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Hospice critics don't speak for us, Chinese community says

The site of a proposed hospice, left, is pictured on the University of British Columbia campus adjacent to a residential high-rise in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday January 14, 2011.

Darryl Dyck/ The Globe and Mail/Darryl Dyck/ The Globe and Mail

Distancing themselves from condo owners who have opposed a hospice on cultural grounds, Chinese community representatives on Tuesday held a press conference to say the residents' views do not accurately represent Chinese culture or beliefs.

The group - which included an academic, a feng shui practitioner and the executive director of the National Congress of Chinese Canadians - said while residents' concerns may reflect some aspects of Chinese folklore, it is false to claim that living next door to a hospice is incompatible with Chinese culture.

"There is a very grave concern in the Chinese community - and it's not just amongst a few - that Chinese culture is being misrepresented by a few and is giving Chinese-Canadians, and Chinese culture, a bad name," David Choi, national executive director of the National Congress of Chinese Canadians, said at the press conference.

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The clash between a proposed hospice and what residents said was their cultural sensitivities emerged last week, when a group of people who live in a condominium tower on the University of British Columbia Campus went public with their objections to a planned 15-bed hospice near their homes.

A spokeswoman for the group, consisting mostly of recent Chinese immigrants, said 80 per cent of the building's residents are Asian and that a nearby hospice would flout Chinese cultural sensitivities around death and dying.

It is "impossible" for Chinese people to have dying people in their backyard, Janet Fan said in an interview.

In response to resident concerns, UBC put the project on hold.

The residents' comments, and UBC's response, resulted in a flood of commentary, including extensive coverage in Vancouver's Chinese-language media.

Mr. Choi and others at the event said they decided to discuss the issue in public after getting calls from friends and business associates urging them to speak out.

Compassion and respect - especially for the elderly - are entrenched Chinese cultural values and a hospice is compatible with those values, Mr. Choi said.

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He and other speakers discussed the concept of yin and yang - cited by residents as a factor in their objections to the hospice - as being about balance and wholeness, rather than exclusion.

In Chinese religious teachings, there is no higher virtue than relieving other people's suffering, said Jan Walls, founding director of the David Lam Centre at Simon Fraser University.

"The relief of suffering is probably one of the noblest goals and one of the noblest activities that a Chinese person can engage in," Mr. Walls said.

The hospice had been scheduled to open in mid-2012. The current site was chosen through a four-year process that weighed other campus locations, including one that resulted in objections from students because of its proximity to student residences. UBC nixed that site based on land use and density considerations, not stakeholder objections, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

According to the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance, more than 100 million people a year need palliative care but fewer than eight million receive it. In Canada, only 16 to 30 per cent of residents have access to or receive hospice palliative care, depending on where they live.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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