Can­di­dates in Bayview, Markham stage anti-refugee protest

Richmond Hill Post - - Contents - –– Jes­sica Wei

North York and Markham politi­cians held a rally over where to house asy­lum seek­ers

We felt that this was an at­tack on our own com­mu­nity, in ad­di­tion to other com­mu­ni­ties.”

A neigh­bourly of­fer to look for ex­tra space to house asy­lum seek­ers in Markham turned into a protest sup­ported by politi­cians in Wil­low­dale, Don Val­ley and Markham at the Markham Civic Cen­tre on July 28. Some con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing Chi­ne­seCana­di­ans were pit­ted against counter-pro­tes­tors, most of whom were also of Chi­nese des­cent.

Ac­cord­ing to Markham’s mayor, Frank Scarpitti, Toronto mayor John Tory ini­ti­ated a con­fer­ence call with On­tario may­ors to find hous­ing op­tions for asy­lum seek­ers liv­ing in Toronto univer­sity dor­mi­to­ries and would have to be moved out for the school year.

“Our of­fer to the city [of Toronto] was to see if there was any­thing that was avail­able within the city [of Markham],” said Scarpitti. “It was just a neigh­bour help­ing out a neigh­bour.”

Af­ter word got out that the of­fer had been made, or­ga­niz­ers be­gan plan­ning a protest against re­set­tling asy­lum seek­ers in Markham. Among those who at­tended or have since pub­licly sup­ported this protest were Markham may­oral can­di­date Shan Hua Lu, Markham Ward 2 can­di­date Charles Jiang, Toronto Dis­trict School Board Wil­low­dale trustee can­di­date Min Xie and Stephen Chen, a Toronto City Coun­cil can­di­date in Don Val­ley North.

“This has been an or­ches­trated process by peo­ple who are run­ning for mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil,” said Scarpitti. “Un­for­tu­nately, they’ve used this is­sue to fur­ther their po­lit­i­cal ad­vance­ment, and it’s rather un­for­tu­nate that they have gone out and spread a whole bunch of mis­in­for­ma­tion to the com­mu­nity and tried to cre­ate fear and anger that thou­sands of asy­lum seek­ers were com­ing to the city of Markham.”

A no­tice was cir­cu­lated via Chi­nese so­cial me­dia, claim­ing that Markham was un­der threat of be­com­ing a “refugee camp” for asy­lum seek­ers.

A counter-protest was also staged by in­di­vid­u­als who caught wind of what was hap­pen­ing.

“We thought, ‘ We can’t keep al­low­ing this type of thing to keep hap­pen­ing in the Chi­nese com­mu­nity and just to cede to this group of peo­ple,” said Ed­ward Wong, one of the coun­ter­protestors. “We felt that this was an at­tack on our own com­mu­nity, in ad­di­tion to other com­mu­ni­ties.”

Wong and his group com­prised 15 to 20 peo­ple. Ac­cord­ing to him, when they ar­rived, they were met by up­wards of a hun­dred peo­ple, hold­ing signs that read, “Not in My Back­yard” and “Markham, Say No to Il­le­gal Bor­der Crossers.”

As they ap­proached the crowd, pro­test­ers be­gan to swarm them.

“It was very sud­den,” said Wong. “That’s what re­ally shocked us. Some of us have ex­pe­ri­ence con­fronting other kinds of racist ral­lies, and we’ve never seen this type of es­ca­la­tion so quick.”

The al­ter­ca­tion grew vi­o­lent and was even­tu­ally bro­ken up by po­lice.

A few days af­ter the protest, Jiang and Lu en­tered Markham city hall with a pe­ti­tion signed by over 1,000 peo­ple. The pe­ti­tion reads, “Say ‘NO’ to the ir­reg­u­lar Asy­lum Seeker in Markham.”

It’s not the first time Scarpitti has seen the Chi­nese com­mu­nity tar­geted for po­lit­i­cal gain.

“I think it’s quite dis­gust­ing, to be hon­est with you,” he said, “where peo­ple tar­get a par­tic­u­lar cul­tural group think­ing that some­how they can get away with spread­ing ru­mours and lies within that cul­tural group be­cause of their lin­guis­tic bar­ri­ers.”

In a joint state­ment, the Chi­nese and South­east Asian Le­gal Clinic and the Cen­tre for Im­mi­grants and Com­mu­nity Ser­vices con­demned the protest.

“For decades, Chi­ne­seCana­di­ans were sub­ject to racist im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies in­clud­ing the Chi­nese Head Tax and the Ex­clu­sion Act that were de­signed specif­i­cally to re­strict and/or ex­clude Chi­nese from com­ing to Canada,” it reads. “As Cana­di­ans, we want our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to show courage and com­pas­sion by open­ing our doors to refugees.”

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has pledged $200,000 to help re­set­tle asy­lum seek­ers across On­tario, of whom about 150 to 200 will be ac­com­mo­dated in York Re­gion.

Pro­tes­tors at the Markham Civic Cen­tre, the Chi­nese sign reads, ‘Forc­ing Refugee Re­set­tl­ment on Us: Un­ac­cept­able!’

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