Toronto Police are investigating a recent alleged incident in which a Zoom meeting organized for Asian students at the University of Toronto last week was interrupted by racist messages and a man brandishing a machine gun on camera.
In a statement to the Toronto Star, Constable Caroline de Kloet said that she “[doesn’t] have any further information” regarding the incident since the Toronto Police Department is still “in the process of contacting “people who were involved.”
The incident reportedly occurred during a Zoom meeting on Feb. 7. The video conference, attended by over 90 people, was organized to provide a safe space for healing and support following the “hell bank notes” incident that happened days before.
An Instagram meme account of the university shared the incident, explaining that a graduate dormitory offered red envelopes to its students to celebrate Lunar New Year on Feb. 1, as NextShark previously reported. To their shock, the envelopes reportedly contained “hell banknotes,” also known as “joss paper,” that families use as burnt offerings to ancestors and deceased family members or relatives in Chinese culture.
Mary Reid, the founder of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education’s Asian Student Alliance (ASA) – the organization that held the Zoom meeting – said the conference was off to a strong start before one of the attendees who went by the username “kelli” began sending racist comments in the meeting’s chatbox. Reid said this occurred during the last 10 minutes of the meeting.
After the person was blocked by organizers, another attendee joined the meeting to continue the racist tirade. It is unknown whether the same person reappeared with a different username.
Reid recalled how other attendees started to hurl more racist comments: “There were a couple [of] users who started to comment (vocally)… One yelled out the N-word. Another person yelled out ‘terrorist.’ Another yelled out ‘yellow people.’”
Then, for a brief moment, a man showed up on camera and brandished what some of the meeting’s attendees described as a large weapon.
“There was a white man [who] turned on his camera and showed off his machine gun,” an unnamed witness told Global News. “That machine gun was huge. It was like almost half of me, that tall.”
The witness said she wanted to take a screenshot of the man but she was frozen in fear. “We just didn’t know how to move because everyone was terrified.”
Although the seemingly armed man showed himself for a “split second,” his appearance was enough to make people go into “absolute shock,” according to Reid. School officials are reportedly “working with campus officials to increase security measures” as students began fearing for their safety, especially those living in the graduate dormitory.
The university condemned the incident in a statement and said they were “deeply concerned about this violent and racist act.”
“We stand in solidarity with our Asian community, and all who were impacted by this hateful attack,” a university spokesperson said. “We are appalled that such incidents occur in our community spaces. We emphatically condemn anti-Asian discrimination and racism, and all forms of hate and racial violence.”