Disputes between pupils over the unrest in Hong Kong have triggered meetings with principals, parents and students of 10 schools in the Vancouver satellite of Richmond, the most ethnically Chinese city in Canada.
The meetings between principals and staff of the Richmond School District came after two recent incidents, both at Richmond Secondary School.
One is believed to have involved a fight between pupils, a description of which was shared on social media, while the other related to an anonymous letter praising the Communist Party that was attached to the locker of a pupil who apparently supported the Hong Kong protests.
"This letter isn't to scare or threaten you, we just want to teach you about history and let you know the consequences," said the lengthy letter in Chinese, which said Hongkongers were "disgraceful and cowardly", and protest supporters "evil".
"Don't you realise how much love the Communist Party has given you … how can you fight against the Communist Party?" added the letter, dated November 21. Addressed to "the owner of number four locker", the letter is signed "a Chinese person".
A copy of the letter was sent to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation by someone it said was a friend of the locker's owner, who was in Grade 8 and had decorated it with paraphernalia supporting the Hong Kong protest movement. The same letter had been shared on Twitter by writer Henry Lam, days earlier.
Provided with descriptions of the incidents and a copy of the letter, David Sadler, spokesman for the Richmond School District, told the South China Morning Post on Thursday that the two incidents involved different students. He provided no further details about the incidents, but confirmed the meetings about them.
"District staff met with all secondary principals regarding this issue to assess the magnitude of concern district-wide," said Sadler, referring to the 10 secondary schools in the district. "School administrators attended to the matter and met with the students and families involved."
He said he could not discuss the heritage of the students involved in the disputes.
"Recognising that there are global tensions, the school district continues to monitor the situation closely and remain in discussion with all school administrators," Sadler said.
He said that no schools other than Richmond Secondary had conveyed concerns. But a spate of other clashes over the Hong Kong protests involving Richmond pupils have taken place outside school, as well as elsewhere in the Vancouver region.
A heated confrontation occurred on October 1, Chinese National Day, when Richmond school students set up a Hong Kong-style "Lennon Wall" outside a railway station, only to have it torn down by older-looking youths speaking Mandarin.
In Burnaby North Secondary School in September, a female pupil who had put a "free Hong Kong" poster on her locker was seen being shoved in the chest by a male pupil, the incident caught on video. Principal Dave Rawnsley told the CBC the girl had been "protecting her poster" from other students trying to tear it down.
And Steveston-London Secondary School in Richmond came under fire in October, after a Mandarin teacher showed students trailers for the patriotic Chinese film My People, My Country. decried by some critics as propaganda. She then asked them how it made them feel good in an assignment headed "I Love My homeland".
Asked if the district had any message for pupils regarding freedom of expression about Hong Kong, Sadler said the Richmond School District was committed to defending against discriminatory behaviour and enforcing its code of conduct.
"School administration, teachers and district staff continue to work diligently to provide safe environments for students to learn and grow, while actively managing any situation that may violate the code," he added.
Descriptions of both incidents at Richmond Secondary were widely shared on social media. "Get the little pinks out of Canada," said one comment, using a derogatory nickname for young supporters of the Chinese Communist Party.
Richmond is the most Chinese city in the world outside Asia. Fifty-four per cent of the city of roughly 200,000 is ethnically Chinese. Richmond was once a stronghold of Hong Kong immigrants, but mainland Chinese immigrants now outnumber them two to one.
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