Victims of anti-South Asian racism at Surrey park not obliged to accept apology, says UBC prof

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — Just because someone apologizes, that doesn’t mean you have to accept it, says a culture expert who is weighing in after a couple shouted racist insults at South Asian seniors and kids at a Surrey park.

Gurinder Mann, a lecturer of Punjabi Language and Culture at UBC, says he is appalled to learn visitors at Aspen Park last Wednesday afternoon were subjected to racist insults and garbage was allegedly had garbage thrown at them.

Sahiba Sangha, whose grandmother was in the park Wednesday, told CityNews she spoke with the Mounties earlier this week and heard the couple offered their apologies through the RCMP.

Related Article: Couple apologizes after video surfaced of Surrey Aspen Park racism

However, it’s unclear whether the victims have accepted the apology.

Either way, Mann says, “it depends on the victims as to if an apology … is sufficient.”

“[The victims] may see [the apology] as being insufficient, they may see that as maybe being disingenuous, or they might even see that as being something that the other party is doing, just to minimize the backlash that they probably will experience as a result of this as well.”

Last week’s incident was captured on video and shared by Sangha on Instagram, where someone can be heard saying, “We’re in Canada, speak English. I don’t understand what you’re saying. You wanna say sh-to my face, speak English.”

Watch: Racist insults hurled at South Asian elders and kids

Gurlal Gill, a nine-year-old who was playing with his friends during the racist encounter, told CityNews he and his friends were frightened by the angry couple.

“We were playing, we were riding bikes back there, and they just littered and picked it up and started blaming it on us,” Gill said. “They even took fries out of the garbage and threw it at us, and it hit my face. Then they started swearing at us like four or six times. Then they went to the grandmas and started swearing at them.”

Gill said he felt like the couple was treating them like “garbage.”

‘It’s better than nothing’

When it comes to their willingness to accept the couple’s apparent apology, Mann says there may be “a pretty sharp contrast” between the seniors and the younger people involved. Elders who’ve had to face being racially discriminated against for decades arguably may have a different threshold when facing bigotry, he explains.

“They might be desensitized to racism or racial comments — which is very sad.”

Mann says when someone apologizes, the other person usually accepts it, which is why racialized elders might be fearful of a backlash if they are not forgiving.

“What happens if we do not accept the apology? Will more people make negative comments towards us? Will more people brand us as being individuals that are not accepting of an apology, are not polite, or are not respectful?”

Related article: Racist insults hurled at South Asian elders and children in Surrey park

On an “unconscious level,” Mann says, seniors who are immigrants may see themselves as outsiders, which isn’t okay.

“Every single immigrant is part of this great country. But maybe some individuals … heard, something that someone has said to them, [that made them] feel that they are at some level, are outsiders … When they hear these comments, maybe they might rationalize or process in a way and say, ‘Well, I suppose we’re outsiders or immigrants and that’s why we were subject to these comments.'”

He says seniors might have also feel they have faced worse discrimination and may argue an apology is “better than nothing.”

‘Enough is enough’

However, young people who were raised, born, or are living in Canada may have a different threshold to any bigotry, Mann says.

“They feel very, very strong inclination to immediately stand up for their right and they’re not willing to accept anything less than that.”

Mann suggests all people have a psychological threshold when they see someone continue to disrespect family, friends, or community members. Witnessing people around you facing this reaches a tipping point, “where individuals feel that we need to do something.”

“Right now, we live in a culture, especially in a North American environment, that a lot is going on where people are standing up for their rights. Saying ‘enough is enough.’ Saying that all individuals should be to be treated equally and racism is simply not something that is not accepted, and will not be accepted in our environment.”

‘The apology is a good starting point, but it’s not an endpoint’

Tuesday night, a crowd of hundreds outraged by the incident caught on video last week rallied together at the park.

One teacher, Annie Ohana, told CityNews, her reason to rally was simple — “there’s no room for racism.”

“We’re in a park — this is where kids play, you can see all around you the families. Any issue we have can be resolved by talking, by simply having a conversation,” she said.

Related Article: RCMP says charges unlikely after hateful comments at Surrey park

Ohana feels the best approach to address the incident is through restorative justice.

“Are they going to take action to actually restore what’s been lost here?”

Mann agrees, saying he is an “immensely strong supporter” of restorative justice — adding “You can’t simply expect someone to accept an apology because it is given.”

“There’s obviously hurt, there’s pain,” he said. “The best way to repair that is for these individuals to hear directly the impact of their comments, the harm that their comments have made, and to genuinely say that we want to learn. We want to address maybe their ignorance, and to make things to make things right, however, the victims see fit.

“I think the apology is a good starting point, but it’s not an endpoint … there’s clearly work to be done.”

Watch: Rally against racism held at Surrey’s Aspen Park

On Tuesday, Sgt. Elenore Sturko with Surrey RCMP told NEWS 1130 she condemned the racist insults hurled at the South Asian seniors and children — calling it hurtful, harmful, and totally unacceptable. However, she says criminal charges are not likely.

“It’s not unreasonable that people would want more. They want us to do something they want us to hold these individuals to account. I get that and all of us here, we’re very alive to that, and alive to the fact that it’s caused a significant amount of pain for people in the community.”

However, Sturko says given what police have gathered from the investigation so far, there is not enough to recommend criminal charges or hate crime charges. The allegation garbage was thrown at the group does not meet the threshold for an assault charge, Sturko adds. She also says what was caught on video was the culmination of a days-long conflict over issues in the park such as dogs, and litter.

No matter what buildup to the outburst from the couple, Mann says, “There is no way to ever rationalize that kind of comment it’s. There is absolutely no excuse for it.”


– With files from Denise Wong, Lasia Kretzel, Ashley Burr, Kier Junos, and Lisa Steacy

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