Vancouver lawyer and model battle anti-Asian hate with the practical and the poetic

·4 min read
Strangers to one another, but acutely aware of the suffering the Asian community has faced recently, both Carlyle Chan and Steven Ngo are finding ways to protect their communities. (Carl Ostberg and James Mulleder/CBC News - image credit)
Strangers to one another, but acutely aware of the suffering the Asian community has faced recently, both Carlyle Chan and Steven Ngo are finding ways to protect their communities. (Carl Ostberg and James Mulleder/CBC News - image credit)

Confronted with attacks against Asians in the media and in their own lives, two Vancouver men say they're fighting anti-Asian hate crimes on their own terms.

Lyle Chan, 32, and Steven Ngo, 35, say they're exhausted at being ignored as their community faces hate, racial slurs and incidents where people have been spat on, punched or thrown to the ground.

Both men have separately found ways to help B.C.'s Asian community as it reels from a surge in reported anti-Asian hate crimes — rising from a dozen incidents in 2019 to 98 in 2020, according to Vancouver police.

"There's people every single day now that [are] getting attacked.... Something needs to be done now," said Ngo, a Vancouver lawyer who has created more accessible hate-crime reporting forms for the community.

Ngo says his intent is to not question the police but to help them navigate the best ways to support the Asian community.
Ngo says his intent is to not question the police but to help them navigate the best ways to support the Asian community. (James Mulleder/CBC News)

An online survey done by the Chinese Canadian National Council's Toronto chapter found that more than 1,000 self-reported incidents of anti-Asian racism have occurred nationwide since the start of the pandemic.

The analysis, which confirmed incidents in every province, found 44 per cent of all cases were reported in B.C.

'This is a clear barrier to justice here'

Ngo came face to face with hate earlier this month when someone hurled racist slurs at him and then proceeded to throw garbage at him.

"I was ... stunned and realized it could happen to anybody. Not just the elderly and those who don't know how to speak English," Ngo says.

That was his turning point.

He tried to report the crime on the Vancouver Police Department website but found the form was only available in simplified and traditional Chinese — not English.

"East Asian doesn't mean Chinese. It also means Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, those who are born here as well," he said.

Vancouver Police Department Const. Tania Visintin says the "online forms were created as an option for a very specific segment of our population that was targeted by hate crimes last year."

She says VPD is reviewing its process for hate-crime reporting. But says the best way to report a crime is to call 911 or the non-emergency line.

"Our workforce speaks more than 50 languages.... We can usually find someone to speak to a complainant in their preferred language," Visintin said.

Racist graffiti is covered up by duct tape on the lions at the Millennium Gate in Chinatown in May 2020.
Racist graffiti is covered up by duct tape on the lions at the Millennium Gate in Chinatown in May 2020.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

On Friday, B.C.'s Ministry of the Attorney General announced plans to develop a hotline for racist incidents in response to the increased number of incidents. Information collected from the hotline will be used to develop anti-racism initiatives, including legislation that will pave the way for race-based data collection.

"The data collected from the hotline will be used to support future anti-racism initiatives, including legislation that will pave the way for race-based data collection. By identifying areas of increased racist incidents through the hotline, government can use the data to inform future actions to combat racism."

Ngo says while he is grateful for the support, he believes more needs to be done.

He has created his own website to report hate crimes for members of the Asian community who speak various languages.

"The website is not meant to replace the VPD website at all, but it's meant to really stop the bleeding," Ngo said.

'Took that pain and transformed it'

For Vancouver-based model Carlyle Chan, seeing Asian women killed in Atlanta in March was his turning point.

"I haven't ever felt like that before.... I took that pain and transformed it into something positive and something powerful,"

Chan says he's used his social media platforms to promote education about Asian heritage and support victims of hate crimes.
Chan says he's used his social media platforms to promote education about Asian heritage and support victims of hate crimes.(Carl Ostberg)

He fundraised throughout April, using his strong social media presence on Instagram and other platforms, to tee up Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May. The money is slated for groups that support the Asian community and other people of colour.

He also kept the conversation going online to give victims a sense of comfort.

"You are seen and heard. You matter. You don't have to be subordinate, or submissive or quiet, just because that's the way it was," Chan said.

On top of his fundraiser, he dabbled in his poetic side with a poem called Asian is Human that he posted in restaurants, parkades and apartment buildings.

"Even if you aren't an Asian person, you read it. It's kind of humanizing who we are," Chan said.

Chan wrote poems and put them up on the windows and walls of shops and restaurants.
Chan wrote poems and put them up on the windows and walls of shops and restaurants. (Carlyle Chan)

Both Chan and Ngo say, exhausted or not, they'll continue to advocate for their communities, using their drive, social media presence and voices to make change.

"I am super exhausted... [But] closed mouths don't get fed. If you don't ask [for help] then it can't happen," Chan said.