An Ottawa man says he was left shaken Friday after another man told him wearing a mask made him want to "kill Asians."
Justin Tang, an award-winning photojournalist, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning he had paused to put on a mask before heading through the Rideau Centre's main doors at the corner of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive on Friday.
Tang thanked a man who held the door open for him, but said as he walked through, the man, who was white and wasn't wearing a mask, told him: "Being forced to wear a mask makes me want to kill Asians."
Tang, who identifies as Chinese-Canadian, said he confronted the man, telling him: "That's very unkind what you just said to me." Tang said the man replied: "I just want to kill Asians." Tang told the man again that his comments were unkind. This time the man replied, "War is war," before heading into the mall.
Tang said the incident left him feeling shocked.
"It was alarming. I realized that I was ready to run if I had to. I was ready to … defend myself as best I could if the situation had come to it, but my main goal was just to defuse the situation and tell this person that I didn't like what they were saying and it wasn't OK."
Since the onset of the pandemic, there have been reports of a growing number of incidents targeting people of Asian descent in Canada. In a recent poll by Angus Reid, half of the 500 Chinese-Canadians surveyed reported being called names or insulted as a direct result of COVID-19.
Tang has reported the incident to Ottawa police, and also tweeted about it.
"The sharing of it is important," he said. "I wanted this to be known."
"I tweeted it because I just felt powerless," said Tang. "I can't believe this has happened, but I can believe this has happened. I can and I can't."
Tang's tweet prompted thousands of likes, retweets and responses, some from people sharing their own encounters with racism.
"When you're not confronted by these things every day, it is easier to forget [these] problems exist, and that for some folks, overt racism is an everyday thing," said Tang. "Black or Indigenous folks … might deal with this daily."
Ottawa police issued a statement Tuesday asking for witnesses and encouraging others who've been the victim of "similar hateful behaviour" to contact police. "The Service takes these incidents very seriously and they will be fully investigated," police promised.
Ottawa police are investigating another "hate-motivated incident" on Oct. 8, when a white man spat on a car parked in front of an Asian restaurant on Strandherd Drive. The owner of the car, Perry So, confronted the man, who police said drove off in a white Chevrolet Equinox.
So told CBC he and his girlfriend had been eating at a Vietnamese restaurant when So saw the man spit on his vehicle. So said he provided the man's licence plate number to police.
Tang believes the rise in racist incidents during this pandemic is an echo of anti-Asian sentiment throughout Canadian history, including what Chinese-Canadians experienced during SARS, and has possibly been exacerbated by U.S. President Donald Trump calling COVID-19 the "Chinese virus."
"I've ended up channeling some of the energy that I've had from this negative experience into learning more about my own history of people that look like me in Canada," Tang said.