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'How am I going to keep myself safe?': Vancouver's Chinese Cultural Centre speaks out after second 'intentional' fire

"Hate has no place. This behaviour is so concerning." 
Concerns are growing about arson and vandalism in Chinatown after a second fire broke out at the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver.

The Chinese Cultural Centre says a second fire broke out in one of its buildings following a devastating blaze that caused roughly $300,000 in damages a couple of weeks ago.

Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS) spokesperson Matthew Trudeau told V.I.A. that a call came in just after 9 a.m. on Thursday (April 13) about a "rubbish fire" at the Chinese Cultural Centre.

When crews arrived at the scene, they found a fire at the rear door of the building facing the alley and saw "slight smoke" inside. They were able to extinguish the fire before going inside. 

The fire investigator determined that the fire was "intentionally set" inside of an area that was fenced off due to the previous fire, he said.

Vancouver Police Department (VPD) spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin told V.I.A. that police have taken control of the investigation and are reviewing video in the area.

Bill Kwok, Vice-Chairman and Treasurer of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver, said the fire that broke out on March 26 in the administrative building resulted in extensive damages and has forced staff to work in a small office in the museum during the repairs. Additionally, classes for the elementary school that were held in the building have been moved to the third floor of the museum. 

The administrative building won't be open for at least six months and the centre may not be able to hold the children's summer camp. 

But Kwok says the cost runs much deeper than the external damages. 

"It affects everything in Chinatown and everyone in the community," he told V.I.A.

"You're thinking, 'How am I going to keep myself safe?"

Growing concerns mount over vandalism, racism, and arson in Chinatown

And while fires aren't uncommon in Chinatown, Kwok says there have been several fires that were intentionally set in the past few years. The most recent two occurred during the day, which he says is particularly concerning since people are in the buildings.

"It makes people more fearful of coming here," he said. 

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden Executive Director Lorraine Lowe echoed this sentiment, noting that she or her staff find evidence of a fire every day. 

"Every morning we find something on our doorstep," she told V.I.A.

Over the Easter Long weekend, the historic lion statues that guard the entrance to the Chinese Cultural Centre were vandalized with paint. The guardians have been defaced numerous times over the past few years, as well as the ones at the Millennium Gate at the entrance to Chinatown. 

The traditional statues have been vandalized so many times that Lowe says she was almost not going to share the images but then decided to after the fire broke out.

Lowe added that a great deal of harassment that she and her colleagues experience in the area goes "unreported" because it happens so often and is so difficult to report. 

"I get spat at and I don't have time for this. I get called names," she said. "A lot of this stuff goes unreported. Who do you call? I don't have a number.

"It is racism."

There's been a surge of reported incidents of mischief and vandalism in Chinatown, some involving racist messages, with police saying reports of graffiti are up by 455 per cent since 2019. 

In addition to anti-Asian racism, Lowe said she's received many frightening, misogynist remarks. 

"Hate has no place. This behaviour is so concerning." 

With files from the Canadian Press.