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Racism tied to COVID-19: Richmond councillor

Two community activists challenged Richmond council on the city's actions on tackling racism.
Richmond council heard from two activists on Monday who advocated for anti-racism action in the city.

Last year at this time, Richmond City Coun. Harold Steves was “clobbered” on Twitter with anti-China racism over COVID-19, he explained to council on Monday.

People were saying the new virus came from China, through Richmond and spread throughout the region.

At that time, health authorities were trying not to point out the origin of infections, Steves said.

“Richmond council was not allowed to tell where it came from – we knew it didn’t come from the Chinese population (but) we weren’t allowed to say anything,” Steves explained at Monday’s council meeting.

But the racist attacks on Twitter were largely anonymous and he suspected they came from people outside of Richmond.

Since then, BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) has reported Richmond’s rates of infection have been lower than other areas, with about 5 to 10 daily cases currently per 100,000 population.

The council discussion on racism stemmed from a presentation by Steveston resident Karina Reid and Naomi Leung, a member of the group Sustainabilateens, who both talked about the need for action to fight racism in the city including doing a racism audit and moving beyond the city's Cultural Harmony Plan.

Reid countered Steves’ comments saying she has heard about even more racist incidents after announcing she’d be presenting to council on the topic.

“The racism I think in Richmond is hidden in the many ways poverty is hidden,” she said. “We like to talk about diversity and inclusion because it’s nice to be a diverse and inclusive city, but we really need to talk about racism because racism is affecting people daily.”

Leung, a 17-year-old Richmond community activist whose family immigrated from Hong Kong, told council she has lost large parts of her culture and family language, and she’s been called “white washed.”

She added it’s taken “extreme emotional labour” to reconnect with her cultural background.

“I’m tired of living in a racist society and I know we have to make bold changes to care for people hurt most by racist policy and action,” she said.

The city adopted a Cultural Harmony Plan about two years ago, but Coun. Chak Au told the Richmond News the plan has a “soft touch,” and he’d like to see more work on anti-racism, for example, implementing a city-wide protocol – already created about three years ago – to deal consistently with hate crimes.

But in a memo to council, city staff outlined various anti-racism initiatives underway in the city, including diversity and inclusion training for staff and community association members.

The city is also reviewing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and seeing how the City of Richmond can respond.

In the end, council voted unanimously to send the materials presented by the delegation to the Richmond Intercultural Advisory Committee (RIAC) for analysis and to report back to council.

In response to a suggestion by Coun. Carol Day that RCMP start collecting race-based data, Coun. Linda McPhail, who sits on the committee, said there is an RCMP officer on RIAC who should have access to that information.

The Richmond School District has created a Diversity and Anti-Racism Committee and they are in the process of hiring a consultant to do a racism audit in the school district.