Vancouver city officials have apologized for kicking out a group of low-income seniors from a Chinatown mall during a tai chi session gathering last month.
What happened: The group of seniors, aged 70 to 90, gathered in the Chinatown Plaza Mall to practice the Chinese martial art on the morning of May 26. The bi-weekly gatherings are organized by the nonprofit organization Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice to help seniors exercise and connect with other community members.
However, mall staff asked the group to leave and called the police, who eventually made the seniors pack up.
“It was sad and heartbreaking to see,” Sean Cao, who has been running the tai chi sessions since 2021, told CBC. “They don’t feel welcomed.”
Discriminatory comment: According to Stephanie Leo, a volunteer for the organization, she allegedly heard mall staff members making discriminatory comments during the tai chi meet-up.
“They were saying things like, ‘This isn’t China, this isn’t Hong Kong, you can’t just gather and work out here,'” Leo told CBC.
Cao added that staff “tried to get physically close to the seniors” and “they sort of touched their arms to stop [their tai chi] movements.”
City’s apology: According to the city, the group did not secure permission to gather in the city-owned mall. In a statement to CBC, city officials reportedly apologized for how the situation was handled.
Lack of public spaces: The organization is asking the city for a formal permission to gather at the mall, noting the lack of public spaces or community centers in Chinatown. The organization said that the group’s previous meeting location was too small and lacked air conditioning.
“It should be a win-win situation,” Cao said. “It can benefit and support seniors’ wellbeing and also supports the businesses in the empty shopping mall, bringing energy into the space.”
The city is currently in the process of reviewing liability issues before making a final decision.