A Provincial Court judge in Vancouver sentenced a Downtown Eastsider to another 79 days in jail and three years probation on Dec. 29 for scrawling anti-Chinese and anti-Hong Kong graffiti across windows of the Chinese Cultural Centre in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yves Gerard Joseph Castonguay, 48, appeared by video before Judge Harbans Dhillon and reiterated his guilty plea to criminally promoting hatred. He had also been charged with mischief to property used for cultural or religious worship.
Dhillon called Castonguay’s actions “utterly contemptible” and the words he used on April 2, 2020 “hateful, full of venom and anger.”
Ultimately, she said, Castonguay’s crime was “morally reprehensible and should shock the conscience of the community.”
The Crown sought nine months in jail and his defence lawyer said he should be sentenced to time served. Dhillon sentenced Castonguay to eight months, but gave him 161 days credit for the 109 days already spent in custody.
The sole condition of probation is for Castonguay to not be found at the Chinese Cultural Centre or on the Pender Street block that it is located.
“I am of the view that the Chinese-Canadian community, all visitors need to feel they can reclaim that space for themselves, they need to reclaim it in an honourable and safe way,” Dhillon said.
Earlier, the court heard that Castonguay arrived at the Chinatown landmark on the first Thursday of April 2020, just before 3 p.m. and approached the doorway at 3:24 p.m. with a permanent marker in his hand. Between 3:26 p.m. and 3:36 p.m., he wrote on several window panes on the west side of the doorway to the David Lam auditorium.
Crown prosecutor Mark Crisp read the graffiti verbatim, including messages in which Castonguay advocated for Chinese to meet the same fate as Jews under the Nazis. “Stop letting the chinks come overpopulate our great beautiful land, Canada,” Crisp said, reading from Castonguay’s graffiti.
Said Dhillon: “Can I just stop you there? While I know that that’s the word that’s used there, the racial epithet for Chinese persons or persons of Chinese origin, may I ask you to reflect the c-word instead of that word, even in court proceedings? I know that the statement of facts says what it its, but I’m not going to countenance the repetition of that word, even in this courtroom.”
Crisp conceded Castonguay was using a “drug cocktail” on the day. Defence lawyer Mark Swartz said his client has a longstanding drug addiction to a variety of substances, including heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, GHG and crack cocaine.
Dhillon said Castonguay has a rap sheet of 155 convictions for property crimes and violent crimes. Crisp called him beyond rehabilitation and “an unrepentant criminal who has been committing offences since the late ‘80s and has not stopped.”
“In his apology letter he says did not intend to harm anyone and he blames the media for his actions,” Crisp said. “No matter what was happening in the media, there is no justification for saying that Chinese people should be shot like Hitler did to the Jews.”
The court heard it cost $100 and 45 minutes to clean up the graffiti. But, according to a victim impact statement from the Chinese Cultural Centre’s director, “emotional scars will last a lifetime.”
Crisp said William Kwok wanted to appear in person to read his statement, but he said his son had been exposed to COVID-19. Crisp recited Kwok’s words, which said Castonguay’s graffiti “brought back vivid childhood memories of living in Winnipeg in the 1960s, I was picked on, pushed, kicked, punched, spit on because I was the c-word. The very same derogatory word that was in your message.”
“Your message advocating violence against Chinese people was the first reported in Vancouver since the pandemic,” according to Kwok’s statement. “Each time I see reports of violence against Asians, I wonder how many people you may have influenced.”
Swartz read from a November psychological assessment that said Castonguay had suffered physical and sexual abuse as a child and likely had a cognitive deficit. The report said he suffered physically from his violent father and he suffered further trauma as a young child in foster care. He continues to have nightmares relating to childhood abuse and that has led to his addictions.
Swartz said Castonguay had spent the last 10-plus years living in the Downtown Eastside, in single room occupancy hotels, couch-surfing or being homeless on the street, and that he has a relationship with an indigenous woman. He called the crime a one-off incident and that Castonguay is not a member or follower of any organization promoting white supremacy. “These are not deeply held, entrenched beliefs.”
Before delivering her sentence, Dhillon gave Castonguay a chance to speak.
“I do not hate Asian people,” he said.
Castonguay was apologetic, claimed he was on different cocktails of drugs and misinformed about the pandemic, so “I vented the wrong way, obviously.”
“I’m not racist by any means,” he told the court. “I don’t have an agenda to hurt people, I messed up, I did what I did, I take full responsibility.”
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