Ian Young on How Local Chinese Communities Helped BC’s COVID-19 Fight

Ian Young does some of the best reporting on the West Coast. This profile demonstrates the irony of those blaming Chinese Canadians, whereas they were the quickest to understand the threat and react accordingly, and were critical of Dr. Tam’s (and the government’s slower response:

“Cast your mind back to the distant days of January, when the Chinese communities in Richmond started masking up, staying home and avoiding busy places,” Ian Young tells me.

Oh boy. By that time, my relatives were already frantically sending me lists of local places that a rumoured virus carrier had visited. My Chinese landlord in Vancouver knew my dad worked in health care and asked me to help him order boxes of masks. A Chinese friend, from Hong Kong, wanted to wear a mask on a Vancouver bus but was scared about what others might think.

But few other British Columbians were worried about COVID-19. This was before the ubiquity of physical distancing, before the mad rush to stock up on personal products. Dr. Bonnie Henry wasn’t yet a household name. Media were busy reporting on events unfolding in Wet’suwet’en territory.

Among local Chinese, however, it was a different story. Young, a Vancouver-based correspondent for Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, was watching closely.

Metro Vancouver’s various Chinese communities — ethnic Chinese with ties to various parts of East Asia — felt the panic from overseas. News of something akin to SARS spreading in Wuhan went viral among B.C.’s Chinese before the virus itself did.

Many members stopped visiting Chinese restaurants and shopping centres, Young noted. The resulting quiet was regarded as a “curiosity” by people who weren’t connected to the city’s Chinese communities, he found.

Politicians encouraged people to support Chinese businesses, pinning the loss of patrons on rumours and racism. Health Minister Adrian Dix and others marched through Burnaby’s Crystal Mall, a popular Chinese destination with a wet market, in February to show their support.

Young didn’t mince words on Twitter: “Don’t imagine that white-knight stylings will make you the saviour, when what’s really needed is for Chinese folk themselves to feel more comfortable going out again like they used to do.”

Many East Asian locals had already started physical distancing by January. That’s because many had lived through SARS and had, as Young describes it, a “gut reaction and cultural memory.” (Young was the editor in charge of the South China Morning Post’s SARS quarantine team in Hong Kong, and likened the impact of the virus and the climate of fear to that of 9/11.)

It’s insights like this that make Young’s coverage of Metro Vancouver’s Chinese and the city’s ties to East Asia unique, especially when mainstream English media rarely have the cultural expertise or contacts. Instead, they tend to interview the same few Chinese voices over and over again.

Young, for example, recently reported on why chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam isn’t liked by many Chinese in Canada. Those lacking cultural and political perspective might wonder why ethnic Chinese might be so critical of her.

With the same kind of myth-busting, analysis and commentary he brings to his coverage of the local housing crisis, Young has been unpacking the pandemic as it relates to B.C.’s Chinese, from “maskaphobia” to the politics of health.

I recently chatted with Young about his astute coverage.

On the early start to physical distancing

On Feb. 8, Young took a photo of an empty Aberdeen Centre, a mall in Richmond, B.C.

“This was a profound thing,” said Young. “Aberdeen Centre to me is as close to a city square as anywhere in Richmond — I’m talking specifically about ‘Chinese Richmond.’”

The mall typically hosts holiday celebrations, fairs and community displays. The Aberdeen transit station attached to the mall was also where local residents on opposing sides of the Hong Kong protests clashed last fall.

“The food court has got 800 seats, and it’s always packed. You’re doing laps with your tray trying to find a seat. So it was shocking that it was deserted,” said Young.

“This was something that had entered the mindset of Richmondites, and [yet] it was barely being reported. The Chinese communities were certainly ahead of the curve. That should be acknowledged.”

It was only after Young pointed it out that outlets like CBC began picking up on the story.

On an expert’s response to the early start

Last month, Young interviewed a Canadian expert in new and re-emerging viruses who said he “absolutely” believes the early response by B.C.’s Chinese may have helped the province combat the virus more successfully than other jurisdictions.

University of Manitoba professor Jason Kindrachuk said more research is needed to determine the true impact but called the community’s quick action “fantastic” and said it “needs to be applauded and recognized.”

“There may have been a grassroots movement,” Kindrachuk, a former Vancouver resident who worked in Africa during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, told Young. “What you have in B.C. is a Chinese community that was seeing the impacts across Asia [and] had been through SARS.”

On the unintended revelation of Richmond’s low infection rate

“I think there was this perception that went on for so long about Richmond being a hot spot of infection because there’s so many Chinese people,” said Young. “It plays to a lot of racist tropes about cleanliness and disease in general.”

One piece of fake news that went viral online showed Chinese climbing Costco scaffolding to get bags of rice, allegedly in Richmond.

According to the most recent census, 54 per cent of Richmond residents identify as ethnic Chinese. (Richmond is 23 per cent white.)

B.C. doesn’t share information on specific communities with confirmed COVID-19 cases, only which health authority they fall into.

Health officials have said this reduces stigma in hard-hit places and prevents a false sense of security in others.

“It’s irrelevant what community you’re in,” Henry has said. “The risk of this virus is everywhere in British Columbia.”

Richmond is part of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. The figures released by government don’t let the public know whether a COVID-19 case is in Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore or a number of smaller coastal communities.

But in late April, Young tuned into Facebook Live chat with a VCH doctor who shared a partial breakdown of cases. Richmond only had 10 per cent of the jurisdiction’s cases, whereas 60 per cent were in Vancouver and 30 per cent on the North Shore.

On a per capita basis, Richmond’s rate of infection is 36.8 cases per 100,000 people. This is half Vancouver’s rate and about one-quarter of Canada’s rate of 120 cases per 100,000 people.

Young said Richmond had “a very laudable reaction” to COVID-19.

“I think it’s worth pointing out that despite being the most Chinese city in the world outside Asia, with all these links to China and Hong Kong, it had half the rate of infection of Vancouver just over the river. And I don’t think that’s captured as a fact in common perception.”

The public wasn’t meant to know these specifics. When Young put the numbers to the health authority itself, a spokesperson said that it wouldn’t elaborate.

On why Dr. Theresa Tam is criticized by some Chinese Canadians

Born in Hong Kong, Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has received plenty of racist hate online.

And she’s been criticized by high-profile conservatives like Ontario MP Derek Sloan who questioned whether she was more loyal to China than Canada and called for her firing.

But look within Canada’s Chinese communities and you’ll find people critical of Tam and her advice too, simply based on her record on the job.

“All these people in my ethnic Chinese circle were vehemently critical of Dr. Tam in ways that my non-Chinese friends and acquaintances would be very reluctant to state, fearing themselves grouped with racist rabble-rousers,” said Young.

“I’m not suggesting that racism gets a pass. What I am pointing out is that Chinese communities here are not shy about expressing things that some people in non-Chinese communities would be reluctant to do as a simple matter of solidarity against racism.”

Aside from bigots who seem to be targeting Tam for being a woman and for being ethnically Chinese, her connections to the World Health Organization have been a point of controversy.

Tam, who’s served on a number of WHO committees and missions in the past, is currently an advisor to the agency’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on COVID-19.

“It’s a hugely controversial thing in some Chinese community circles to champion the WHO because of its stance on Taiwan as a non-nation.”

The WHO has been criticized for uncritically accepting China’s virus data, parroting its messaging and being overly complimentary to the country.

On top of this, there’s also Tam’s describing COVID-19 as “low” risk until March 15 and her long dismissal of the need for the public to wear face masks. In April, she said that wearing them “seems a sensible thing to do”and on May 20 she said masks would serve as an “added layer of protection” when physical distancing is not possible.

“It really pissed off so many in the Chinese community, particularly those who believe the real successes that places like Hong Kong and Taiwan have had,” said Young.

“All sorts of highly-qualified people have praised mask-wearing. So we’re talking about big sections of the community fully invested in masks, and they see Dr. Tam basically flip-flopping, taking a position that’s neither here nor there.”

On ‘maskaphobia’ and where it comes from

On April 15 in Vancouver, a man told two Asian women wearing masks “Go back to your country. That’s where it all started.” A third woman who came to their defence was attacked by the man, who kicked her, wrestled her to the floor and ripped out a clump of her hair.

This was one of many racist and violent incidents against people who are or look East Asian, often in masks, around the world. On May 22, the Vancouver Police Department noted they had opened 77 hate-associated police files so far in 2020, compared to 26 in the same period last year.

Young interviewed sociologist Yinxuan Huang of the University of Manchester, who’s been examining “maskaphobia.”

“It is on the one hand a cultural conflict between the East, where wearing masks are pretty normal, and the West, where wearing masks can present a different meaning, even a sort of threat to some extent,” Huang told Young. “This cultural difference has become an excuse to legitimize xenophobia, particularly given that China is where the pandemic started.”

Wearing masks has made Asians in overseas communities “clear targets” of amplified racism, Huang added, which often stems from a perception of Asians as being bad at integrating with the mainstream society they’ve moved to.

Health authorities in Canada have expressed worry that if they recommend masks, then the public will start ignoring other measures such as hand washing and social distancing.

“I don’t think people are as stupid at health authorities seem to assume,” said Young. “They say that masks don’t work 100 per cent of the time. Of course they don’t! Nothing does. But the absence of 100-per-cent efficacy doesn’t mean they don’t help.”

Why Young isn’t afraid to engage trolls on Twitter

Young’s reporting on the role of immigration and foreign money in Vancouver real estate has long attracted Twitter trolls and armchair analysts in denial of his research.

His COVID-19 reporting has attracted a similar new audience, from virus skeptics to those who believe this all started from bat soup in China.

“I always try to engage, unless someone is outright rude to me at the first instance,” said Young. “For a lot of trolls, they can be quite surprised when someone engages and says, ‘Hi there.’ Some of them say ‘I dare you to block me! Block me won’t you!’

“You also run the risk of silo-ing yourself if your immediate reaction is just to block. I actually don’t block that many people…. There are some terrible people out there. There are hardcore irredeemable racists, but I try to converse. I don’t mind taking the piss a bit with them too. People treat Twitter different ways. I treat it as a conversation.”

On the divides and differences between ‘Chinese Vancouver’ and the rest of Vancouver

After decades of immigration, Chinese communities in Metro Vancouver have their own social networks, information channels and particular destinations. The pandemic has highlighted this parallel “Chinese Vancouver” and how it seems to exist outside of the mainstream.

After all, Aberdeen Centre, the popular Chinese “city square,” was empty of patrons in February, while Vancouver’s mayor had to shut down bars on St. Patrick’s Day in March and instruct people to instead “drink a Guinness at home.”

I put the question of these divides and differences to Young.

“It’s definitely not an enclave. It’s bigger than [an] enclave,” said Young. “We do have quite segregated parallel cities. But there’s different kinds of Vancouver; there’s all sorts of different ethnic Vancouvers. It’s an inconvenient thing to think about, but it shapes so many people’s personal understandings of what they mean by ‘Vancouver.’

“In Hong Kong, Vancouver occupies a huge space in people’s minds. It’s a special place. You watch Asian dramas on TV that reference someone in Vancouver. You go to karaoke in Hong Kong, and there are these generic videos filmed at Stanley Park or Kits Beach associated to versions of western songs filmed. Vancouver punches so far above its weight. But these Vancouvers aren’t a Vancouver that non-Chinese Vancouverites understand.”

On being a Vancouver correspondent for a Hong Kong-based international paper

Young is originally from Australia, where he worked in newspapers before reporting for the London Evening Standard and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. He became the international editor there before arriving in Canada in 2010 and becoming the Vancouver correspondent.

“I’ve always been an outsider for various reasons throughout my career,” said Young. “If you’re an ethnic Chinese person in Australia, you’re an outsider for a start. That was the same in London. And when you go to Hong Kong, you’re an outsider for different reasons: my accent and because I don’t speak Chinese. But when I came over here to Vancouver, all that merged and I kind of ended up straddling a lot of different worlds.

“I do occupy a strange place. There’s lots of things I’ve written about that are huge surprises to people in Chinese communities when they see it in English.

“As a foreign correspondent writing for not just the Vancouver community but also people who are observing Vancouver from afar, there’s a different perspective. I think the fact that there is now a small community of foreign correspondents who are taking a foreign correspondent’s eye to Vancouver is useful, because Vancouver, like any other city, can be an insular place.

“When you’re a goldfish, you don’t know you’re living in a bowl. And when I say outsider’s perspective, I’m not just talking about me, but my editor’s perspective as well. It’s useful to understanding the city, not just for the people who are there.”  [Tyee]

Source: thetyee.ca/News/2020/05/2…

Richmond’s birth tourism hubs untouchable: MLA

Seems like more virtue signalling here rather than seriously arguing what the provincial government could do from a regulatory perspective (but non a high priority during COVID-19):

There’s not much that can be done when it comes to businesses linked to birth tourism, according to Richmond-Queensborough MLA Jas Johal – particularly if those companies have all their paperwork in place.

“The fact that they have a business licence means they’re not breaking the law,” said Johal. “I don’t think the city can do much about that. And even the provincial government couldn’t do much about that beyond discouraging this practice.”

A maternity and baby store, located at 8171 Ackroyd Road, is listed as the Canadian address for a China-based company, which is dedicated to helping pregnant women give birth overseas.

The store also operates a confinement centre, according to the website of parent company Mei Ya Jia Bao – translated by the Richmond News – established in Richmond in 2015.

That parent company, which lists its headquarters in Beijing, also operates Canada World Overseas Investment Consulting Inc., and Colombian International Travel Ltd., which provide travel and visa application services.

Incorporation certificates for all three companies, issued by the provincial government, are posted on Mei Ya Jia Bao’s website. Meanwhile, the website and service agreements are only in Chinese.

The website states the company has successfully helped more than 6,000 families in China travel to Canada to give birth, and offers service packages that include visa applications and confinement centre care.

After the families arrive in Canada, the website states they will make appointments with Chinese-Canadian doctors in Richmond.

Costs for giving birth are listed to be, at minimum, $60,000 to $70,000, and the website also states that living expenses in Canada will run into hundreds of thousands of dollars for a three month stay.

In a video posted by Mei Ja Jia Bao to Youku, a Chinese website similar to YouTube, a man introduces Richmond Hospital. The video also shows BC Womens Hospital and landmarks from around Vancouver.

Mei Ya Jia Bao is far from the only company to set up shop in Richmond – for example, Beijing-based Leading Baby states its Canadian branch is on Westminster Highway.

“My office did find advertising on websites in China promoting birth tourism in Richmond,” said Johal. “The fact that they set up businesses, an office here, is concerning enough.

“But the advertising and promotion of birth tourism is continuing here, so the federal government has to, at the end of the day, deal with this loophole.”

A video produced by Mei Ja Bao Er, another company, gives a short tour of Richmond Hospital’s maternity ward, while in a third company’s video a couple recounts their experience giving birth in Canada. Both videos, advertising to families in China, were also posted on Youku.

The fact that there are companies promoting their business on the web shows that nothing has been done to slow down, and ultimately stop, the practice, said Johal.

The loophole in the tourist visa system, he said, needs to be tackled at the federal level – and can be done via an administrative, rather than constitutional, change.

“It can be an administrative change, which basically states that if you come to this country on a tourist visa – which these people do – to have your child here, the child should not automatically be granted Canadian citizenship,” said Johal.

Once the message gets out that the practice is not accepted by the Canadian government, Johal said he guarantees it will slow down.

During the 2018-19 fiscal year, 23.1 per cent all babies born at Richmond Hospital had non-resident parents, or 458 out of a total 1,980 newborns, according to Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) data. In the 2014-15 year, babies born to non-resident parents accounted for 15.3 per cent of all babies born at the hospital.

And while the businesses, such as the one on Ackroyd Road, are legal, the provincial government could help discourage the practice by increasing the costs to have a child in B.C., said Johal.

It’s not known whether foreign nationals are giving birth at Richmond Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic or how many have given birth so far this fiscal year, as VCH doesn’t have interim data or data on homebirths outside of its acute settings, according to a spokesperson.

It’s also not known how many families may have arrived in Canada before borders around the world were closed.

For Johal, that lack of information is a “challenge,” coupled with the lack of information on how the companies operate, how many mothers they help bring to Canada at any one time, or their health and safety standards.

“The fact that we have this business, and many businesses like this set up here, and it’s just a black hole when it comes to information is concerning,” said Johal, “and even more so during this period of COVID-19.”

Source: richmond-news.com/news/richmond-…

The secret Covid-19 rate in Richmond, Canada’s most Chinese city, isn’t what racists might expect. It’s dwarfed by the rest of the nation

Worth noting with the results likely reflecting greater awareness among Chinese Canadians and their networks:

Amid a spike in anti-Asian incidents in British Columbia during the coronavirus pandemic – from slurs to the assault of a 92-year-old man – Canada’s most Chinese city is defying racist stereotypes conflating ethnicity with the illness.

In Richmond, where 54 per cent of the population claims Chinese heritage, the rate of confirmed Covid-19 cases appears to be less than one-third the rate in the rest of Canada, and only about half that in neighbouring Vancouver.

BC health officials have tried to keep secret the Covid-19 prevalence in municipalities, citing the risk of stigmatisation in hard-hit places, or a false sense of security in others.

But in a Facebook Live appearance last Thursday, Dr Mark Lysyshyn of the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) authority revealed a partial breakdown of cases, saying that about 10 per cent of the 755 cases in the VCH catchment at that time had occurred in Richmond.

“The greatest number of cases are in the Vancouver area,” said Lysyshyn, deputy chief medical health officer with VCH, responding to a question from a viewer. “About 60 per cent of our cases are there. We’ve also seen a high number of cases on the North Shore, about 30 per cent of our cases there. And then about 10 per cent of our cases in Richmond.”

Photo: SCMP Graphics
Photo: SCMP Graphics

He said a small number – about 3 per cent – were in rural locations outside the greater Vancouver area, although he did not explain this pushing the total above 100 per cent.

On a population basis, and taking that disparity into account, Lysyshyn’s assessment translates into a confirmed Covid-19 prevalence of about 37 per 100,000 people in Richmond (with a population of 198,000 according to the 2016 census).

By comparison, the city of Vancouver’s confirmed prevalence is about 70 per 100,000, while the Vancouver North Shore is by far the hardest hit area in the VCH catchment, with an estimated prevalence of 121 cases per 100,000. The North Shore, made up of three municipalities, has suffered the deadliest outbreak in BC, at the Lynn Valley Care Centre where at least 20 people died.

All of Canada, meanwhile, had a rate of 120 per 100,000, based on the 42,110 confirmed cases last Thursday. That rate has since risen to about 143, as of Wednesday.

British Columbia’s provincial health officer, Dr Bonnie Henry, has refused to give municipal figures for Covid-19 cases, instead providing breakdowns for BC’s large health regions.

The 2.5 million strong metro Vancouver area – which includes the city of Vancouver, Richmond and 21 other municipalities – is divided between two health regions, Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health. Both health regions also encompass rural communities beyond Metro Vancouver.

Vancouver Coastal Health declined to elaborate on Lysyshyn’s assessment.

“Dr Lysyshyn was providing approximate numbers during his Q&A. To date, we have only provided case numbers for VCH as a whole, or in relation to specific declared outbreaks and have not released detailed statistics on a more local level, so we’re not able to clarify any further,” said Matt Kieltyka a public affairs officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.

Henry responded to persistent calls that she release municipal data on Covid-19 cases in an April 6 statement.

“Simply put, the risk is everywhere,” she said. “It would be irresponsible to mention only a few communities and give people outside those areas a false sense that they are not susceptible or at lower risk. Every health region in British Columbia has people with Covid-19. Every community and hometown – no matter how large or small – is at risk.

“As we notify the public about Covid-19 cases, we have been careful about how much we disclose [about] the specific location of confirmed cases … there is still very much of a stigma associated with infection.”

Richmond’s medical health officer Dr Meena Dawar has similarly declined to provide case counts since March 19, when she told city officials there were only 10 confirmed cases in the city, the Richmond News reported.

There were early fears that Richmond – the most ethnically Chinese city in the world outside Asia – could have been a potential hotspot for the disease because of a large population of frequent travellers to and from China. The city is also home to Vancouver International Airport.

But Richmond residents were also early to take Covid-19 seriously and adopted social distancing measures long before being advised by authorities to do so.

By late January, many residents were wearing face masks and many of Richmond’s Chinese shopping malls and restaurants were largely deserted, which even prompted a short-lived government campaign encouraging people to return. Some Lunar New Year events were cancelled and by February 11, Richmond’s Lingyen Mountain Buddhist Temple had closed its doors, citing coronavirus concerns.

It would not be until mid-March that BC authorities ordered residents to stay at home and socially distance themselves from others.

Virologist Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Canada research chair in new and re-emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, said he “absolutely” believed the early adoption of social distancing by BC’s Chinese community could have helped suppress the disease in the province.

Such behaviour was “fantastic, it needs to be applauded and recognised”, he said.

About 27 per cent of people in the city of Vancouver have Chinese heritage, compared with about 11 per cent in BC and 4.6 per cent in all of Canada.

BC currently has 2,053 confirmed Covid-19 cases, at a rate of 44 per 100,000. That rate is far lower than the larger provinces of Ontario (117) and Quebec (315), while BC’s similar-sized neighbour Alberta has a rate of 119 per 100,000.

Vancouver police last week warned that a spate of hate crimes had been reported, including five anti-Asian incidents in March. In the only one involving violence, a 92-year-old man with dementia surnamed Kwong was thrown out of a convenience store by a much larger man shouting anti-Asian statements about Covid-19 on March 13.

“Xenophobia is on the rise and we hope that as a community we can stand together to help protect the next person this may happen to,” the Kwong family said in a statement. A suspect has been identified but no charges filed; police said they were still investigating.

Other incidents conflating Covid-19 with people of Asian appearance have involved abusive language, although the Vancouver Police Department declined to elaborate.

On Wednesday, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said that “hate of any kind has no place in our city”.

According to a survey conducted on April 24 by Corbett Communications for a group called the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, 12 per cent of respondents in Vancouver agreed (4 per cent) or said they did not know (8 per cent) when asked whether “all Chinese or Asian people carry the Covid-19 virus”.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr Theresa Tam said on Twitter on January 29 that she was “concerned about the growing number of reports of racism and stigmatising comments on social media directed to people of Chinese and Asian descent related to #2019nCOV #coronavirus.”

BC’s Bonnie Henry said on April 6 that the key to avoiding Covid-19 was not staying away from areas with high rates of infection but adopting personal practices like social distancing and good hand hygiene.

“So, while I understand the desire to know and understand what the Covid-19 situation is in your community, I need to emphasise that knowing where the positive cases are does not protect you, your family or your community,” said Henry. “The actions you take will do that.”

And the National Post analysis where travel-related COVID-19 cases came from: Canada’s early COVID-19 cases came from the U.S. not China

IRCC Minister commends Richmond council for tackling birth tourism

No signalling of change or new studies or initiatives as expected (need to await the results of the IRCC, CIHI, StatsCan analysis of those non-resident self-pay on visitor visas compared to other temporary residents):

Marco Mendicino, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, told the Richmond News the federal government wants to “weed out” abuses of the immigration system, but he added the principle of “jus soli” – birthright citizenship – has served Canada well.

Birthright citizenship has been in existence in Canada since 1947 and it is also a common practise in other countries, like the U.S. and some Commonwealth countries, Mendicino pointed out.

“There are families who do come to Canada and do avail themselves of this principle and they’re able to bestow upon their children Canadian citizenship as a result of this principle – along with that a number of rights and privileges,” he said, adding “it’s a principle that has absolutely served the country well.”

But Richmond has become known as the “epicentre” of birth tourism, attracting people who come to give birth here in order to secure Canadian citizenship for their baby. In the past year, 23 per cent of babies born at Richmond Hospital were born to non-residents.

Several businesses advertise – exclusively in the Chinese language – for birth tourism services, saying they will provide accommodations for pregnant women and help with after-care and paperwork.

Richmond council passed a motion on Monday to push the minister to end automatic citizenship for babies born to non-residents.

Mendicino said he “commends” the mayor and council of Richmond for having a discussion about the birth tourism and he will reflect on the motion that was passed. The issue needs to be monitored and tracked “very closely,” he said.

“I think we should express some gratitude to the City of Richmond and the council for examining the issue and advocating what the issues are within the context of the concern,” he said. “It’s more about determining and finding where the abuses are within the system rather than getting rid of the principle.”

Mendicino said the federal government is taking “concrete steps” to strengthen the oversight of immigration consultants “to really hold accountable any individuals who are trying to backdoor or take advantage of the system.”

He added the federal government wants to work with provincial partners and municipalities like Richmond to “weed out any abuse of our immigration system.”

There was a level of frustration at Richmond council on Monday – directed somewhat at Vancouver Coastal Health, the provincial government and the federal government – as councillors debated the merits and wording of a letter to push the federal minister of immigration to tackle birth tourism.

Voting against the motion were Couns. Alexa Loo, Kelly Greene and Michael Wolfe.

While Greene said she’s 100 per cent against birth tourism, she felt the motion was worded so that it could cause “disproportionate harm” to “vulnerable people such as refugees and stateless people.”

She said the harm would be exclusively to people of colour and she didn’t want to see at-risk people further marginalized.

“The motion should be to stop birth tourism,” Greene said. “It’s not – it asks to stop birthright citizenship for a broad swath of people.”

Coun. Bill McNulty said he sees birth tourism in his neighbourhood and called on senior governments to take action.

“I think this is an issue that really has put us in a vulnerable position – the two levels of government are totally out of touch with what’s happening in the communities,” McNulty said.

He also suggested the city needs to push Vancouver Coastal Health into action, considering 66 per cent of non-resident births in B.C. take place at Richmond Hospital.

Au echoed the sentiment that VCH should look into the issue, saying the health authority is “not willing to touch this.”

However, VCH spokesperson Catherine Loiacono pointed out this is a federal issue and health care professionals have a duty to provide care to anyone who needs it.
“Care is always triaged according to the safety of the mother and baby – mothers needing immediate care are seen first,” she added.

Nursing baseline staffing is based on patient volumes – not on census data. A staffing review in 2019 found that Richmond Hospital is staffed “appropriately” for patient safety and quality care, Loiacono said. Because the nature of giving birth is unpredictable, if there are increased numbers of patients, more resources are brought in, she added.

Source: Minister commends Richmond council for tackling birth tourism

Richmond council asks feds to ban birth tourism

More from the epicentre. Good that they are also looking at possible local approaches:

Richmond city council wants the new federal minister of immigration to tackle the problem of birth tourism.

A motion by Coun. Carol Day to write to Marco Mendicino, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, urging him to end birthright citizenship for non-Canadians was supported by almost all of council at Monday’s committee meeting.

In the meantime, city staff are fining birth tourism operators on any illegal activity they may be running – but because there is no business license for birth tourism, they can’t be shut down for advertising birth tourism services, explained Cecelia Achiam, general manager of community safety.

“We do not regulate something that we could not approve, so birth tourism is not something that we could regulate at this point,” Achiam said.

This was challenged by the mayor, Malcolm Brodie, however, at the meeting, and he asked staff to find out whether it is possible to shut them down based on the fact they are an illegal business.

“If they’re doing something that’s unlicensed and not allowed, you’re telling me you can’t do anything about it – surely it’s operating a business without a license,” Brodie said.

Currently, staff will fine any activity advertised by birth tourism services if they don’t have a license, explained Achiam, for example, if they advertise tutoring services, the city can fine them if they don’t have a business license for tutoring – or if they advertise food services and airport pickup/dropoff services without the correct licenses.

The motion passed by council was to write to the new minister to ask for “immediate permanent changes” to end automatic citizenship for babies born in Canada to non-resident, non-Canadian parents.

Greene pointed out that staffing at Richmond Hospital is based on census data, but this would not take into account the quarter of the total number of births that are to non-residents.

“We’re definitely seeing service impacts – I’ve personally been impacted,” Greene said.

Of the countries that have birthright citizenship, North America is a desirable destination, she said, but this is something the “ultra-rich” only can do.

“It feels really unfair and it doesn’t feel right to shop for your citizenship,” Greene said.

Greene also criticized MLA Jas Johal for praising the U.S. government move to ban pregnant women from getting tourist visas, something Greene called “policing women” by profiling them if they’re pregnant when applying for a tourist visa.

The U.S. State Department put in rules more than a week ago that banned women who were pregnant fromgetting tourist visas to the U.S.

Greene called this a “horrifying violation of human rights.”

She said she wants the letter to reflect that Richmond wants to end a practise where “people essentially buy their citizenship so that we’re never ever in a situation where we’re policing women’s bodies.”

Greene also called for an amendment that talked about changes not affecting vulnerable and stateless people but this didn’t pass.

Coun. Bill McNulty said the accommodation rules need to be revisited, because birth tourist stays don’t fall under short-term rentals, rather the provincially regulated long-term rentals.

“I think there are many loopholes to be closed and I think the city can close some of them within our community,” he said.

This was reiterated by Coun. Harold Steves who suggested long-term rentals for birth tourism are actually turning homes into hotels.

McNulty also suggested sending the letter to all MPs in Canada since it’s a federal issue.

“If you want something to be done at the federal level … I think we have to let everybody know,” he said.

Greene was the only councillor who voted against the motion.

Mendicino did not return repeated requests from the Richmond News for an interview.

Richmond councillor urges action on birth tourism

Might be more productive for municipal councillors to have staff review possible zoning and other local regulatory options to help reduce the practice and the supporting “cottage industry” of consultants and residences than “virtue signalling” for a federal government policy change:

Birth tourism will be on the agenda for Richmond city council again.

Coun. Carol Day has brought forward a motion for the next general purposes committee meeting (Feb. 3) asking council to write to the new federal minister of immigration, Marco Mendicino, to urge changes to immigration laws in order to stop birth tourism.

About a quarter of the women giving birth at Richmond Hospital are non-residents, and in the last fiscal year, this translated to 458 babies being eligible for Canadian citizenship even though their parents weren’t Canadian.

Day’s motion suggests writing to the federal government to ask for permanent changes to Canadian immigration laws to end automatic citizenship for babies born to non-residents.

On Friday, the U.S. State Department implemented a new rule banning tourists if their intention is to give birth in the U.S. The new regulation allows consular officials to deny visas to pregnant women whose primary purpose is to give birth in the U.S. to obtain citizenship for their baby.

Ads are prolific on the Internet for birth tourism services in Richmond, and they are all in Chinese. However, anyone coming from China to Canada as a tourist must obtain a tourist visa before arriving.

Richmond Hospital set to deliver over 500 possible ‘anchor babies’ in one year

From the epicentre of birth tourism, a good profile on Richmond and the associated issues:

Births to non-resident foreigners at Richmond Hospital and Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital have risen significantly in 2019, according to the latest interim data released by the facilities’ respective health authorities.

Both hospitals are on pace to well exceed their prior annual records of non-resident foreigners who, based on available data, are likely to be nearly all Chinese nationals engaged in a birth tourism arrangement – although it is not known explicitly.

Since 2011, in Richmond, non-resident births have risen from a few dozen per year to the point where local residents and hospital staff are voicing concerns about healthcare delivery and immigration fairness.

Over the past five years, just over 2,000 so-called “passport babies” may have been delivered in Richmond from non-resident, non-Canadian parents.

Various services are provided to prospective parents via transnational maternity businesses utilizing local rental homes as so-called “baby houses” in Richmond.

The B.C. Ministry of Health claims it is now inspecting these houses and scrutinizing diversion rates from Richmond’s busy maternity ward.

Canada is one of two Western countries, along with the United States, to offer birthright citizenship – a concept also known as jus soli – meaning babies born to two foreign nationals on tourist visas are granted automatic citizenship.

It remains unclear exactly what the federal government is doing to enact policies to curb the growing industry. To date, no enforcement measures have been announced, unlike in the U.S.

Richmond Hospital is now on pace – for the year ending April 1 – to deliver 549 newborns to non-resident parents.

From April 2019, the start of the hospital’s fiscal year, to late August 2019, Richmond Hospital delivered 221 babies from non-resident patients not enrolled in the provincial healthcare system, according to Vancouver Coastal Health. The annual average over the previous five years is 390 babies from non-residents, or 18.6% of all births.

The interim 2019 numbers show a total of 863 newborns delivered in Richmond, meaning 25.6% of births at the hospital were to non-residents. Last year (2018-19), the percentage of newborns from non-residents was a record 23.1%.

Meanwhile, St.Paul’s Hospital – B.C.’s second most popular hospital for non-residents giving birth – is on pace to deliver 177 babies from foreigners, according to Providence Health Care data from April 2019 to August 2019. That would break a record of 139 new Canadians from foreign parents set the previous year.

Nationality isn’t routinely tracked but a tabulation by Richmond Hospital officials in 2016 showed Chinese nationals accounting for 98% of non-resident births. According to some birth house operators, Richmond is a popular location for Chinese nationals due to the city’s multilingual services and proximity to China as a Western country that allows such automatic citizenship.

Former Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido decried birth tourism as “an abusive and exploitative practice” in a July 2018 petition to Parliament. Peschisolido promised action from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; however, its minister has made no announcements on policy reform. The ministry is now studying the matter.

Prior to the Liberal petition, Conservative MP for Richmond Centre Alice Wong asked for stronger action in 2016 via her own petition to end birthright citizenship.

The Conservatives still have ending jus soli in their official policy book (adopted in 2018); however, the party remained silent on the matter during the 2019 federal election. Wong and newly elected Conservative MP for Steveston-Richmond East Kenny Chiu (Peschisolido’s replacement) stated before the election that they oppose birth tourism but support birthright citizenship. Last week, when asked to clarify his position, Chiu said his pre-election response for a debate questionnaire should have been qualified. He said those on tourist visas should not have their babies granted citizenship and the government must tread carefully to ensure people in transition to residency are not labelled as birth tourists. He acknowledges concerns over establishing a bureaucratic process, but he says many Western nations, such as Australia, have made the transition in the past.

Among respondents to a March 2019 Angus Reid poll, 64% believe children born to parents who are here on tourist visas should not be granted Canadian citizenship and 24% said they should.

Ending birthright citizenship outright in the U.S. would be more difficult as it is enshrined in the Constitution. In the 1990s, it had bipartisan support but that has waned. U.S. President Donald Trump has voiced his opposition to the practice but has only chosen stricter enforcement measures to date.

The Trump administration cracked down on baby houses in Southern California as recently as January 2019 when authorities arrested 19 people with crimes such as immigration fraud, money laundering and identity theft. The charges stemmed from evidence baby house operators helped Chinese tourists lie to border agents.

As of last month, the State Department plans to amend its regulation on temporary visitors in the “B non-immigrant visa classification” to provide that a temporary visit “does not include birth tourism.”

This will allow U.S. border agents to deny entrants if a birth tourism arrangement is suspected. In Canada, a border agent has no such powers, particularly if the person entering is honest about the arrangement and can prove sufficient funds during their stay, according to Canada Border Services Agency.

Critics – such as Megan Gaucher, professor in the Department of Law and Legal Studies at Carleton University, and Lindsay Larios, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Concordia University studying reproductive justice – have recently likened birth tourism media reports as “dangerous discourse” that may be predicated on longstanding racist and sexist immigration legacies that “perpetuate the criminalization and surveillance of racialized pregnant non-resident women.”

They say the non-resident birth data is unclear as it doesn’t discern between a wealthy birth tourist and a vulnerable temporary resident whose motives may not be so explicit.

Indeed, while national numbers on non-resident births are on the rise, it is not known explicitly how many are due to birth tourism, since motives are not known.

Discharge data obtained from the Canadian Institute for Health Information by researcher Andrew Griffiths shows uninsured, self-paying non-residents accounted for 4,099 births in Canada in 2018, whereas they only accounted for 1,354 in 2010. Ontario accounted for 2,917 such births in 2018 whereas B.C. accounted for 712.

Other than Ontario’s large population, the high number of such births there could be because a non-insured, non-resident could be a temporary foreign worker before being enrolled in public healthcare or an international student. But in B.C., international students are included in the Medical Services Plan, unlike in Ontario, meaning non-resident birth stats in B.C. are likely more reflective of explicit instances of birth tourism than in Ontario.

B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix says he’s been asked a number of times what he is doing about the increased number of foreigners into maternity wards in Metro Vancouver.

Dix says he’s opposed to the practice but is mindful the numbers remain relatively small about 2% of all births in the province are to non-residents.

“Primarily, the birth tourism question is an immigration question,” Dix said.

“People get frustrated when I say that.”

He said his role as health minister is to ensure healthcare is delivered properly.

The Ministry of Health told Glacier Media, that it has investigated baby houses in Richmond, only to find no violations.

“Vancouver Coastal Health Authority inspectors have inspected presumed birth houses and found that there was no licensable care being provided, as defined under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act,” said ministry spokesperson Jean-Marc Prevost.

Dix said, “On the birth house question, if they were providing healthcare services there and not just accommodation services … they need to comply with the Community Care and Assisted Living Act – but they’re basically not” providing such services, asserted Dix.

Another concern raised by healthcare workers, such as nurses in the maternity ward, is the non-payment by non-residents.

The health authority says recovery rates are getting better now at 92% of $5.4 million collected in the 2018-19 fiscal year at Richmond Hospital, for instance.

Richmond-Queensborough MLA Jas Johal has suggested the health authority charge a prohibitive fee for non-resident births; however, according to Prevost, this would be contrary to Section 10 of the Hospital Insurance Act, which “only allows health authorities to recover the costs of providing non-beneficiaries medical services; it provides no mechanism for charging for profit.”

That said, while fees are set on a direct cost-recovery basis, according to a ministry spokesperson in March 2018, such fees do not account for things such as the capital costs to build new hospitals (Richmond needs a new acute care tower) or the countless hours public officials and communities have put in over the decades to build a safe and regulated healthcare system.

As it stands, Vancouver Coastal Health charges $8,200 for a normal vaginal delivery and $13,300 for a C-section surgical delivery to uninsured patients.

Dix said charging above cost recovery, if it were permitted by law, would have unintended consequences, such as overcharging a person awaiting residency status and healthcare coverage or a non-resident Canadian citizen (which is rare since only one or two Canadians pay to give birth in Richmond as non-residents each year, on average).

“What you want to do is charge the cost of the care across the board and ensure that you collect the cost of care,” Dix said. “If you impose special taxes and fees, that has implications for the whole healthcare system.”

The minister also voiced concern about calls by some, such as Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, to license and regulate the industry.

“The problem you have if you want to regulate that sector is effectively you’re officialising the role of these places, which we absolutely are not going to do – I am against this, birth tourism, and we’re dealing with it because we have to and we’re an open society and people come here – but if we want to deal with these questions you have to deal with it at the federal level.”

Nurses in Richmond have told Glacier Media, and more recently the CBC’s Fifth Estate, that non-resident patients are receiving better care. One stated to CBC this month that scheduled C-sections for non-residents are never re-scheduled, whereas local residents’ are.

Dix dismissed the allegations as well as concerns over diversions due to an overbooked maternity ward in Richmond.

“On diversion, in general this is not a significant issue” in Richmond, he said. “The biggest diversion issues I’m dealing with are in Fort Nelson or in First Nations communities.”

Vancouver Coastal Health says between April 2018 and September 2019 there were 16 diversions from Richmond Hospital and 15 diversions to it. In 2019, the authority conducted a staffing review that found the Richmond Hospital maternity ward is “staffed appropriately,” said Prevost. “They have had no capacity issues for labour or delivery in recent years.”

The health authority, via freedom of information requests, disclosed that in a six-month period in 2019, hospitals received $514,476 in cash from $3.25 million worth of maternity related charges. The health authority has been asked whether it reports to FINTRAC when receiving sums of cash over $10,000. Glacier Media has not received a response.

Source: https://www.vancourier.com/richmond-hospital-set-to-deliver-over-500-possible-anchor-babies-in-one-year-1.24058984 

Combat birth tourism by changing immigration law, B.C. mayor says

From twitter commentary, seems like he is a bit late to the discussion. But nothing is more frustrating to the public when each level of government points to the other rather than working more closely to assess and discuss the options (which of course, include doing nothing given the small provincial and national numbers):

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie is calling on Ottawa to change immigration law to stop pregnant women travelling to Canada and giving birth to babies who are automatically granted citizenship.

The law says anyone born in Canada is automatically a Canadian citizen. According to the latest statistics, nearly 5,000 babies were born to non-residents in 2018-19.

A recent story by The Fifth Estate revealed that non-residents make up nearly a quarter of all births at the Richmond Hospital, which has led to complaints that birth tourists are compromising care for locals and putting strain on staff.

“People are abusing the system and we will pay a price right now with our medical system, but we’ll pay a bigger price in the long term with a number of people coming here who haven’t gone through any qualifications or procedures and they just come to our shores and will live in Canada,” said Brodie on The Early Edition on Tuesday.Brodie suggests changing federal law so that least one parent must be a Canadian citizen in order for a child to also become a citizen.

City ‘helpless’ to stop birth tourism: mayor

According to Brodie, the city has limited power to do anything about the issue because the medical system is the province’s jurisdiction and the federal government is in charge of the immigration system, which he said is the root of the problem.

All the city can do, said Brodie, is enforce short-term rental bylaws at so-called “birth houses,” where many of the women are known to stay, but often the women stay longer than a month and the city can only regulate rentals of 30 days or less.

“We are really helpless to do a lot about it. We can check a business licence if there is a business being run out of a home, but that’s about all,” said the mayor.

No federal action

He said Richmond has seen people abusing the system for years and, despite local members of Parliament raising the issue in Ottawa, there has been no federal response.

‘This is a law and this law can be changed and I don’t have any idea why they haven’t done it,” said Brodie. “The optimist in me says they simply haven’t gotten around to it.”The Early Edition requested an interview with Marco Mendicino, the newly appointed federal minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, but the minister was unavailable.

Source: Combat birth tourism by changing immigration law, B.C. mayor says

‘Birth tourism’ could become election issue in B.C. riding considered ‘ground zero’

Not seeing much resonance outside of Richmond and it does not appear that the CPC is wedded to its policy resolution given their immigration critic Michelle Rempel’s comments (Michelle Rempel Garner on Twitter: “3/ I would hope that all …https://twitter.com › michellerempel › status):

On the streets of Richmond, an immigration topic on people’s lips for years has been “birth tourism.”

The practice — where pregnant women travel to a foreign country to give birth, thereby guaranteeing their baby automatic citizenship — has been rising steadily in the city, whose hospital is considered “ground zero.”

Under Canadian immigration law, birthright citizenship is law. But some in the city say people are increasingly taking advantage.

One woman, Kerry Starchuk, has made it her mission to bring an end to birth tourism. She has submitted two online petitions to the federal government since 2016, arguing more needs to be done to clamp down on the practice.

“It is undermining our citizenship,” she said. “Everyone comes through the front door and they work very hard to come here. This is undermining the system.

“People are lying to border guards and not saying why they’re coming here, and coming to stay at places that are unregulated. If we want a healthy community, everyone needs to contribute to being on board.”

Starchuk says several homes in Richmond are being advertised on Chinese websites and Instagram accounts as so-called “baby houses,” where families can rent rooms in advance of their hospital visit.

“We have given the wrong messages by not addressing the issue, so now there are even more operators bringing birth tourism into Richmond,” she said.

Starchuk’s first petition was sponsored by Alice Wong, the longtime Conservative MP for Richmond Centre, and gained more than 8,800 signatures — 5,100 of which came from B.C.

A second petition in 2018 was signed over 10,800 times, again with a majority coming from B.C.

That petition’s sponsor was Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido, whose riding of Steveston-Richmond East sits just east of Richmond Hospital and contains several neighbourhoods where “baby houses” have popped up.

“Birth tourism undermines both the integrity of our immigration system, as well as the integrity of our health care system,” he said. “It’s a business, but it’s an illegitimate business.

“What you have are unscrupulous businesspeople who are making money off our generosity … and that has to stop.”

The petition called on Ottawa to not only declare it doesn’t support birth tourism and study its full extent and effects, but also move towards policies that would dismantle businesses that promote the practice.

Peschisolido says the government in the process of adopting all three of those requests, but admits it’s taking time.

“We have to quantify it and come up with numbers to see what it is, what’s occurring, what kind of problems are involved,” he said. “Then we have to come up with a plan to shut down the industry, and that’s what we’re in the process of doing.”

Numbers increasing

While Statistics Canada data has reported relatively small numbers of births by nonresidents based on birth registrations — just 313 across Canada in 2016 — new studies have shown birth tourism could be much more widespread.

A 2018 Policy Options study that looked at the number of births through hospital discharge data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) found 3,223 cases that same year, more than five times the number from Statistics Canada.

Andrew Griffith, a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute who was behind the report, says that number has only continued to increase, to 3,628 in 2017 and 4,100 in the last fiscal year, which ended in March.

“That represents a 13 per cent increase year over year, which is quite significant,” he said, while noting the number still represents less than two per cent of all births in Canada.

Griffith acknowledged the data includes all births to nonresidents, including those temporarily living in Canada on student visas, and it’s difficult to tell in each case whether birthright citizenship was a motivating factor.

The CIHI information shows while B.C. may actually lag behind Ontario in the number of births to nonresidents — 689 in 2017, compared to more than 2,000 in Ontario — Richmond Hospital continues to outpace all other hospitals in the country.

In 2017-18, the B.C. hospital saw 469 births to nonresident mothers, accounting for more than 21 per cent of all births there. The next closest figure comes from Scarborough and Rouge Hospital in Ontario, with 163 nonresident births, representing 9.5 per cent of total births at the hospital.

Griffith’s report recommended financial action against nonresidents attempting birth tourism to discourage it, such as hospitals requesting substantial deposits from nonresidents.

Peschisolido says all options are being considered, but pointed to a $52-million government investment meant to help RCMP crack down on “baby houses” as a “good first step.”

Campaign issue

An Ipsos poll conducted in January for Global News found more than half of Canadians surveyed either tend to agree or strongly agree that Canada is too welcoming to immigrants.

In March, an Angus Reid Institute poll suggested 64 per cent of Canadians disagree with the country’s birthright citizenship laws, with 60 per cent calling for stricter laws against birth tourism.

But responses to Starchuk’s two petitions have suggested Ottawa has no plans to get rid of the law, despite admitting birth tourism is a problem that needs addressing.

“While there may be instances of expectant mothers who are foreign nationals who travel to Canada to give birth, requiring that a parent be a citizen or permanent resident in order for their child to acquire citizenship through birth in Canada would represent a significant change to how Canadian citizenship is acquired,” then-immigration minister John McCallum said in response to the 2016 petition, which was ultimately rejected.

Current Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen made similar points in response to the 2018 petition, but pledged to study the issue more closely.

Peschisolido, who was first elected to the new Steveston-Richmond East riding in 2015, says he plans to make the issue a key promise in his re-election bid.

“If I’m blessed and fortunate enough to be re-elected … I’m going to be pushing very hard to not only undermine birth tourism, but ultimately stop it and eliminate it,” he said.

Conservative candidate Kenny Chiu and Green candidate Nicole Iaci did not make themselves available for interviews.

At their most recent convention, Conservative Party members vowed to bring an end to birth tourism.

In a statement, NDP candidate Jaeden Dela Torre said the problem is concerning as it related to the health care system, but said any policies that crack down on birth tourism must come with careful considerations.

“We must not use this issue as a way to divide Canadians and fan the flames of racism and xenophobia,” she said.

“We’re reviewing all facts to come up with a fair and compassionate solution that protects health care services for all Canadians.”

Starchuk says she’s been in touch with many of the candidates, but has yet to see the action that Peschisolido has promised.

“I don’t trust anyone right now, because nothing has been resolved,” she said. “It’s a growing issue, but I haven’t seen anyone do anything.”

Source: major issue in the lead up to the Canadian elections

In search of ‘cultural harmony’ in Richmond, B.C. — North America’s most Asian city

Interesting long read regarding some of the tensions (the Mayor was just re-elected):

Mayor Malcolm Brodie likes to boast that his city — home to Canada’s largest immigrant population — is a “model for cultural diversity and harmony.”

At the annual Richmond World Festival this summer, there seemed to be ample evidence to support the claim: colourful Bhangra dancers charmed the crowds as onlookers sampled Syrian sweets, Indigenous bannock burgers and Brazilian cheese rolls. The music ranged from Celtic folk-rock to Cantonese opera.

But behind the veneer, this Vancouver suburb of 200,000 is locked in a perpetual state of intercultural disharmony, some say. Among the flashpoints: What to do about businesses that advertise mostly, or — in exceptional cases — entirely in Chinese characters? How to clamp down on a thriving underground ride-hailing industry that caters only to Chinese speakers? And how to respond to birth tourists — non-resident expectant mothers who come here to secure Canadian citizenship for their babies?

The tension has been manifest in the municipal election campaign that concludes Saturday, with accusations that certain activist groups are lobbying residents to vote only for Chinese candidates. And it can be seen in the dozens of vitriolic emails received by the city clerk’s office over the past year, some decrying the “invasion” of the city by Asians.

One racially charged letter was so hateful the city’s intercultural advisory committee questioned whether the clerk’s office’s practice of not responding “may be seen as legitimizing these perspectives,” committee minutes show.

In an effort to bring the community together, Richmond is developing a strategy for what it calls “cultural harmony.” It’s a still-vague concept that seems to aspire to the elusive sweet spot between cultural accommodation and American-style assimilation.

But there isn’t a lot of consensus about how to get there, and whoever voters elect to city council Saturday will be pressed to figure it out. Ideas so far include everything from throwing more neighbourhood block parties and intercultural festivals to giving more money to immigrant settlement agencies to providing more diversity training at city hall. Some incumbent city councillors have been accused of not helping matters by fomenting an us-versus-them mentality.

What is clear is that as Canada’s visible minority population grows, handwringing over what municipalities can do to ensure residents of all backgrounds not only get along but engage meaningfully with one another, will only intensify.

“This is a challenge for our communities,” said Andy Yan, director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University. “Are they going to dissolve into tribal villages or are they going to unite into a transcultural metropolis?”

***

Though Chinese, Japanese and South Asian settlers have been part of this community’s storied agricultural, fishing and canning past since the mid-1800s, its reputation as a “gateway” to the Asia-Pacific really began to take off in the 1990s when the British handover of Hong Kong to China fuelled a surge in migration.

While Vancouver and several surrounding suburbs have achieved “majority minority” status, nowhere has the demographic shift been more pronounced than here.  According to an analysis by Yan, Richmond has the distinction of being the “most Asian” city in North America; 71 per cent of the population is of Asian descent. Census figures show Richmond also boasts the highest proportion of immigrants in Canada — at 60 per cent. The largest minority group — at 53 per cent — is Chinese, also the highest in Canada, followed by South Asian and Filipino.

Richmond’s city centre now teems with Asian-themed shopping centres, strip malls and karaoke bars and some 400 Asian eateries catering to every palate.

But Asian-American scholar Wei Li, who teaches at Arizona State University, says we should resist the temptation to think of Richmond as a “suburban Chinatown.”

Unlike ghettos or enclaves of the past, which were the result of forced segregation and in which Chinese wielded little economic power, today’s “ethnoburbs,” Li writes, are linked to the globalization of capital and set up voluntarily to maximize personal and social networks, as well as business connections.

And like ethnoburbs outside Los Angeles and Toronto, Richmond has seen its share of clashes between long-term and newer residents.

Last September, amid persistent complaints about Chinese-language business signs, city council put into writing a policy of encouraging businesses to have at least 50 per cent English on signs.

That didn’t satisfy residents who favoured a stricter approach.

“My wife and I understand that the world is changing. However, when our ancestors came over and took on Canadian citizenship, they took on the customs, languages and day-to-day Canadian practices,” one person wrote to Brodie. “We are losing what Canada was — and longstanding mayors such as yourself are letting it happen.”

Another person, who identified himself as a 50-year resident, wrote: “The last time I looked, Richmond is in Canada, not China. Why do you not stand up for the rights of the White minority.”

The language debate isn’t limited to signs. This week the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal had been set to hear the case of a Richmond townhouse complex strata council (condo board) that started to carry out its official business exclusively in Mandarin. But the parties reached a last-minute confidential settlement.

The man behind the complaint, Andreas Kargut, who has since moved out of the city, had written on a GoFundMe page that the council “destroyed our ability to live together respectfully in a multicultural environment.”

Ray Arnold, who attended high school in Richmond in the 1950s and came back in the mid-1990s to retire, compares the state of community relations to tiles in a mosaic: combined, they create a nice picture, but individually they merely co-exist.

“They don’t meld together,” says Arnold, whose name appears often in the letters section of the local paper. “One of the things about multiculturalism … is it gives people who are not particularly eager to assimilate to a new culture too many excuses not to do that.”

Arnold’s biggest beef is the rise in “affluent ghost towns” — offshore investors building “pseudo-mansions” and leaving them deserted much of the year.

“When you have a community that is unoccupied or mostly deserted, it no longer qualifies as what we traditionally have called a neighbourhood.”

***

Some of Richmond’s longtime Chinese-Canadian residents don’t disagree.

Hong Kong native Amelia Ho, owner of the busy Bridgeport Sports Club tennis table centre and a Richmond resident for nearly four decades, says she sees too many newcomers who constantly fly in and out of Canada  and who don’t really engage with the rest of the community.

“If you want to be a citizen you should have loyalty to your country,” she said.

Henry Beh, a retired accountant who recently stepped down as executive director of the Richmond Chinese Community Society, moved to the city from Malaysia in the mid-1970s. In his opinion, recent immigrants, who hail mostly from mainland China, have been slower to integrate than previous generations from Hong Kong or Taiwan.

Because many stores and banks are staffed by Mandarin speakers, a lot of newcomers don’t think they need to learn English, he says. “I think they should learn to speak. … You won’t get the local people here upset.”

Some of Richmond’s newer immigrants told the National Post they just need time.

Sitting in a boardroom at Richmond Multicultural Community Services, an immigrant settlement agency, Jennie Chen, who moved to Richmond from Wuhan two years ago, says new residents “want to integrate, become a part of Canada” but just don’t know how.

“I think the government should provide more information,” she said.

Flora Jiao, who came to Richmond from Beijing a decade ago, acknowledges the city is “very convenient for those who don’t speak English fluently.” Speaking in Mandarin, Jiao told the Post she was surprised when the local hospital provided a translator during a check-up.

That’s not to say she isn’t trying. “I have recently been reading stories and some simple newspaper articles,” she said.

Jiao added she would like to see more cultural exchanges and “more people — people from here — learning Chinese too.”

When it comes to the sign debate, Jessie Wang, manager of Venus Furniture — a high-end retail store whose windows are covered with posters describing, in Chinese characters, brands and deals inside — takes a pragmatic view. The decision to advertise primarily in Chinese is to give customers — especially those with limited English — a sense of familiarity.

“When they feel familiar, they come to your store. It’s that simple,” she said in Mandarin.

Justin Tse, a long-time Richmond resident and researcher specializing in Asian-American studies, wonders if outrage over Chinese-language signs isn’t just a “manufactured crisis” that stems from frustration over the lack of affordable housing.

“As an observer it seems to me the real flashpoint is the housing crisis and that the real scapegoats are ‘Chinese money,’” he says, referring to the purported link between the flood of capital from China and skyrocketing house prices.

***

Whatever the reason, some city councillors have been candid about the state of intercultural relations.

At a January council meeting, Councillor Chak Au said immigrants need to know what’s expected of them, “how do we expect them to integrate … and do their part, such as acquiring the language, knowing the culture and become part of us.”

Asked what he meant by “us,” Au told the Post someone who has put down roots in the community, as opposed to someone who is always “looking back, as if (they) have another alternative.”

Councillor Carol Day told the same meeting too many newcomers were “imposing self-segregation.”

Asked what proof she had, Day told the Post she could tell by the people who “hold their head down and only perk up when they see someone from their own ethnic background.”

“We want to open the door to possibilities. Yes, you can just play table tennis with only Chinese people or you can come to the seniors’ centre to learn wood-carving, come to a social media class and learn to do videos.”

But there are fears some of the rhetoric could be sowing greater discord.

“Dark undertones” are pervading discourse at city hall, said Councillor Derek Dang. He pointed to a meeting of the city’s community safety committee during which Day wondered whether a spike in property crimes in a neighbourhood might be because wealthy Chinese residents with expensive cars were attracting thieves.

“I think it’s blatantly identifying one group as a cause for concern when really the whole issue isn’t that simple. … She’s ignoring all the people who have contributed to this community and brushing over everybody with one thoughtless comment,” Dang said.

Day insists she saw nothing wrong with the question and was simply expressing concern for residents in that area. Enough with the political correctness, she said.

Councillor Harold Steves was also scolded earlier this year for something he tweeted during debates over whether to build a temporary modular housing project for homeless people and whether to limit the size of homes that can be built on agricultural land.

“500 Asian people go to a Public Information meeting. The librarian gets Karate Kicked by an opponent to housing for homeless people. South Asian landowners are campaigning for 10,764 sq ft houses … Is this multiculturalism?” he wrote.

Records showed the person who kicked the librarian was not part of the meeting. Steves initially stood by his remarks, telling the Richmond News he was merely pointing out that “we have certain culture groups with different beliefs than others.”

He later apologized.

That heated rhetoric is of a piece with what motivated Kerry Starchuk’s decision to run for a council seat. She is one of the loudest agitators on the issue of Chinese-language signs and is behind a petition to end birth tourism, saying it has “debased the value of Canadian citizenship.”

In an interview, Starchuk recounted how her activism started years ago.

“I went to the Sears shoe department. A whole bunch of people were speaking Mandarin, I guess, they were just yelling. I asked them to speak quietly and if they could speak English. They got mad at me.”

What gets her now, she said, are “the noveau-riche that have come with a ton of money.”

“When I was growing up, all the corner stores were run by the Chinese families. They were humble, grateful, nice. My best friend is fourth-generation Chinese. I couldn’t ask for a nicer friend. … But the ones that have come from mainland China have been very difficult to carry on conversations with them from a neighbourly point of view. It’s been very hard. I’ve tried. I’ve brought flowers, cookies.”

Speaking to a women’s church group recently on the theme of “loss of community,” Starchuk said she is sometimes accused of being racist but insisted she is not anti-immigrant.

“I love Richmond, but I don’t like what’s happened to Richmond,” she said.

It’s not just white residents who have been accused of stirring up division. In June, the Richmond News reported that mayoral candidate and lawyer Hong Guo held a campaign launch that was entirely in Mandarin and outside the view of mainstream media.

A narrated video shown at the event stated that the voice of Chinese residents had been “ignored” and their rights “obliterated,” the newspaper reported.

“Only Chinese people can understand what Chinese people want. …Today, Richmond politics has finally heard a Chinese voice, Hong Guo.”

An editorial in the Richmond News said Guo had engaged in dangerous race-based politics.

In an email, Guo told the Post that like many residents, she is a native Chinese speaker, and she has to “choose the best means of communicating my message to as many voters as possible.” Guo, whose campaign literature calls for an end to the “politics of division,” noted many of her campaign videos are delivered in English.

The argument the Chinese community’s voice has been ignored isn’t without merit, says Ivan Pak, who is running for school trustee. Earlier this year, he was part of a vocal group opposed to the temporary modular housing project, which was ultimately approved by council.

“People from China or Hong Kong, they have less sympathies for people who become homeless and addicted to drugs,” Pak said. “In the Chinese culture, we think this is your personal responsibility to take care of yourself, to be less burden to society.”

Pak says parents were also not adequately consulted when the Richmond school board voted to support a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity program aimed at bullying prevention.

Of most Chinese parents, he says: “They want traditional values.”

***

City staff face a daunting challenge to find a path to “cultural harmony.”

A report setting out the strategy’s guiding principles contains a lot of feel-good phrases like “intercultural interaction,” “cultural inclusion” and “community engagement,” but details are scant.

The Post filed an FOI request for some of the initial findings, but they were withheld entirely.

Internal emails and interviews suggest the city’s goal is two-fold: enhance the way the city welcomes new immigrants and their perspectives, while also educating new immigrants about their community and integrating them to civic life.

“Definitely we’re not looking at assimilation as a goal, but I do think inclusiveness is a two-way street,” Ted Townsend, the city’s spokesman, said. “One way is making sure people don’t feel isolated in their community but also making sure that people are part of the community and not isolating themselves.”

Brodie, the mayor, whose campaign ads in the ethnic press adopt the first part of a Chinese folk saying (“A long road tests the strength of a horse; a long time tests the nature of a person’s heart”), stressed the city is not looking to force immigrants into doing anything they don’t want. “I wouldn’t say it’s a push to get involved but certainly making it apparent to them there is every opportunity for them to be involved.”

He added: “I don’t want a series of small communities in Richmond. I want one community.”

But the strategy, which was supposed to be done by now, is not expected until next year. That’s because a Winnipeg consulting firm the city contracted for $44,000 was dropped in February.

The firm had been asked to examine best practices in other Canadian cities, review Richmond’s policies and programs, interview community leaders, and deliver recommendations.

“Our needs weren’t being met,” said Kim Somerville, the city’s manager of community social development.

Some wonder why the city chose a firm based in Manitoba. It would’ve made more sense to choose consultants “who live here and have a stake in the community,” said Tse, a visiting professor at Northwestern University.

The city has now hired Connie Baxter, former director of Richmond’s museum, to complete the project.

One of the things under review is the extent to which the city should accommodate newcomers who are not fluent in English. The city produces a newcomers’ guide in multiple languages, but decisions about translating other city documents are made on a case-by-case basis.

When the city notified residents in February about an information session concerning the proposed temporary modular housing project, it was written in English — except for a message at the top in Chinese that read: “THIS IS AN IMPORTANT NOTICE. PLEASE HAVE SOMEONE TRANSLATE IT FOR YOU.”

Tse says such translations should be automatic because it fosters inclusivity.

In California, state law requires public agencies serving a substantial number of non-English speakers must ensure they have access to government information and services through the use of bilingual speakers, interpreters and translated materials.

Tse says it’s noteworthy the city doesn’t use its own staff to assist with translation or interpretation work. Instead, records show, the city often turns to a downtown Vancouver firm, Chinese Informedia.

“If Richmond is 55 per cent Chinese, there’s something called hiring people who can read and write Chinese — it should not be difficult,” he said.

Maybe, he quipped, it’s city hall that needs to integrate into Richmond.

In 2014, Eliana Chia, then a master’s candidate at UBC’s school of community and regional planning, wrote a report on civic engagement in Richmond. Among her conclusions: city hall, for some immigrants, can be an  unwelcoming and intimidating place due to a perceived lack of staff from their racial background; staff struggle to provide translations due to a lack of resources and clear corporate guidelines; and when engaging immigrants in planning decisions, staff lack facilitation skills to carry out meaningful discussions.

While claiming a “large increase” in staff diversity over the last decade, the city could not provide the Post with a breakdown of ethnicities or languages spoken. Townsend said the city hires based on merit and, besides, setting diversity goals can be tricky.

“We’ve got Filipino staff who are of Chinese descent who might identify themselves as Filipino, as Chinese, as Canadian or all of the above. So if you’re going to set a goal of hiring based on culture, who’s going to define who fits those goals?” he said.

Townsend noted some community members are adamant that city business be carried out only in English or French. “Even some leaders in the Chinese community say the more you do (to accommodate other languages), the more you promote isolation. What we’re trying to determine is: what is the happy medium?”

***

Music composer Chris Ludwig, who’s lived in the city 15 years and moderates community roundtables, doesn’t get what the fuss is about.

On the proliferation of Chinese–language signs? Let the free market sort it out, he says. On lack of integration by newcomers? The government can’t force it; let it evolve organically.

“When I’m in the playground, say there’s another mom there and my son is playing with them, and let’s say they’re from Beijing or wherever. (I might say), ‘What’s your husband doing over there? Oh, he’s doing that.’ You hear about why they’re here, why they love Canada. You really get to understand that people are just people, right? I think that’s the way we connect is person to person.”

The notion of community building through one-on-one engagement seemed to hold promise during a community roundtable this spring at the Richmond library.

Among the participants was Diann McGrath, 78, a longtime resident who admits she is frustrated by all the foreign languages spoken in the city.

“I found that when the people come here from other countries, they don’t speak to us. They speak in their own language … and we have no communication. They seem to be very unfriendly,” she said.

“I feel like I don’t really belong here anymore because I’m outnumbered by all these Asian people.”

Sitting next to her was Vivian, a recent immigrant from China. She wondered if there were any informal meet-ups in the community so she could practice her English.

It seemed like Vivian and Diann had hit it off and they exchanged phone numbers.

Months later, the Post asked McGrath if they stayed in contact. They hadn’t.

“To pal around with somebody you don’t know is difficult,” she confessed. “What am I going to talk to them about?”

Source: In search of ‘cultural harmony’ in Richmond, B.C. — North America’s most Asian city