I am very disappointed. Yuen Pau Woo has consistently protected the interests of Chinese investors in Canada,” said Fung, a founder of the HALT group that blames Chinese buying for Vancouver’s housing affordability problems. Fung offered no evidence of his claims.
The predicament of Jang and Woo underlines a paradox and hazard of being Chinese in Canada today. Instead of being celebrated as the few Asians to hold public office in Canada’s mostly white landscape, they have become easy targets for racist abuse. There have been other prominent cases.
At a time when these officials are working to boost ties with Asia, in particular, China, their abuse opens up a vital question: at what point does the fear of China legitimise public loathing of the Chinese in Canada? How should Canadians of Chinese descent operate today when Canada needs to tap their talent and knowledge in its dealings with China and Asia?
A century ago, white supremacists had little difficulty demonising the Chinese to justify enacting and imposing racist policies. Today, despite being wealthier and better educated than the average Canadian, the Chinese remain as vulnerable and helpless to counter unfair and negative portrayals. Poorly represented in the Canadian media, they are unable to demand balanced coverage in the court of public opinion. There isn’t a Chinese member in the cabinet of the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada’s popular and most diversity-friendly political leader.
The ease with which Vancouver’s housing issue has been politicised and blamed on the Chinese is troubling. The brew will become more volatile when bigger forces join in. With US-China relations in free fall, Trump will have an impact on Canada’s race relations as will Beijing’s interest in shaping the Chinese Question if it feels the diaspora is being victimised. These forces adding to the resurgence in hate crimes will provide some unwanted fireworks for the challenges Canada must face on its 150th birthday.