'I make no apologies for that': London, Ont. bar owner stands by signs many have called racist
LONDON, ONT. -- The owner of a bar in downtown London, Ont. is standing by a sign that has caused outrage as some have deemed its messages racist.
“Mr. Ford History will show lockdowns caused more damage 2 the public then the China virus,” is what the sign outside the Ale House on Dundas Street read earlier this week.
Backlash began to spread online and the sign was changed, but for many the change was no better.
“We love Chinese People we hate the genocide and China virus your commie govt has inflicted on us.”
Finally on Friday, a new sign read, "Calling out an oppressive govt is not racist period! We have (heart) respect 4 all people."
For all the attention, owner Alex Petro says he stands by his signs and that his fight is with the government, not the people.
“What we made very clear today on the top line is that we love Chinese people, we hate the communist Chinese government that is running the country. My anger is towards the communist government it is not the Chinese people,” said Petro.
Petro spoke with CTV News about the signage because he wanted to make clear that his business has never refused to serve any individuals of Asian descent.
"The story is 100 per cent unfounded. It didn't happen."
It's a claim Petro says was made on Facebook. CTV News has not reported any such incident.
When asked if he could see how his signs may be misconstrued he again stood by the wording, “No, no. I make no apologies for that.”
But while he is not apologetic, he does say it was never his intent to hurt anyone, and is "deeply sorry that I have offended them."
He added, "There is a lot of love, for all people, Asians included. We’ve never been discriminatory to anybody whether it be through employment or people patronizing us...My signs are strictly political, they are not meant to hurt the Asian community."
Petro points to how COVID-19 variants are referenced based on which country they originated from.
“But it’s not okay to call the virus the China virus, where it originated, so I do have a problem with that.”
While Petro may feel his signs are not racist or inappropriate many in the community disagree.
Gina, who is of Asian descent, has lived in London for 10 years and says it is a peaceful, respectful and warm city. She finds it hard to believe she's facing this kind of situation now.
She adds that many friends find the signage upsetting, “It is a public signage, everyone can see it, so in this case, regarding to that specific word, I think he is publishing something (racist]) regarding Chinese.”
She says each variant should be called by its number, not by the name of the country it has been associated with.
MP Peter Fragiskatos agrees, calling it unacceptable and saying the signs do a disservice to the community and he is reaching out to the Department of Justice on the issue.
"Over the past many weeks and many months, unfortunately, I've had constituents specifically of Chinese heritage coming to me expressing about racism that they’re facing in the community...The COVID-19 may have originated in China. It’s not clear absolutely that it did, it may have. But to assign responsibility for that to an entire group of people is deeply irresponsible, unacceptable and has consequences.”
London NDP MPPs Teresa Armstrong, Terence Kernaghan and Peggy Sattler issued a joint statement Friday echoing those sentiments.
It reads in part, "With anti-Asian racism on the rise over the last year we feel it’s important to let our neighbours and constituents know that we strongly condemn this language. This kind of anti-Chinese rhetoric is inflammatory and unwelcome in our increasingly diverse city. The increase in racist attitudes and behaviours due to misplaced anger regarding COVID-19 has negatively impacted the health, well-being and safety of Canadians of Asian descent."
As for the city, Chief Municipal Law Enforcment Officer Orest Katolyk told CTV News in an email that, "the municipal purpose of the Sign ByLaw is to address signage from a public safety and urban design perspective. If the content of any sign is perceived to be offensive, we would engage our partners at London Police Service for their review."
London Mayor Ed Holder also weighed in, saying in a tweet that the city has been in contact with police and the Downtown BIA, but "...although the numerous messages are divisive and offensive to members of the community, they do not meet any threshold for criminal charges to be issued."
Meanwhile the city’s biggest education institutions released a joint statement against racism in the community, however they do not name the Ale House signs directly.
“As leaders of London’s post-secondary institutions, we have an obligation to call out racism when we become aware of it," it reads.
When asked if the signs pass the treshold for any criminal offenses London police had the following to say:
"Though disappointing and offensive to see such signage in our city, the signage, in and of itself, does not meet the threshold of a criminal offense. The Canadian Charter of Rights permits freedom of speech for all Canadians, and while some incidents may not meet the threshold of a criminal offence(s), there is of course a related impact, as a result of such divisive comments."
Despite the criticisms, Petro doesn’t feel he has done anything wrong, insisting that he is lashing out against the Chinese government, not Chinese people.
“I’m going to be really clear with you like I am with anybody else, I hesitate talking to the media, I think you guys are masters at manipulating and changing the story … that particular sign, I don’t think anything on that sign, per se, has any racism to it at all.”
With reporting from CTV's Sean Irvine, Reta Ismail and Justin Zadorsky.