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There’s nothing racist about Metro Vancouver housing study

November 14, 2015

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

Real estate developers were the first to charge “racism” in the early 1990s when many Metro Vancouver residents objected to old houses being razed and trees chopped down by wealthy newcomers.

Now — in the face of escalating demolitions of character homes and a growing crisis of housing affordability — Vancouver’s mayor is the latest to resurrect the racist epithet.

Gregor Robertson used the incendiary term in reaction to a study by urban planner Andy Yan, which found two-thirds of recent expensive home sales on the city’s west side went to people with non-Anglicized Chinese first names.

“What we don’t need … is the blaming of any one group of people — or any one kind of last name — for the challenge of housing affordability,” Robertson said on his Facebook page.

“This is a public policy issue, not a race issue — and any confusion to the contrary only risks dividing our city and distracting Vancouver and our region from seeking the urgent action that is needed from the provincial and federal governments.”

Earlier, Robertson, who also told reporters “I’m very concerned with the racist tones that are implied here,” had called on the B.C. government to implement an anti-speculation tax on high-end properties and to limit “excessive vacancies” in unoccupied houses.

But was there anything about the study by Yan, who is acting head of Simon Fraser University’s City Program and a planner at Bing Thom Architects, that was “racist?”

Leading Canadian figures in anti-racism organizations, in applied ethics, in urban planning, in immigration consulting and other fields say, “No.”

Before exploring their reasoning, it’s worth acknowledging that instances of racism might be an unintended consequence of what Yan and four other studies have determined regarding the role of foreign-born millionaires and investor-class immigrants in fuelling Metro’s astronomical prices.

Point Grey NDP MLA David Eby, who assisted Yan’s research by collecting the land titles of 172 homes in Vancouver’s west side, said Canadians need to stand on guard against a “few racists who crawl out of their caves … to advance their own agenda.”

But Eby suggested a fear of inciting bigots is no excuse to deny all the causes behind Metro’s runaway housing prices. They include investor-class immigration programs that came out of Ottawa and continue through the backdoor of Quebec.

Since many people are confused about the meaning of the divisive term racist, which connotes superiority, Yan has publicly asked an important question: “I am curious about how the mayor defines racism.”

Albert Lo, head of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, said his organization defines racism as: “Any individual action, or institutional practice which treats people differently because of their colour or ethnicity. This distinction is often used to justify discrimination.”

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