The B.C. New Democrats marked the start of Vancouver's Pride Week by calling for the province to do more to curb hate-driven violence as statistics peg Metro Vancouver as one of Canada's hate crime capitals.
Metro Vancouver - which tied Hamilton for the highest rate of hate crimes - recorded 34 crimes driven by sexual orientation in 2008. At 24 per cent of all hate crimes committed in the region, it's the highest proportion in Canada.
More recently, police investigated an attack on a 30-year-old man on Canada Day as a hate crime and charged two 21-year-old men with assault causing bodily harm. In June, a gay couple were beaten outside their home. Two brothers from Richmond were charged with assault causing bodily harm.
"We are here because we are concerned with the latest string of both alleged and convicted hate attacks that have happened in our community as well as across the province," Spencer Chandra Herbert, MLA for Vancouver-West End, said at a press conference with NDP colleague Mike Farnworth on Monday.
Mr. Chandra Herbert wants increased education about homosexuality in the public school system, a province-wide tip line to report gay-bashing, investment in victim services and more police officers on the beat in Davie Village.
Crown prosecutors should also be encouraged to employ the Criminal Code's hate-crime provision in applicable assault cases, he said.
According to government officials, however, several of Mr. Chandra Herbert's recommendations have already been put into practice.
"The VPD do have a regular beat cop presence in Davie Village and they take hate crimes very seriously. That said, there are always ways we can do better and try to improve public safety," Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a statement.
Mr. Robertson said visible VPD presence will be increased in the West End neighbourhood during the summer. The Vancouver police also assign a dedicated officer to every potentially hate-motivated crime.
Crown prosecutors are already educated on the hate-crime provision and are required to present evidence of a hate motivation if it exists, said Criminal Justice Branch spokesman Neil MacKenzie. The branch also has a prosecutor who works specifically with others handling hate-motivated crimes, an intranet site with relevant case law and an online seminar on the topic.
Still, there are few cases in which hate has been proven to be an aggravating factor.
"The onus is always high in a criminal case," Mr. MacKenzie said. "It becomes a matter at the end of the day of the court making a finding of whether it is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the Crown has established it is a factor, that it is an aggravating factor."
Jordan Smith, who was the target of a hate crime, welcomed the NDP recommendations, especially those concerning education.
Mr. Smith's jaw was broken in a September, 2008, assault. Michael Kandola was convicted of assault causing bodily harm, and a B.C. Supreme Court judge found hate to be an aggravating factor in the case.
Mr. Smith said Vancouver's response to gay-bashing has been improving.
"I think back in the day, gay and lesbian people didn't think it would be taken seriously by the police, the public or the legal system, but something has changed," he said. "Recently, they've been taking notice because it's very bad optics for the city. They don't want to be seen as the hate crime capital of Canada."