Monday, October 29, 2007
Fishing in fear; Anglers of Asian descent call it a hate crime. We just can't believe these kinds of things happen in our communities
Representatives from several Asian-Canadian groups and local municipal governments joined with the Peterborough Community and Race Relations Committee yesterday to publicly condemn recent attacks in central and eastern Ontario against Asian anglers.
Police have laid assault charges in some of the incidents while several - including one in Westport, near Kingston, where a 73-year-old man was beaten unconscious and his son-in-law thrown off a three-metre high bridge - remain unsolved.
The committee repeated accusations the attacks were racially motivated assaults and asked that they be investigated as hate crimes.
"These are not isolated incidents by any means," committee member Anu Radha Verma said. "I think it's really important to take these seriously. They are not just pranks.
"They are hate crimes."
Representatives of the Asian fishing community say the attacks have instilled fear in their members and challenge the foundation of Canada's multiculturalism.
"The greatest concern for us is that people are terrified to go fishing," said Xu Zhang of the Chinese Anglers Sports Club of Canada. "We feel terrified."
There is a real fear that the attacks could escalate and lead to the death of an Asian angler, Zhang said.
"People talk to me and say they won't risk their life for fishing," Zhang said.
He called on authorities to bring a safe fishing environment back to the area.
Raymond Zee of the Ontario Chinese Anglers Association said there is no excuse for the attacks and if they go unchecked they could harm business and tourism in the area.
The press conference at the New Canadians Centre in Peterborough came in the wake of a series of attacks across a swath of land that stretches from Georgina near Lake Simcoe to Westport near Kingston.
Closest to Peterborough, a fisherman of Asian descent was assaulted in Coboconk.
A father and son face charges stemming from the incident and appear in a Lindsay court in November.
The committee also lists an August incident in Bewdley where an Asian fisherman and his son had a gun fired at them while they were fishing in a boat on Rice Lake.
A man was charged with several weapons offences from the incident.
Northumberland OPP said yesterday there was no indication that particular attack was a hate crime.
The original report indicated the man involved was a heavy drinker who didn't like anyone coming near the island he lived on, police said.
Victor Wong, executive director of the national chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council, said they weren't trying to single out any one community.
"We're not smearing any local community," Wong said. "These are criminal matters."
We are concerned about incidents, as are the police, Wong said.
When asked if the attacks were hate crimes, OPP Staff Sgt. Ron Campbell said it would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing investigations.
The OPP hate crime/extremism unit has been in contact with the detachments, Campbell said.
According to the OPP website, the unit conducts strategic intelligence operations on matters involving hate propaganda, hate bias motivated crimes and criminal extremism.
"We do take any violent crime seriously," Campbell said. "(The OPP) do not tolerate race based attacks on any citizens."
Campbell said it's the force's mandate to investigate all crimes and protect all citizens of Ontario.
In Westport, numerous complaints about non-locals, mostly of Asian-Canadian background, fishing illegally have been made.
Zee acknowledged the attacks in Westport may be more about frustration over perceived poaching than racism although he condemned the vigilante route and advised people to use existing systems to address the problem.
But Karen Sun, executive director of the Toronto chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council, said the attacks and reports of illegal fishing are two separate issues.
"Under no circumstances is it appropriate to attack someone whether they are illegally fishing or not," Sun said. "It's hard to believe these attacks are being motivated by people's desire to protect local fisheries."
Victims shouldn't blame themselves and should report the crimes, she said.
Peterborough Mayor Paul Ayotte called the attacks unfortunate.
"That they would be assaulted for taking part in a Canadian tradition is disturbing," Ayotte said.
"I just can't believe someone would be assaulted for going fishing.
"We just can't believe these kinds of things happen in our communities."
Ayotte said no assault is acceptable and a zero tolerance approach needs to be taken.
He encouraged anyone that is a victim of such an attack to contact authorities.
"The town of Coboconk doesn't condone this kind of stuff," City of Kawartha Lakes Coun. Emmett Yeo said. "We embrace people from out of town, that's our bread and butter."
Yeo read a letter from City of Kawartha Lakes Mayor Ric McGee that stated the actions of the two people in Coboconk do not reflect the feelings of the residents of Coboconk or the City of Kawartha Lakes. The municipality continues to welcome all people, Yeo said, adding a personal apology for the attack in his hometown of Coboconk.
"Kawartha Lakes just wants to tell you you're all welcome anytime," Yeo said.
But both Ayotte and Yeo stopped short of calling any of the attacks hate crimes.
Ayotte said he didn't know whether the assaults were hate crimes.
The attacks were unacceptable but hate is a strong word, Yeo said, adding they were definitely cases of ignorance.