Health officials’ portraits vandalized on Government St.

Local News

Federal health officer Theresa Tam’s portrait racially vandalized, while ASL interpreter Nigel Howard’s portrait covered in swastikas 

Photos by Kate Korte.

The colourful portraits that line Government Street have been vandalized with racial slurs, swastikas, and other markings. 

The paintings depict Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry, Federal Health Officer Theresa Tam, ASL interpreter Nigel Howard, and historical figures Florence Nightingale and Ignaz Semmelweis. Lining in the empty lot where the Plaza hotel burnt down last summer, the murals are accompanied by quotes and a thank-you note addressed to healthcare workers. 

The graffiti, which was first spotted by the Martlet on Sunday, July 26th, denigrates and mocks the healthcare figures whose portraits were painted to inspire and affirm. 

In response to a request for comment by the Martlet, VicPD said they had not been made aware of this vandalism yet. They added that city employees or private property owners are responsible for cleaning up graffiti.

The VicPD’s graffiti investigator was not available for comment at the time of writing.

One of the vandalized paintings accuses Tam of being a CCP agent. This is not the first time Dr. Theresa Tam has been the subject of racialized attacks. Tam was born in British Hong Kong and educated in the United Kingdom and Canada. When asked about these incidents, Tam said she was too busy running the country’s COVID-19 response to care. 

“My singular focus is to work with all of my colleagues to get this epidemic wave under control,” Tam said. “I don’t let noise detract me from doing that.”

Nigel Howard’s portrait is covered in swastikas, with “propaganda” written across his forehead. Howard has been the province’s ASL interpreter during their COVID-19 updates. He is also an ASL instructor at UVic. 

The vandals neglected to tamper with the portrait of late Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis. Semmelweis discovered the importance of hand washing to public health in the 1800s.

This incident follows another display of racist graffiti in June at the Victoria Chinese Public School. A Black Lives Matter public art installation was also dismantled last month. A team of volunteers quickly gathered to rebuild the installation, but it was disheartening to the young women of colour that invested their time in the display. All three of these events occurred within the same area, near Centennial Square and Chinatown. 

The Martlet will continue to update this story as further information is obtained. 

With files from Michael John Lo.