By Ng Weng Hoong
OnePacificNews, May 27, 2020, Wednesday, updated May 31, 2020
Race relations in Metro Vancouver face difficult challenges ahead amid a worrying surge in anti-Chinese and anti-Asian racist attacks with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith rejected an invitation to be interviewed on the popular MetroVancouver podcast, ThisIsVanColour (1). Host and producer Muhammad Amir, who goes by Mo Amir, had earlier launched an astonishing attack (2) on the Vancouver weekly newspaper in a May 23 posting on his Facebook account.
Mr Amir was triggered by the Georgia Straight’s decision to publish guest writer Kevin Campbell’s concerns about racism against Chinese people in his May 3 letter (3) to Port Coquitlam (PoCo) mayor Brad West.
Mr Campbell told the mayor to “be mindful of how your words might play out in public”. Mr West has been broadly blaming China and Chinese people for MetroVancouver’s recent problems, starting with housing affordability.
The letter mentioned that Mr West made “a dizzying 77 tweets mentioning “China” or “Chinese” just between January 1, 2019 and May 3, 2020.” On twitter and in newspaper interviews, he mixes his criticisms of the oppressive policies of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government with his focus on Chinese people in discussions on Canada’s housing affordability, money laundering and fentanyl problems. It gives the impression that a monolithic “Chinese” entity is threatening Canada from various fronts.
Mr Campbell told Mr West: “You have the bully pulpit. You are aggressively out to advance your political career.”
Mo Amir goes on the attack
The twist came when Mr Amir made a surprise intervention.
First, he identified Mr Campbell as “an executive of a Vancouver-based investment firm that was explicitly implicated in the Panama Papers, the leaked documents about global money laundering.”
Next, he attacked the Georgia Straight for having made “money from its back pages that fetishized Asian “escorts”. If we’re going to talk about racism in this publication, let’s start here.” He also called it a “shitty publication” for promoting “fake anti-racism” to undermine “cultural dialogue”.
Fair comment, Mr Amir, but if you choose to intervene as a third party, be an impartial and even-handed arbiter of this debate.
Mr West is an elected public official whose words influence the people’s mood and the course of public policy. In a functioning democracy, he has to be held even more accountable than private citizen Campbell and the Georgia Straight.
By repeating unproven stories that Chinese people have made MetroVancouver’s housing unaffordable through their alleged pervasive criminal activities, is the mayor feeding conspiracy as well as race hate? He has yet to be asked by the media, his constituents, or other politicians.
Mr Campbell’s line of work would be of concern to law enforcement if his company was found to have violated money-laundering laws. Mr Amir has every right to question Mr Campbell on his links to the Panama Papers, but why overlook his complaint?
The same goes for the Georgia Straight’s revenues from Asian sex workers. He is right to ask the publisher and editor, but he should still address Mr Campbell’s questions.
Ironically, the same day, Mr Amir tweeted: “Hey, criticize the argument! Not the source!” (4)
So, why not criticize the letter’s contents instead of attacking the writer?
What possibly explains Mr Amir’s decision to attack the writer and the paper in defence of the mayor? I sent him a list of questions, edited for brevity here.
Q & A with Mo Amir
1. Why did you react so harshly to Kevin’s letter and the GS’s decision to publish it?
2. Why did you see the need to intervene in a debate that did not involve you in the first place?
3. Were you motivated by a sense of justice, that Brad had been unfairly treated by Kevin & GS? If so, how were they specifically unfair to Brad?
4. You alluded to double standards being practised by Kevin & GS. But what about Kevin’s complaint that Brad has been telegraphing negative vibes against Chinese people? I don’t just mean the Chinese government, but, it seems, Brad covered a broad range of “Chinese”.
5. You invited Charlie onto your podcast, but he declined. Why did you want to interview him?
6. Brad also has another full-time job (5) that pays almost as much his mayoral position. Do you plan on asking Brad how he juggles two full-time jobs? Also, whether he could find himself in positions of conflict of interest?
7. Last year when Brad led the fight against Beijing’s sponsorship of the UBCM convention, he argued on the ground of keeping “foreign influence” out of our politics. Brad’s other job is with a workers’ union based in the US. Would you ask him about the contradiction in his being on the payroll of a foreign agency while telling the UBCM not to accept a donation from another foreign agency?
Mr Amir’s reply: “Here’s my take, Weng: You went from trying to lie about David Eby, to Brad West, to Sam Cooper, to me?
“Either you’re lowering your standards, or I’m a motherfucking beast.”
I emailed him back:
“Thanks, Mo, for that quick reply.
1. How did I lie about these people? Please give me the specifics.
2. I wrote about David Eby’s attempts to unfairly blame Chinese people for a whole lot of things. On which particular point did I lie about him? Same with Brad West and Sam Cooper.
3. Am I not entitled to ask questions of and about people in the media & public office?”
Mr Amir did not reply.
May 23, 2020. Muhammad Amir “The Georgia Straight is trash”
- https://www.straight.com/news/kevin-campbell-mayor-brad-west-be-mindful-of-how-your-words-might-play-out-in-publicMay 23, 2020. Kevin Campbell: Mayor Brad West, be mindful of how your words might play out in public
May 23, 2020. Mo Amir: “Hey, criticize the argument! Not the source!”
May 6, 2020. Port Coquitlam mayor Brad West’s Steelworkers salary revealed in union disclosure to U.S. government; AND
May 15, 2020. Side gig, or steel trap?
UPDATED May 31, 2020, 5.16 am
1. Image of Mo Amir’s tweet removed at the start of the story.
2. In a May 30 tweet to me, Mr Amir clarified that he had invited Charlie Smith onto his podcast before he wrote his Facebook criticism of Kevin Campbell and the Georgia Straight. The earlier version of this story mentioned that Mr Amir’s invitation came after his Facebook criticism, which was told to me by Mr Smith. As Mr Amir declined to reply to my question about the sequence of events, I relied on Mr Smith’s version. I did not rely on Mr Amir’s Facebook posting for the sequence as I am not a Facebook user and am not familiar with its features.