Federal Emergency Funding Needed to Save Historic Chinatown

July 24, 2020

Sent to: 

Chrystia Freeland, Chair
Cabinet Committee on the federal response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

The Honourable Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance



Dear Deputy Prime Minister Freeland and Minister Morneau,

I write urgently to request for federal financial support for Vancouver’s Chinatown business merchants that provide both significant economic and cultural value for the historic neighbourhood as many of these businesses are being forced to closure due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Vancouver’s Chinatown, designated as a National Historic Site in Canada in 2010, is currently under threat as many business merchants in this neighbourhood that contribute to its cultural value are experiencing extreme economic hardships as the pandemic has negatively impacted the tourist industry that these businesses in Chinatown rely on. These businesses are ineligible for or have no access to the Canadian Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) because government eligibility criteria require that landlords have no municipal affiliation. The Chinatown Plaza that provides tenancy for 20 small business merchants is an example of such a case. In addition, as you are aware, for employers to qualify for CECRA, they require landlords to submit the application and it has been evidently clear with the small businesses that most landlords are refusing to do so. The inability to qualify and access any of these subsidy programs will force these businesses into closure.

Your government has been made aware of the dire situation for businesses in Vancouver since the start of the pandemic. As you are aware, a recent announcement was made for Granville Island in Vancouver, a site owned by the federal government, where a special provision is made and $17 million is made available to provide rent relief for the merchants, theatres and artisans for a full year. While I support and appreciate the Federal government’s action in support of Granville Island, I would like to emphasize that historic Chinatown is in need of special consideration from your government. The significance of Vancouver’s Chinatown, a national historic site, is undeniably valuable to our city, our province and indeed our country.

Even before the pandemic occurred, Chinatown was already in a delicate state. The neighbourhood was ranked number three on the Heritage Vancouver Society’s top 10 watch list of endangered sites in Vancouver in 2018 and listed as the top 10 endangered places of the National Trust for Canada in 2016. In fact, ongoing gentrification and immense pressure from developers have already been impacting Chinatown’s rich cultural essence. The loss of small business merchants would only increase the risk of Chinatown losing its unique urban cultural characteristics.

Chinatown bears witness to this nation’s history and showcases the country’s many diverse cultural traditions. The community was developed through self-segregating enclaves due to discriminatory laws that prohibited people of Chinese heritage from living and working elsewhere in the city. These enclaves built this persistent community that welcomed populations who have been previously marginalized by our government. Chinatown continues to be home for many marginalized groups and small mom and pop shops that provide the cultural ambience that makes this neighbourhood a crucial element to the history of the city. The threat of losing these small businesses also puts the distinct cultural identity of Vancouver’s Chinatown at risk.

As a major historical site, an important hub for ongoing community heritage and cultural preservation and development efforts, and tourist attraction, it is vital that we do all that we can to help protect and preserve Chinatown’s cultural integrity. With the points mentioned above, it is my hope that the federal government can recognize the cultural value that small businesses merchants brings to Vancouver’s Chinatown, and undertake to provide a special measure to Chinatown to help the merchants survive the pandemic.


Jenny Kwan
Member of Parliament for Vancouver East

The Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos The Hon. Navdeep Singh Bains The Hon. William Sterling Blair The Hon. Patricia Hajdu
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The Hon. Carla Qualtrough
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