Ken Mak was waiting in line to buy some groceries at an IGA on Nun’s Island in Montreal on Monday when an unidentified woman, pulling her mask off her mouth when she spoke, demanded to know if he was Chinese.
“I told her ‘yes’ and then she started questioning me and trying to get information about the coronavirus,” Mak said.
“Before I could respond, she would cut me off and start her monologue about how Chinese people are to blame for the whole coronavirus.”
Mak and his girlfriend backed away from the woman, concerned that she was repeatedly uncovering her face, and he began recording as an employee intervened.
Montreal police spokesperson Caroline Chèvrefils said police received a call from the store around 6 p.m. Monday to report the incident. Officers helped remove the woman from the store, but no additional report was made.
That video is now making the rounds online, and Mak is speaking out against racism toward Asian people. He said some people are misinformed about the pandemic, and “she’s a victim of misinformation.”
“It’s unfortunate that the Asian community has to put up with this,” said Mak, and he would like to make his fellow Canadians aware that these types of attacks are happening.
“We need to look ourselves in the mirror and think about our values.”
Woman gives finger, calls people losers
The video shows a woman dressed in sweat pants and a winter parka, flashing her middle finger, cursing and threatening to get a family lawyer involved whenever somebody stands up to her.
A customer can be heard off-camera, asking the woman to “leave these people alone. What’s wrong with you? Shame on you.”
The woman responds with curses and finger pointing, raising her voice and continuing her anti-Asian rant. Other customers shout at her, and she points her phone’s camera at them, calls them losers and says her family lawyer will protect her.
A store employee tells her to take her stuff and leave. He then walks her toward the door before the video ends.
Quebec’s minister responsible for the fight against racism, Benoit Charette, denounced the video on Twitter Wednesday.
“Saddening, shocking and condemnable! Behaviour of this kind simply has no place in Quebec,” he wrote.
Mak said he was grateful that customers and store employees stood up to her.
“These are true Canadian values, where we protect each other,” he said.
Mak said he is not going to pursue the matter with police, but he felt threatened and he fears for the Asian community.
“People are thinking that Asian people are responsible for the coronavirus,” he said. “We need people to know that this is what happens to Asian people here and it’s not acceptable in Canada.”
Standing up against anti-Asian hate
Mak said it is important that people denounce this type of racist behaviour toward Asian people.
“These people are not to be blamed,” said Mak. “We are all going through the same lockdown and curfew together.”
Winston Chan said there have have been physical and verbal assaults against Asian Montrealers since the early days of the pandemic. In watching Mak’s video, the first thing he thought was, “oh no, not again,” he said.
He is a board member of the Montreal chapter of the National Coalition of Canadians Against Anti-Asian Racism.
People are getting frustrated by the pandemic and the public health measures, but that is no reason to scapegoat Asian people, Chan said.
“I think it’s important to be an ally with the Asian community in these cases,” said Chan, acknowledging the efforts of employees and customers to defend Mak.
As long as people don’t put themselves in danger, it’s important to speak up for victims and record the encounter if possible, Chan said.
He said Asian people often don’t report hate crimes, but he encourages victims or bystanders to safely collect evidence and file a complaint with police.