When Wyman Chan decorated her modest restaurant with posters and signs showing support for the democracy movement in Hong Kong, she had perhaps never dreamed of it becoming a hot topic online, nor a target of threats.
Negative reviews first poured in online, then came threatening phone calls, culminating with graffiti of male genitals sprayed all across the restaurant front.
“My employees and I feel extremely insecure with all these threats of violence and death. We believe this organized, illicit, violent speech and behavior should have never appeared in Canadian society which honors the rule of law and freedom of speech,” Chan said in a Dec. 15 press conference.
“I hope the police will thoroughly investigate the incident and bring the perpetrator to justice. They should also clamp down on hate speech on the Internet and social platforms to put an end to similar incidents in the community.”
The York Regional Police’s hate crime unit is now investigating the vandalism and threats against the Richmond Hill restaurant.
Pepper Wok restaurant serves traditional Chinese dishes like Hainan chicken and Tan Tan noodles.
The establishment displays posters saying “Free Hong Kong” and “Save the 12 Hong Kong Youths,” referring to protesters in the on-going pro-democracy movement who were arrested while trying to flee from Hong Kong. A sign at the eatery’s entrance asks customers to wear masks to “prevent the unidentified Wuhan pneumonia virus.” Wuhan is the Chinese city where the COVID-19 coronavirus was first reported.
The posters and the reference to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus as originating from Wuhan agitated Chinese loyalists, who quickly attacked the eatery with threats and vandalism.
Chan said the decorations are meant to support freedom in Hong Kong, rather than to show discrimination against anyone. The slogans addressing the police are directed at those that participated in the assault and rape of Hong Kong youths, not the entire police force.
On the evening of Dec. 8, a threatening letter signed “Mandarin speaking customers” was attached to the eatery window, suggesting that the owners has violated Ontario’s Human Rights Code and Consumer Protection Act.
“This is ridiculous. The kitchen is over ten feet away from the dining area, and the door is mostly closed to prevent kitchen smoke from leaving. Our chef is always busy and has no time to make comments about anyone,” Chan said. “We welcome everyone that comes in for meals.”
On the morning of Dec. 9, graffiti was found on the eatery front. Later, a customer known as Carson Chu tried to remove the threatening letter at the entrance, but was stopped by the eatery staff.
Long strings of negative reviews appeared on Yelp and Google reviews, and on online Chinese-language forums like yorkbbs.ca.
Posts on social media encouraged vandalism, flooding the eatery with rats and cockroaches, and a threat to report the owner to Chinese authorities, which would make it hard for her to visit her family in Hong Kong.
In 2019, massive protests erupted in Hong Kong as the authorities pushed for an extradition bill that would allow the government to transfer anyone—both Chinese and foreign nationals—to the Mainland for trial on ambiguous charges of threatening Chinese national security.
Gloria Fung, President of Canada-Hong Kong Link, also appeared at the Dec. 15 press conference with Chan and said the incident isn’t a unique case, but a reflection of the clash between Chinese and Hong Kong diasporas with two vastly different ideologies.
She said the Hong Kong community has long supported democracy movements through peaceful means; while radical loyalists, often influenced by the Chinese consulate, will parrot official statements from Beijing that describe the demonstrations in Hong Kong as riots.
Fung said incidents such the vandalism on Pepper Wok are connected to a bigger agenda to squash Canadian supports for democracy in Hong Kong.
“This is a powerful message to Canadian communities. The society, the government, and the media should have zero tolerance for such attacks and harassments,” Fung said. “Mutual respect is important for all of us, which is a major reason for us to immigrate to Canada. We value the rule of law, human rights, and all kinds of liberties found in this country.”
“We should remember: we are on Canadian territory.”