Kelowna MLA Renee Merrifield has spoken out against what she calls a “despicable” and insulting comment made by John Rustad, leader of the Conservative Party of BC
The comment stems from a town hall meeting, which Rustad attended Dec. 5 in Surrey, where participants addressed the extortion letters being sent to businesses in Abbotsford, Surrey and Vancouver by alleged gang members.
Rustad posted on post on X (formerly Twitter) after the meeting that local South Asian business owners had told him that they were concerned about “third world crime” coming to Canada.
I met with South Asian business owners in Surrey who are concerned about third world crime coming to Canada.
Gangs threaten their businesses and ask for “protection” money.
Entrepreneurs come to BC for safety & opportunity— we should deport & jail criminals who harass them. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/wVTWzionO0
— John Rustad (@JohnRustad4BC) December 6, 2023
In response to Rustad’s tweet, people of Indian descent spoke with Capital News and raised concerns about the “third world crime” comment.
The individuals asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash. They explained that differentiating between crime committed by people of South Asian descent from all other crime could cause divisions within B.C.’s community. They explained the label of “third world crime” perpetuates already-present racism.
Merrifield, BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission said that she rejects the term and condemns Rustad’s statement.
“Rustad’s portrayal of the South Asian community as ‘third world’ is despicable,” she said. “It shows a racial bias that is an ugly reality for many British Columbians of ethnic descent.”
She explained that all crime is equal and that creating divisions is unnecessary and potentially harmful.
Merrifield said B.C.’s crime rate is a symptom of judicial policies created by the current provincial government, rather than being an issue disseminating from another country.
Merrifield urges Rustad to take action and improve the systems in place that enable a “catch and release” cycle of crime in B.C., rather than placing blame on a group of people.
“Comments like Mr. Rustad’s perpetuate a racial bias and put the South Asian community in danger,” Merrifield said.
The past year has seen several attacks on the South Asian community in Kelowna. One instance saw an international student taken to the hospital after being attacked and having his turban ripped off his head.
Police in Abbotsford, Surrey and Vancouver first warned of the extortion letters on Nov. 23.
The police said that anyone who receives what they believe to be an extortion letter the letter should not engage or send money and should instead contact police immediately.
Rustad has not responded to interview requests, but this article will be updated as more information becomes available.