On Saturday night in her hometown of Calgary, Alta., Jessica Lau was longboarding along a park pathway in the Inglewood neighbourhood when a man on a bicycle spat on her and called her a racial slur. Lau’s boyfriend, who is a videographer by trade, happened to be recording a video on his phone when the incident occurred.
“He passed on a bike and spat on my left side, and it hit the side of my face and my leg,” she said. “Then he kind of [mumbled] back a racial slur and just took off.”
Lau said that as the incident was unfolding, she hadn’t heard the racial slur but her boyfriend had, adding that spitting on someone during the COVID-19 pandemic was especially concerning.
“I didn't actually even realize he had said that to me, it was more so just shock he spit on us during a pandemic,” she said. “By the time we kind of realized what went on and tried to turn around or something he was already gone.”
The video went viral after Lau’s brother posted it to Reddit and people began identifying the man.
“Someone [in the comments] was like I know this guy, he did the same thing to me, others said he harassed their online business…the internet investigators and just the community on Reddit found him,” said Lau.
The University of Calgary issued a statement on Sunday and identified the man as Justin Williams, a former staffer with the Dinos men's basketball team. The university condemned Williams’ actions and said they have extended support to Lau and her boyfriend.
“I do appreciate them reaching out and just saying that, and they don't condone his behaviour,” said Lau.
In a public statement the Calgary Police Service indicated multiple people on the pathway were spat on and a witness eventually confronted Williams, who then threatened the witness with a weapon.
Calgary police arrested the 31-year-old on Sunday and Williams has been charged with three counts of assault, and one count of possession of a weapon dangerous to the public. The hate crimes unit will review the investigation into this case, with additional charges possible.
Given the information that Williams was allegedly carrying a weapon, Lau is happy that her boyfriend didn’t intervene, despite what “internet trolls” have said.
“There's this weird expectation of men and the masculine thing is to hurt someone who’s hurt you or someone you love, it’s not the right way for me,” she said.
Lau, who identifies as Chinese-Canadian, said while this is her first encounter with overt racism she knows how prevalent it is in Canada. A couple of weeks prior, a white man in Ontario refused to wear a mask inside a T&T Supermarket and berated the Asian staff, and earlier this month a Halifax cab driver was repeatedly called a racial slur by a customer.
“It's really sad, especially in Canada, everyone here thinks they're not susceptible to racism, but it's 100 per cent not true,” she said.
Lau wants to use this incident to educate people about what happens in Canada and raise awareness about how racism is not okay. She also hopes that Williams gets the help he needs, while also receiving punishment for his abhorrent actions.