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Deadly California shooting casts pall over Canadian Lunar New Year festivities

VANCOUVER — The joy of Lunar New Year parades, parties and other festivities was tempered with sadness on Sunday following a deadly mass shooting in California that appeared to target people celebrating the same occasion.
Young girls wait to participate in the Lunar New Year parade, in Vancouver, on Sunday, January 22, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — The joy of Lunar New Year parades, parties and other festivities was tempered with sadness on Sunday following a deadly mass shooting in California that appeared to target people celebrating the same occasion.

Though in-person celebrations resumed in much of Canada for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shadow of the shooting in Monterey Park, Calif., loomed over some of the proceedings.  

A gunman killed 10 people and wounded 10 others at a ballroom dance studio in the city on the eastern edge of Los Angeles composed mostly of Asian immigrants from China or first-generation Asian Americans. 

Authorities later found the suspect, who Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna identified as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the van he'd used to flee after people thwarted his attempt at a second shooting.

Luna said no other suspects were at large and the motive for the attack remained unclear.

The attack followed a Lunar New Year celebration Saturday night in the heart of the city's downtown core, where red lanterns decorated the streets for the Lunar New Year festivities.

While some attending Canada's largest Lunar New Year parade in Vancouver's Chinatown had yet to hear the news out of California, Grace Chen said she and her family had the victims on their minds.

“The tragedy happened at a bad time, during Lunar New Year," said Chen as she took in the parade alongside her husband and son. "We are praying for them."

Parade-goer Thanh Nguyen said he also heard about the shooting but does not think it poses a major threat north of the border. 

"I feel more protected here," Nguyen said. "We have a large community of Asians here and I feel it’s safer in Canada, and people here are kinder."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, one of several dignitaries attending celebrations in Vancouver, said his "heart breaks" for the people whose Lunar New Year celebrations were "violently attacked" and whose lives were forever changed by the shooting. 

Trudeau said that while it was nice to see everyone gather to celebrate the Lunar New Year in-person for the first time since the pandemic began, news of the shooting has also caused sadness amid what should be a joyful time.

"We will be there for whatever support Canada can offer," Trudeau told reporters before the parade got underway. 

He said he is sending condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed and is keeping the victims in his thoughts.

Despite the tragic events south of the Canada-U.S. border, thousands of Canadians still took to the streets to formally usher in what the Chinese zodiac system hails as the Year of the Rabbit. 

The start of the Vancouver parade was slightly delayed as hundreds of spectators jammed the parade route, many trying to snap a photo of Trudeau.

Allie Kung and her seven-year-old son, Alex Windsor, said it was their first time attending and they were "having a blast."

"We are surrounded by so many people," Kung said in an interview. "We saw the lion (dance), the dragon dancers and God of Fortune."

Windsor chimed in to say it was “pretty cool” to see the Prime Minister join in the festivities.

In Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, over 110 people packed into the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts for a day of Lunar New Year celebrations.

Chris O’Neill, the centre’s executive director, said her team worked with Acadia University’s international student centre to put the event together.

Children and adults made crafts including woodblock rabbit prints and enjoyed a feast of mung bean pancakes, dumplings and Korean cookies, she said.

“It was actually one of our biggest community arts days ever,” O’Neill said. “Part of it is because it's such an important holiday. But I think there’s this feeling that even in a rural community, there is still an interest and desire to explore other cultures and to make sure that people feel welcome.”

Cities across the country were holding events to mark the occasion, though celebrations are expected to take place throughout the 15-day Lunar New Year period.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the East Asian community in St. John’s will celebrate on Jan. 29 at the local farmers’ market. Organizer Tzu-Hao Hsu said in a Facebook message that this year’s event will mark a return to in-person festivities after the pandemic. 

The Chinese Association of Newfoundland and Labrador will host the event alongside the Memorial University Chinese Youth Association and the Memorial University Chinese Student and Scholar Association. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press and Sarah Smellie in St. John's, N.L.

Brieanna Charlebois and Nono Shen, The Canadian Press