Guest Op-ed: Harden: It's time to crack down on anti-mask bigots in Ottawa

On Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, two men without face masks walked into the Kowloon Market in Ottawa’s Chinatown neighbourhood. They picked up items and proceeded to the checkout, where both were told they would not be served without masks.

The men proceeded to argue with staff, ranting about various anti-mask conspiracies. They then reportedly started blocking the exit to the store, refusing to allow patrons to leave. One shopper filmed the entire incident.

The police were called and arrived on the scene. They talked to both men, warned them, and, astoundingly, released them without charges.

This incident was handled badly, and it fits a worrying pattern. Consider the context for a minute.

Ottawa is a hotspot for COVID-19 cases in Ontario, and two men do this in the heart of Ottawa’s Asian Canadian community. With no consequences. It beggars belief.

What message does that send for copycat actions? And how does it make shop owners in Chinatown feel who are having a hard enough time keeping their doors open?

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney and I spoke to the co-owners of Kowloon Market, who last Sunday feared for the safety of staff and patrons. Peter So, a long-time business owner and property owner in Chinatown and the current board chair of the Chinatown Business Improvement Area, has also expressed concerns about a worrying rise in anti-Asian racism in Ottawa.

Last week, the BIA received a complaint about a man who pursued two Chinese-Canadian women leaving a store in Chinatown, hurling insults and attempting to spit on them. The women ran, taking refuge in another store.

In 2018, an older couple hit an Asian-Canadian woman with their car in a parking lot when they felt she wasn’t loading her baby and 88-year-old mother quickly enough. The incident, once again, was caught on video, but carried no consequences for the older couple.

If we don’t assess penalties for bigotry and behaviour that puts public health at risk, it will continue emboldened. If we don’t support our neighbours who are targeted by bigots and anti-maskers, intolerance is enabled.

McKenney has written to Ottawa Police Chief Sloly, insisting he revisit this matter. I have contacted Ottawa Public Health, asking them to clarify the ramifications of people utilizing their rights to free speech in a way that endangers others, notably seniors and other people with disabilities. This is a human rights issue.

You can help. Please email your support to the Chinatown BIA ([email protected]), and the owners of Kowloon Market ([email protected]). Tell them you support them, and urge our city officials to do likewise.

Joel Harden is the NDP MPP for Ottawa Centre.

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