Premier John Horgan wants to see violence against people-of-colour prosecuted as hate crimes, saying he’s disturbed by a Vancouver police report that shows a seven-fold increase in anti-Asian hate crimes.
“We need to ensure that violence against people-of-colour is not just treated as violence but in fact hate crimes which carry much different penalties,” Horgan told reporters in Langford on Thursday morning.
He was responding to a year-end report presented by the Vancouver police to the police board Wednesday that shows anti-Asian hate crimes are up 717 per cent over the past year. The department’s figures show 98 anti-Asian hate crimes were reported in 2020, up from 12 incidents the year before. Overall, hate crimes increased 97 per cent, from 142 incidents in 2019 to 280 in 2020.
Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth has been reaching out to law enforcement across B.C. “to reinforce the importance of prosecuting hate crimes,” Horgan said.
Victoria criminal defence lawyer Michael Mulligan said Canadian courts already have the ability to lay tougher sentences if Crown prosecutors can prove the crime was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.
Mulligan said when prosecutors approve charges it’s easier to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone committed the act rather than their motivation for the act. The Criminal Code includes provisions on hate crimes, however those sections largely cover hate speech, vandalism at religious sites and publicly promoting genocide.
Horgan acknowledged that hate crimes can be more difficult to prosecute “but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow through and make sure that people understand in British Columbia, if you’re going to turn against people because of the colour of their skin, you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
In July 2020, Vancouver police charged a man in connection with the March 13 attack of a 92-year-old Asian man with dementia in a convenience store near Nanaimo Street. While police called the attack a hate crime, Jamie Bezanson was charged with assault.
Of the 280 hate incidents reported to Vancouver police in 2020, 44 resulted in charges ranging from assault, uttering threats, mischief and other Criminal Code offences, said VPD spokeswoman Const. Tania Visintin.
The department has a hate crimes investigator who gathers evidence on any incident that may be motived by hate, Visintin said. The B.C. RCMP also has a provincial integrated hate crimes unit.
Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for the B.C. Prosecution Service, said that while there are no prosecutors specifically assigned to hate crimes, the prosecution service has a designated hate crime resource counsel group that can advise Crown counsel dealing with such offences.
The Ministry of Public Safety said in a statement that it has established an anti-hate and anti-racism working group, which includes staff from several ministries and the policing and security branch. The group’s focus is to identify new ways to co-ordinate responses to incidents of racism in communities and to address systemic and institutional racism, the ministry said.
Queenie Choo, CEO of SUCCESS, a Vancouver-based community service group for newcomers to Canada, said the “alarming” anti-Asian hate crimes are likely the tip of the iceberg since many hate incidents go unreported. Choo said she’s heard from people who are afraid to go grocery shopping because they’re worried they’ll be subjected to racism.
The incidents, Choo said, underscores the need for anti-racism legislation in B.C., something Horgan promised is coming. He said Rachna Singh, MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers and B.C.’s first parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives, is consulting with stakeholders and community groups over what they would like to see in the legislation.
Singh is also talking to community groups about the collection of race and ethnicity data, the dearth of which during the pandemic has made it difficult to determine whether racialized groups are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. While B.C.’s human rights commissioner and B.C.’s chief coroner have called for the collection of data disaggregated by race, Horgan said it’s a sensitive issue because some individuals might not want to provide that information for fear it will be used to discriminate against them.
“Historically, this is information that may well not have been advantageous to individuals to be shared with government and with others in society,” Horgan said. “So we need to make sure that this is done in a way that’s understanding of some sensitivities over a time.”
The Ministry of Health and the B.C. Coroners Service collect data on Indigenous people who die or come in contact with the health system, but the same standard doesn’t exist for other racialized communities . Such data was key in a report on anti-Indigenous racism in the health-care system, but the report’s author, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, said a lack of data made it difficult to investigate systemic racism against other racialized groups.
Horgan spoke from his hometown of Langford on Thursday, where he announced the opening of a building that will allow public-sector workers who live in the West Shore to work in their community instead of commuting to Victoria.
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