Excerpted From: Carol Liao, “The Next 10 Years”: Keynote Address on the 10th Anniversary of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, 55 U.B.C. Law Review 901 (December, 2022) (31 Footnotes) (Full Document)


CarolLiaoI want to congratulate the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL) BC on its 10 year anniversary. It is a milestone, particularly after the difficult years we have had since the start of this COVID-19 pandemic, and today is about celebrating FACL BC's accomplishments and thinking about how far we have come in this past decade.

The theme of “The Next 10 Years” resonates with me profoundly as someone who works on climate change and corporate law, as we near two years of living through this pandemic, and contemplate the ecological disasters that we are leaving to bear on the next generations. These next 10 years matter a great deal. And in the midst of the intersecting crises of climate change, the pandemic, and the resurgent racism that has crested alongside it, I am grateful to have this moment to reflect and pause--in the middle of this intergenerational storm--as we look toward the next 10 years and think about what kind of future we want.

As Asian Canadian lawyers in BC, many of us found ourselves in a unique situation during this pandemic. We have the privilege of influence, of a certain skill set that can protect and empower others. We can open doors. Yet 20 months ago, on top of all the realities of adjusting in terms of provincial orders, social distancing, masking, and changes in our workspaces and home lives, we were also forced to be reminded of our own othering.

COVID-19 has been dubbed the “inequality virus.” It has exacerbated inequalities across class, age, disability, gender, and race, as well as highlighted pervasive global inequities as vaccines get distributed disproportionately around the world. There has been a great deal of suffering and harm, which continues. During this time, the arbitrary acts of overt racism that were inflicted upon any random Asian-looking person in Canada exposed a very disturbing form of scapegoating and inner hatred that hurt very much, and caused this additional--very unnecessary--level of worry and stress for many of us on top of everything else.

It has been reported that 43% of BC residents of Asian descent experienced a racist incident during the pandemic, ranging from racial slurs to property damage to physical violence. Reactions from COVID-19 reflected a modern day version of Yellow Peril, an echoing from our racist histories here in BC and Canada. Videos and stories of deliberate acts of physical and verbal assaults began appearing everywhere in the news, in social media, and in personal recounts from friends and strangers. These accounts invoked other painful memories of the racism one encounters as these minor, and occasionally major, splotches and light undercurrents that can negatively impact an otherwise happy life.

Like many, I recall early on in the pandemic when I asked my parents not to go out if they could help it, in case they crossed paths with anyone looking for a vulnerable target for their misplaced anger. I recall periods myself where I was hesitant to go to stores and public spaces not just because of COVID-19, but because I am Asian. The busyness of life and perhaps my tendency to push down unpleasant memories like that make them feel so distant now as we move onto the vaccinated side of this pandemic. But it was only May of this year when a Bloomberg article dubbed Vancouver as the “Anti-Asian Hate Crime Capital of North America”. Surprisingly, our local media focused more on doubting whether Vancouver deserved the title of being the worst, as though being second or third in hate crimes per capita makes it any better.

Cultural sites were defaced and grocery stores, bus stops, and Chinatown became places of contestation. How angry that made me feel. How disappointed and sad I was. This is my city and the only home I know. But it does not take a pandemic to have experienced racism here, nor to have predicted it. As much as we want to insulate ourselves from racism, it is important not to sanitize what has happened, and to consider what needs to happen as we think about these next 10 years.

[. . .]

As Asian Canadian lawyers, again, we have a unique role in society. We were not allowed to be lawyers here 72 years ago. We have opportunities now, to use our education and skills, our hard-fought advantages, to help change the trajectory of our futures. It is beholden on us all to help those more marginalized than us. We have the abilities to disrupt, to protect the powerless, to empower the voiceless, to be courageous, thoughtful, ethical professionals and engaged global citizens, who will not just walk on by when another needs our help. This is what we need to be, to arm ourselves in this next critical decade for our societies and for our planet. It is through intersectional solidarity and collective action that we may be able to bring about change in this world, during what may be the most important decade to frame the kind of inheritance we are leaving for future generations.

As a group, we are diverse ourselves. We straddle different cultures and identities, we may hold different politics and ideologies, but as Asian Canadian lawyers, we all have the power to build up. To be anti-racist. The work FACL BC has done these past 10 years ... it absolutely floors me. What this Federation has accomplished overwhelms. The mentoring programs, the advocacy for representation, the podcasts amplifying Asian voices, the events with topics I would have only dreamed of being discussed 10-20 years ago. The statements of solidarity ... it all humbles me.

I want to end by thanking everyone at FACL BC for the inspiration, for being leaders, for being an example of what intergenerational and intersectional collaboration, allyship, and collective action looks like. I toast you on your past 10 years and say congratulations for a fantastic decade of bringing people together and for your advocacy of equity and justice. I sincerely look forward to the next 10 you have before you, with all my heart. Thank you.

Associate Professor and UBC Sauder Distinguished Scholar, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia.