Anti-Asian coronavirus hate: Vancouver police seek charges in attack on Chinese dementia sufferer, 92

Ian Young

Vancouver’s deputy chief constable says police are recommending charges against a man who allegedly shouted slurs about Covid-19 as he threw a 92-year-old ethnically Chinese dementia sufferer out of a store, in a high-profile incident more than three months ago.

The violent encounter at a 7-Eleven in East Vancouver on March 13, which sent the elder sprawling to the pavement, prompted widespread outrage, and was branded “despicable” and “racist” by police. It was part of a spike in anti-Asian hate crime investigations in Vancouver since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although a suspect was identified within 24 hours of the VPD releasing a video of the incident on April 22, his relatives told news outlets that police had informed them he would not be charged.

But Deputy Chief Constable Howard Chow denied that and told the South China Morning Post this week that charges in the case were “very close”.

“There’s still a little bit of back and forth with Crown on it, but I can tell you that’s one of the [cases] that are just about there,” he said, without saying what charges were being sought.

Media relations officer Constable Tania Visintin later clarified that the VPD had recommended charges to the BC Prosecution Service. “So now it is in the hands of the courts,” she said.

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BCPS communications counsel Dan McLaughlin confirmed that prosecutors had “received a Report to Crown Counsel relating to the incident you described”.

“The file is currently under charge assessment. The BCPS will have no comment while this process is under way,” he said.

Chow said on May 22 that there had been 29 anti-Asian hate crimes reported in 2020, compared to four in the same period last year.

Deputy Chief Constable Howard Chow of the Vancouver Police Department. Photo: VPD

This year’s tally has continued to rise, Chow said on Monday, without providing a number. “I suspect it’s quite a bit more,” he said.

One of the new investigations concerned an Asian woman being spat at by a man riding past on a bicycle.

In another, two Asian women were in a car in Chinatown on May 23 when a man started shouting “hate remarks” then smashed out a window with a chisel, said Chow.

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A suspect was arrested and charged with mischief over what the VPD called a terrifying and racist incident.

The number of charges laid in the various hate investigations would be released next week, Chow said.

“We have to talk to different agencies, such as Crown, but there are going to be some charges that we can talk about,” he said. “Some involve the more high-profile, significant files.”

Other anti-Asian hate investigations in recent months have involved an Asian woman wearing a face mask who was punched in the face as she walked down the street; and the stone lions guarding the Chinatown gate being repeatedly defaced with graffiti about Covid-19.

Chow is the VPD’s deputy chief of operations, putting him in charge of all 700 uniformed officers.

Born and raised in Medicine Hat, Alberta, to Chinese immigrant parents from Guangzhou, Chow said he was “very upset, disturbed” by the recent increase in anti-Asian incidents, and hate crime in general in Vancouver.

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“I thought that as a community where the majority of our citizens are from different ethnic groups, in this very modern city, to be subjected to this thing was very unusual,” he said. “This spike during Covid … it was very alarming to me.”

Chow, who joined the VPD in 1989, said he had personally experienced “hate behaviour” – citing bathroom graffiti and remarks shouted by fellow road users – although he drew a distinction between such “very offensive hate acts” and criminal hate crime.

The suspect in an attack on an elderly ethnically Chinese man in a Vancouver convenience store on March 13. Photo: VPD

But the vast majority of Vancouverites, he thought, were tolerant and open-minded. “This is a moment in time for Vancouver. It’s most definitely a spike. It’s definitely alarming. But it’s not normal Vancouver life,” he said.

Chow agreed the conversation about racism had shifted in recent weeks amid the Black Lives Matter movement, towards scrutiny of police actions, particularly involving black or indigenous people.

But he said he believed there was no systemic racism in the VPD. “No. I am unequivocal about that,” he said.

“Our officers are screened extensively … polygraphs, interviews, psychological interviews … no other profession has the oversight our policing has,” he said. “Is there more or less racism [in the VPD] than in the rest of society? I can absolutely say you are going to find less than in the other sectors of society.”

‘Despicable’ coronavirus-related attack on Asian man, 92, in Vancouver

The VPD has come under pressure to eliminate its use of street checks – which some critics says are racially biased – but the force has defended the practice as an infrequent yet valuable policing tool.

The Vancouver Police Board, the civilian oversight body which employs the department, meanwhile said this week that it would direct the VPD to establish a black and African diaspora oversight committee, and develop more cultural sensitivity training for officers “regarding the experiences of black people in Vancouver and Canada”.

Nevertheless, Chow broadly defended the force against suggestions of racism, and denied having a skewed perspective.

“I’m speaking as a Chinese-Canadian, and someone who has worn this skin for the past 54 years. I’ve worn this uniform for 31 years … when people say that now I’m only looking through a blue lens, and it’s tainted? I’m going, ‘that’s hogwash’.”

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