Business owners and community leaders in Montreal’s Chinatown are coming forward to express their fears over a fresh wave of robberies and vandalism amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lion statues at the entrance to the neighborhood, as well as in other temples in the city, were defaced for the first time earlier this year — incidents police have since treated as hate crimes.
This time, at least seven establishments reportedly suffered robberies and vandalism. JC Spa, located on De La Gauchetière Street, recently experienced three robberies and several break-ins.
“We had a couple of break-ins in the month of August,” owner Eileen Hu told Global News. “We felt very targeted; the employees were extremely frightened.”
Xixi Li, director of Chinese Family Services of Greater Montreal, added that six stores at shopping mall Place du Quartier had broken windows and minor damages despite the presence of surveillance cameras. They blamed racism against the Chinese community.
“It’s already very hard because there’s a lot less people in Chinatown recently, there’s no more tourists. People are afraid,” Li added.
Louis Le is a volunteer who spent countless hours working in one of the city’s temples defaced earlier this year. He believes it all has to do with COVID-19, citing the rise in hate crimes against Asians in other countries.
“It’s pretty hard to pinpoint the motive behind the perpetrator, but to me, the most logical explanation would be discrimination against Asians, the Asian community, because of the coronavirus events that are happening all over the world,” Le told CTV News in March. “This was bound to happen at some point.”
At the time, lion statues in Chinatown’s gates were also spray-painted. Police reportedly investigated the incidents, but it appears no one has been held accountable to date.
“Since these acts targeted religious symbols, they will be treated as hate crimes,” a Montreal police spokesperson told Radio-Canada. “The investigation will uncover the motive behind these acts.”
While such incidents have increased, only three reports have been lodged at Chinatown’s local police station since March. In a statement on Monday, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante assured residents that safety measures are underway.
“The acts of vandalism that have taken place in Chinatown are unacceptable. Now more than ever, we need to stand and work together fight racism and support local businesses,” Plante said.
“The Chinese community contributes to Montreal’s resilience, its culture and is integral to the richness of our metropolis. We are in communication with the SPVM [Montreal Police Service], who work with the Ville-Marie borough to implement appropriate measures and ensure public safety.”