After more than a century, Vancouver’s ‘bloody’ anti-Asian riot still resonates | CBC News

After more than a century, Vancouver’s ‘bloody’ anti-Asian riot still resonates | CBC News

More than a century ago, rioters smashed windows and destroyed the shops and homes of Asian Canadians in Vancouver.

The anti-Asian riot of 1907 involved a mob of about 9,000 people, according to Canadian Encyclopediaand lasted two days and nights.

Now, a new book examines the 1907 anti-Asian violence in Vancouver and aims to provide context for the current wave of anti-Asian prejudice.

White Riot is based on an immersive, self-guided walking tour created in 2019 by Henry Tsang, who teaches at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

Henry Tsang’s new book is based on a digital walking tour he created that depicts Vancouver’s 1907 anti-Asian race riot. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

No lives were lost during the riot, according to Tsang’s White Riotbut “there were close calls.”

The book notes that “only five rioters were eventually found guilty and given jail terms of one to six months.”

‘Bloody battle’

In 1907, the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council, a labour movement organization, helped found a local chapter of the Asiatic Exclusion League, which began in San Francisco. Its first public event was a parade and demonstration on Sept. 7, 1907, to create awareness and lobby the federal government to pass laws to exclude Asians from Canada.

Then-Vancouver mayor Alexander Bethune and his wife took part in a cavalcade, along with city councillors, labour leaders, and leaders from church groups, that went through downtown Vancouver and stopped at City Hall.

Speeches inside City Hall were relayed outside to a crowd of thousands.

“Estimates [are] up to one third of Vancouver’s population came out for this parade,” Tsang said. “It was kind of crazy popular.”

Guest speakers from the U.S. and New Zealand stoked the crowd, Tsang said.

“A mob broke out,” he said. “That mob went down to Chinatown, which was nearby, and started attacking people.”

Tsang says the streets of Chinatown were largely quiet as residents concerned about the parade barred their doors and hoped things would blow over.

When things didn’t calm down, members of the community took up arms.

“They brought out all the guns and ammunition and they set up patrols and they started to take back their streets,” he said. “So hand-to-hand combat happened for two days.”

The riot moved toward a community of Japanese Canadians on Powell Street.

“The Japanese had more time to set up,” Tsang said. “They had barricades ready by the time the mob went into the area. It was a bloody battle.”

Following the riot, Chinese Canadians went on strike for three days and “effectively shut down the city,” Tsang said.

Recent rise in anti-Asian hate

The book comes in the wake of a rise in anti-Asian hate in Vancouver.

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, police said anti-Asian hate crimes in Vancouver increased from 12 incidents in 2012 to 98 in 2020 — a 717-per-cent spike.

In Richmond, south of Vancouver, police said they’ve recorded 46 hate crimes and incidents in 2021, up from 34 in 2020; 67 per cent were related to racial discrimination, and of the people targeted, 61 per cent were Asian.

Lawyer and advocate Steven Ngo told CBC that figures reported by any jurisdiction should be taken with a grain of salt.

“The reality is people have just given up [reporting],” he said.

Examining the historic roots of racism in Canada, Tsang says, can help us better understand where we are today.

“I was shocked that I didn’t learn about this until I was later in my 20s,” he said. “Why wasn’t this brought up in school?”

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