‘Sad to see:’ Edmonton’s Chinatown loses business after murders and rising crime

“Chinatown has been here for a long time, so it’s sad to see. Being able to have a safer area would accommodate more guests and more citizens in that part of town.

Wen Wong, executive director of the Chinatown and Area Business Association, said the McCauley Ward neighborhood has deteriorated over the past 20 years.

The decline worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the community’s oldest bakery burned down and many more cases of arson and vandalism followed.

Edmonton police said there was a growing trend of violence, disorder and property crime in areas such as Chinatown, downtown and the transit system.

Wong said years ago, many businesses in Chinatown stayed open late into the night to serve busy customers. Many now close at 6 p.m. and during the day operate with their doors locked, so customers must knock to enter.

“We surveyed our members and nearly 100% said Chinatown is extremely dangerous, especially at night,” Wong said, adding that he doesn’t go out at night.

Lau said the murder of Ban Phuc Hoang and Hung Trang a few blocks from his restaurant made it difficult to attract customers. Hoang was working in his electronics store when he was attacked. Trang was found dead outside the body shop where he worked.

Lau said some of his taller male employees routinely escort waiters to their cars after shifts “because we’re scared of what might happen.”

Wong said substance abuse and mental health issues have worsened and more people have traveled to the area to access nearby social service centers.

Volunteers have collected up to 300 syringes a month from the community, which is only a few blocks from Edmonton’s safe drug consumption sites, he said.

“I don’t understand why and how the safe injection sites and these centers were all placed near Chinatown,” Wong said.

“We have a lot of homeless people coming in and they don’t want to leave,” Lau added.

“We have to call the police, which sometimes takes up to an hour. At that point, they made a mess.

Wong said he had 150 companies operating at the start of the pandemic and today there are about 120.

The children of many business owners tell their parents they don’t want to continue running their family stores because of how hard it is, he said.

“We have fewer and fewer Chinese owners as they get older. It’s hard for the Chinese community.

Lau and Wong agree that two solutions would help Chinatown become the colorful, touristy and vibrant neighborhood it once was: more security and fewer social service centers in the area.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi announced a plan to tackle crime last week. It includes $1 million to revitalize Chinatown, grants to businesses to improve their safety, more public restrooms downtown, and help for landlords with cleanup.

In the long term, the city plans to urge the province to stop releasing mental health patients and those released from provincial correctional facilities onto the streets. This, after questions were raised about why the man accused of killing Hoang and Trang was dropped off in Edmonton by the RCMP when a bail condition stated he could not be in town only for a drug treatment program.

The city also wants to decentralize social services now concentrated near Chinatown over five years.

Edmonton Police said they are also creating a strategy to increase community safety with more officers in downtown areas.

Wong said 12 car, bicycle and foot security guards have been patrolling the area from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week since the funding was released. It will cover their costs for up to six months.

He’s not sure what will happen after that.

“We hope we will see a big change for the better.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 18, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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