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'Despicable': Man who wrote hateful graffiti on Vancouver's Chinese Cultural Centre sentenced

At time of the offence, VPD had seen a 717% increase in crimes with an element of hate, bias and prejudice
Yves Castonguay will spend 79 days in jail on top of time served for scrawling anti-Chinese graffiti on Vancouver's Chinese Cultural Centre.

A man who pleaded guilty to mischief related to hateful graffiti on Vancouver’s Chinese Cultural Centre will spend a further 79 days in jail in addition to time served.

Yves Castonguay was charged with two offenses — one for public incitement of hatred and one count of mischief to property used for religious worship, according to the Vancouver Police Department.

Castonguay, 47, pleaded guilty to the mischief count on Oct. 12. The second charge was stayed.

“He defaced the Chinese Cultural Centre with his racist diatribe and this conduct was motivated by bias ... and hate toward persons of Chinese ethnic origin and descent,” Vancouver Provincial Court Judge Harbans Dhillon said, denouncing the behaviour as “despicable and hateful.”

“The words he used were morally reprehensible and should shock the conscience of the community.”

She said Castonguay suggested violence be used against people based on their perceived ethnicity.

“His message was meant to be seen by the public,” the judge said.

The charges came after the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside was vandalized on April 2, 2020.

Crown prosecutor Mark Crisp told Dhillon that Castonguay went to the centre with a permanent felt marker.

As Crisp recited the words Castonguay wrote, Dhillon stopped him at one point and said she did not want a specific anti-Chinese racial epithet used in court.

“May I ask you to use ‘the c-word?’ I’m not going to have repetition of that word,” she said.

In a victim impact statement, centre director Bill Kwok said Castonguay’s words had struck at the heart of Vancouver’s Chinese community. He said the words reminded him how “racism is alive and well in Vancouver.” He also shared his personal experiences of racism as a youth in Winnipeg.

“I had to fight because I was of the wrong skin colour and my eyes slanted,” Kwok said. “All the feelings of an unwanted citizen came back when I read your message.”

Kwok said he was hoping it was a joke. The emotional scars of Castonguay’s words “will last a lifetime,” he added.

Castonguay, meanwhile, did not seem surprised about his arrest. The Crown prosecutor said he asked police, “is this about the graffiti?”

Castonguay wrote a letter of apology to the court and blamed what he was hearing in the community and in the media for his behaviour.

Addressing the court, Castonguay said, “I am not a hateful person. I don’t hate Asian people.”

“I was venting,” he said. “If I could take it all back, I would.”

The judge responded by saying it "was not a spontaneous outburst." 

“He targeted a revered community institution at the heart of the historic Chinese community,” the judge said, noting he did so at a time when the Chinese community was being attacked at the pandemic’s start.

At the time of the offence, the Vancouver Police Department had seen a 717% increase in crimes with an element of hate, bias and prejudice, with people of East Asian descent being the primary targets.

The Crown lawyer said the fear that Castonguay’s words created led to the closure of the centre, where the doors remain locked.

Castonguay has been banned from the area around the centre.

“The Chinese community and visitors need to feel safe and reclaim that space,” the judge said.

The Crown told the court that Castonguay’s criminal record consists of 148 convictions, including 50-plus property crimes and 24 crimes of violence.

The 79 days is in addition to 161 days spent in pre-trial custody, for which he gets 161 days credit. Castonguay was also sentenced to three years probation.

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