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Vancouver police are reporting a recent spike in hateful attacks against East Asian people amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with the force issuing a public appeal to identify the middle-aged suspect in the shocking assault of a 92-year-old man at a convenience store.

On Wednesday, the police released surveillance video of a March 13 attack and said that five of the 11 hate crimes reported in the city last month targeted East Asian people. This year, there have been nine hate crimes against people of this ethnic background, a total that already represents three quarters of all hate crimes reported against this group last year.

“Five of them were specific to what’s going on right on with COVID-19 with an anti-Asian element,” Constable Tania Visintin, a Vancouver Police Department spokeswoman, told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday. "Not only are we going through a pandemic and its added stress on everybody – whether it be mentally and financially – and now this is happening to this type of ethnicity?

“It’s not right and we’re not going to tolerate it.”

Constable Visintin could not say how many suspects in these recent hate-crime cases have had charges recommended against them or provide more complete data on how many hate crimes were reported in the city last year and against which groups.

Police across the country don’t typically release up-to-date statistics on hate crimes, so it is unclear whether other police departments are seeing a similar uptick in attacks against East Asian people amid the global pandemic that started in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Hate-crime data across the country are collected from police each year by Statistics Canada, but it can take up to two years before this information is released to the public.

Toronto has seen no notable increase in hate crimes over the past month and a half, Toronto Police Service spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said.

“However, we also know that hate-related occurrences often go unreported to police so I’m not sure our numbers would accurately reflect the possible lived experiences for some members of the community,” Ms. Gray said in an e-mailed statement.

In 2018, the latest data available from Statistics Canada, there were 56 hate crimes reported to police that targeted East Asian or Southeast Asian people, out of a total of 780 hate crimes motivated by race or ethnicity.

John Paul Catungal, assistant professor at UBC’s Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, said he is not surprised by Vancouver’s reported spike in attacks against East Asian people as this sentiment has become a global phenomenon because of the coronavirus.

In the United States, where President Donald Trump has drawn criticism for calling COVID-19 the “China virus," the FBI recently warned local police forces that hate crimes against Americans with Asian backgrounds will likely surge, according to ABC News, which obtained an internal report.

On Wednesday, Vancouver police released surveillance footage from the convenience store that shows a fiftysomething white man yelling at the senior East Asian man who suffers from dementia.

“I can’t get into specifics, but they were racially motivated slurs and comments and they had to do with COVID-19 and they were anti-Asian comments,” Constable Visintin said at a news conference.

The suspect, who was wearing a black T-shirt with the logo of a Canadian charity that supports injured motorcycle riders, then grabs the man and forcefully walks him out the door, giving him a final push that sends the senior toppling backward onto the sidewalk where he hits his head. The suspect, who was wearing gold rings, a gold bracelet and a gold chain, then walks outside and picks the victim up and sits him down on the pavement beside a slipper that had fallen off. The suspect then calmly walks back into the store to pay for his goods.

“This could have been a lot worse, we’re so thankful that this man who suffers from severe dementia is okay," Constable Visintin said. “He is at home, he’s with his family and he is uninjured.”

With a report from Xiao Xu

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