Montreal police confirmed Wednesday they are investigating recent acts of vandalism at Buddhist temples as potential hate crimes.
Louis Le, a volunteer at the Quan Am temple, said he believes the incidents were racist acts.
He said his temple was vandalized twice in the last month by a hooded individual captured on security video smashing statues with a hammer.
Soon after the incident, Le said, he became aware that two other temples had experienced something similar. A few days ago, statues in Montreal’s Chinatown were also vandalized with spray paint, he said.
The 24-year-old, who has lived in Montreal his whole life, said it’s the first time he’s heard of incidents of this type directed at Montreal’s Buddhist community, many of whom are Asian.
He believes the vandalism stems from fear over the new coronavirus, which originated in China.
“My theory is because of the coronavirus right now,” he said in a phone interview. “People associate it with the Asian community. It’s just prejudice and injustice.”
Police would not confirm the number or the nature of the incidents, but workers at three separate temples, including Le, told The Canadian Press that statues outside their buildings have been damaged in recent weeks.
Le says the vandal broke more than 10 statues, both outside and inside his temple’s gates, including a Buddha.
The vandalism was upsetting to members of Montreal’s tight-knit Buddhist community, he said.
“In the younger community, a person like me, the first reaction would be anger,” he said. ”I try to dissuade the feeling away, because it’s not a good feeling to have in a sacred place.
“But for the older people, it’s a little bit of fear,” he added.
Dinh Tran, who works at the Thuyen Ton temple in the Rosemont-Petite-Patrie neighbourhood, said the vandals destroyed four lion statues over two nights last week.
“I feel a little sad, I don’t know why they’d do that,” she said.
A person who answered the phone at the Huyen Khong Buddhist socio-cultural centre said someone had damaged the muzzles of two lion statues outside their temple and painted their eyes black.
Police say they don’t yet have a motive for the vandalism but the incidents are being taken seriously.
“Because it consists of acts committed towards religious symbols, they are treated as hate crimes,” they said in an emailed statement.
They encouraged any other victims to report similar incidents.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2020.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press