A group advocating for Chinese-Canadians is asking party leaders running in this year’s federal election to promise resources and funding for Chinatowns in major cities.
The Build Back Chinatown effort began with a group of concerned Alberta residents, and now the Action Chinese Canadians Together (ACCT) group is lobbying federal leaders to address inequities experienced by Chinese communities.
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According to Michael Tan, co-chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Legacy Stewardship, the COVID-19 pandemic made existing inequities even more clear while also driving up incidents of anti-Asian harassment and assault.
In a phone interview with Daily Hive, Tan said seniors living in Chinatown had trouble accessing COVID-19 vaccines, and his group had to reach out to Vancouver Coastal Health to make sure they weren’t left behind because of translation issues.
As of summer 2020, the business vacancy rate in Vancouver’s Chinatown increased by 24% compared to before the pandemic. The vacancy rate for Vancouver Chinatown sat at 17% — higher than the city-wide average of 10%.
“Chinese-owned business[es] are also being targeted for vandalism and graffiti,” Tan said. “What’s really been laid bare are these systemic inequalities where both residents and businesses have trouble accessing programs.”
Reports of Anti-Asian hate crimes in Vancouver increased 717% during the pandemic compared to 2019, according to statistics from the Vancouver Police Department released in February 2021.
Tan also questioned why whiter and wealthier neighbourhoods were given more funding to support ailing businesses during the pandemic compared to Vancouver’s Chinatown.
He pointed to two rounds of emergency funding given to Granville Island, totalling $38 million. The tourist-loved scenic market is owned by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, meaning tenant businesses were eligible for fewer supports because they’re on government-owned land.
Chinatown’s Memorial Square is also government-owned, in this case municipally owned, but Tan said when his group tried to apply for similar funding, they were denied.
“There’s unequal access,” he said.
When Tan joined the national Build Back Chinatown initiative, he learned other communities in major Canadian cities are dealing with similar issues around gentrification and displacement.
He says it’s vital to protect Chinatowns because of their rich cultural heritage — that once lost, cannot be brought back.
“Chinatowns helped build what we know as Canada today, in terms of the railroads and connecting Canada coast to coast,” he said. “These important communities are the launching ground of our way out of the pandemic.”