Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

A dispute between a young Chinese mother and an elderly white woman in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Richmond, British Columbia, recently sparked a bizarre episode in Canadian race relations. Amy Xu captured part of the August 23 incident on her mobile phone after her car’s rear bumper appeared to have been hit by another car at the Richlea Square Shopping Center. It turned ugly when the other car’s owner began uttering racial insults and vulgarity while telling Xu, who was with her three-year-old daughter, to “go back to China.”

The white woman, identified as Carla Waldman, was filmed taunting Xu in a sing-song voice: “Chinky, chinky, China lady. Chinky, chinky, China lady.”

Waldman, a longtime resident of Richmond, a city that has an ethnic Chinese-majority population, can also be heard saying, “You give your people a bad name. We hate you people. Go back where you belong,” followed by expletives.

The incident quickly went viral on the Internet, attracting thousands of readers and viewers across several news sites and social media. Until it was taken down, Waldman’s Facebook page was bombarded with more than 1,500 comments, mostly criticisms from a diverse group of people who saw her behavior as racist and hateful.

Some of the comments were themselves vicious and racist as they targeted her Jewishness. Significantly, the harshest condemnations were delivered in English by people with non-Chinese names. They included a death threat, anti-Semitic remarks accompanied by Nazi images, and references to the unrelated subject of Palestine.

White nationalist leader enters the fray

The story took a surreal turn two days later when Paul Fromm, one of Canada’s leading Holocaust deniers and white nationalists, tweeted his support for Waldman, who campaigns against anti-Semitism.

“This woman is entitled to her opinion. There’s no ‘hate’ here,” said Fromm, a director of two white-nationalist groups, the Canadian Association for Free Expression and the Canada First Immigration Reform Committee. Both organizations want to stop “mass immigration,” which they claim is an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to dilute Canada’s white population. Immigration has become a hot-button issue in the run-up to Canada’s federal election on October 21.

Without any knowledge of what had actually happened in the parking lot, Fromm blamed Xu for being an immigrant with “bad driving” skills.

“Neither this lady [Waldman] nor Canadians were asked whether we wanted the demographics of our country changed by organized, massive Third World immigration,” he wrote.

Adding a twist to the plot, Fromm delivered his comment as a rebuke to Ivan Pak, a member of the populist right-wing People’s Party of Canada (PPC), which also opposes “mass immigration.”

Pak, a China-born immigrant from Hong Kong, is the PPC candidate in Richmond Centre hoping to win over the mostly immigrant ethnic-Chinese vote in the upcoming federal election.

His boss, PPC founder Maxime Bernier, has been warmly embraced by Paul Fromm for his campaign to end “mass immigration” and scrap Canada’s official multiculturalism policy. Both men have condemned these as failed policies that promote “extreme diversity” to weaken Canada as a society. They were recently photographed together at a PPC rally.

Somewhat unbelievably, a spokeswoman for Bernier has claimed that the veteran politician had no idea who Fromm is, although both are high-profile public figures in Canada. Bernier was a cabinet minister in the former Conservative government of prime minister Stephen Harper, while Fromm, who campaigned to be mayor of Hamilton, Ontario, last year, has been championing the white-nationalist cause for decades.

When asked about his exchange with Fromm, Pak replied that he wasn’t aware of the far-right leader’s identity as he is still “very new to politics and also to Canada.”

In a Twitter reply to this writer, he described the PPC leader as having been “careless” in associating with Fromm. But he said he didn’t see “sufficient evidence” to prove that Bernier has an “affiliation” with the white-nationalist cause.

Nevertheless, Pak’s outrage with Waldman attracted the attention of possibly far-right elements who responded to his video of the incident and initial tweet accusing her of committing a “hate crime.”

Pak, who has often denounced “political correctness,” later said Waldman’s hate speech was not criminal but racist in nature. His apparent retreat came after he had received a barrage of criticisms from possible PPC voters.

“The minute you designate any speech as ‘hate,’ you end freedom of speech,” NORSKK wrote on Twitter. “Because the designation is subjective. It is hate to you, an insult to me.”

NORSKK, which has since deleted the tweet, describes its group as “a brotherhood … living by ancestral pre-christianization Norse traditions” on its website.

A reader, Dellie, reminded Pak that “you are PPC, this woman is hateful but has committed no crime. We cannot blur the lines of hate crime with hateful speech.”

Another reader told Pak: “I am fed up with identity politics and people so sheltered from reality that they call everything hate. So, we are done here. You have lost my vote.” Thorolf Bjornsen, who appears to be aligned with NORSKK, has also deleted his tweet.

Ivan Pak stands with the political right in their fight against “lefties” and liberals for allegedly using the cover of racial and gender sensitivities to suppress free speech.

In trying to reconcile his fight for the Chinese vote with the PPC abhorrence for “political correctness,” Pak replied, “I [condemn] this lady for her racist behavior, but I defend her for her freedom to do so.”

He affirmed his position in a phone interview with this writer.

He told NORSKK that “no matter how [you try] to defend the lady for her freedom of speech, she is racist.”

In this context, Fromm’s unexpected and ironic defense of Waldman’s action makes diabolical sense. By defending her freedom to make racist comments, he sees it as a cover for the espousal of his own anti-Semitic views including the questioning of the Holocaust’s existence and attacks on immigrants.

In July 2018, he told the Canadian Jewish News that he supports Monika and Alfred Schaefer for denying the Holocaust on the principle of freedom of expression. The Canadian siblings have been convicted and sentenced in Germany to serve jail terms.

“I supported their right to speak and I think that has been steadily eroded in this country over the last 40 years. That tradition has been really eroded and that is really bad for Canada,” he said.

Establishment stays silent

After interviewing the two women involved in the dispute, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) announced that there was not enough justification for a criminal case against Waldman.

In their statement reported by The Georgia Straight, the RCMP acknowledged that the contents of the video were “disturbing and troubling,” but said they had decided not to act against Waldman after consultations with the BC Prosecution Service.

However, the RCMP added that some of the comments published on the Internet and social media may have crossed the line and could be considered criminal in nature. These likely include the death threats and comments amounting to cyberbullying.

Remarkably, Canada’s establishment largely kept out of the controversy even though this is red meat for political sharks in an election year. It comes in the midst of rising public antipathy toward immigration, growing Canadian negativity toward China, and a reported increase in hate crimes nationwide

Remarkably, Canada’s establishment largely kept out of the controversy even though this is red meat for political sharks in an election year. It comes in the midst of rising public antipathy toward immigration, growing Canadian negativity toward China, and a reported increase in hate crimes nationwide.

With the federal election weeks away, mainstream politicians appear to be holding the line on the public discourse of potentially explosive issues like race and immigration. The incident, for all its newsworthiness, also apparently did not make the pages of three major newspapers that circulate in Metro Vancouver: the Vancouver Sun, The Province and the Globe and Mail. The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, which has a Vancouver bureau to focus on China and Chinese-related matters, also did not cover the story.

Tung Chan, a leader of the Chinese community and a former member of Vancouver City Council, compared the parking incident to dogs occasionally biting people.

“I do not expect politicians to come out to condemn dog owners when such things happen,” he said.

But he added that the incident was of concern to Metro Vancouver’s Chinese community.

“While no leader has come out to express concern, the incident has generated wall-to-wall discussions in Chinese-language WeChat groups. There [is] also a large volume of Facebook condemnation postings,” said Tung, who was a Vancouver City Council member from 1990 to 1993.

Also, the Canadian reaction to Waldman’s racist rants was not entirely negative and monolithic. Not everyone condemned her, likely in part because of Canadians’ growing antipathy toward China. Canada’s bilateral relations with China have been in nosedive since Ottawa ordered the arrest of top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver last December on behalf of the US government. China’s retaliatory responses and the menacing sight of pro-Beijing protesters on the streets of Vancouver and Toronto in recent weeks have turned off many Canadians.

Rather than condemn Waldman’s behavior, many readers commenting on the site took a different tack. Most blamed the parking incident on the growing Chinese presence in Richmond as well as those deemed to be making “a big deal” of a small incident.

“It is not illegal to tell someone to return to China,” wrote Charles.

“The RCMP should investigate the Chinese money laundry hidden in real estate under foreign Asian buyers,” said another reader, suggesting the outrage over Waldman’s remarks were misplaced and overblown.

“The Xu Lady was scared there was a white person in Richmond,” wrote Mario.

Waldman has gone quiet after defiantly telling the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on August 24 that she did not regret her behavior, which she insisted was not racist in nature.

More than a week after the incident, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie became the first elected official to speak. Playing down the incident, he told CityNews that “one person’s bad behavior … cannot in any way reflect on the city.”

Of the four federal party candidates contesting the Richmond Centre seat, Ivan Pak was the most vocal. He said he spoke up against the hate expressed in the incident as it was the right thing to do. There has been no reported comment in the English-language media from his three opponents for the seat, namely incumbent member of Parliament Alice Wong of the Conservative Party of Canada, the Liberal Party’s Steven Kou, and the Green Party’s Francoise Raunet.

Pak praised the RCMP’s decision to drop the case against Waldman and suggested he understood why mainstream political parties and leaders had chosen to stay silent. They are concerned that speaking up on relatively minor racial incidents might accentuate the problem and “bring on more conflict into the community,” said the father of two teenage boys.

“Most people try to hide the truth that we have racism and racial conflicts in the community,” he said.

With a sigh of resignation, he added: “There’s just no way to solve this race [problem].”

As we spoke, the PPC was taking fire for its large billboards erected across the country including Metro Vancouver featuring a smiling Maxime Bernier exhorting Canadians to “Say no to mass immigration.” Even as Pak was calling for Canadians to condemn racism, his party was being held up as the poster boy for promoting hate.

The billboards have since been removed amid the public outcry.

But just as in the US and Europe, the debate in Canada over racism, immigration issues and China is about to explode.

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