So few charges are laid for hate crimes in British Columbia that the government and other agencies need to offer victims more options for redress, as the justice system isn’t working for them, according to the province’s independent Human Rights Commissioner.
Kasari Govender on Tuesday issued a 500-page report that aims to explore the root of hate and actions to combat it. The Human Rights Commissioner found that hate incidents in B.C. have increased dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic, and legal and government responses have been largely ineffective.
Based on data from StatsCan, police in B.C., including the RCMP the B.C. Prosecution Service and the courts, Ms. Govender estimated there were approximately 20,000 hate incidents between 2015 and 2021. However, during this period, only six people were charged with hate crimes and only three convicted.
“These numbers show that while criminal prosecution for hate crimes is one important piece of accountability, it is failing to deliver justice for most people,” she said.
“We need to ensure that the criminal justice system can effectively respond to hate for those who are seeking that form of justice and to ensure that other forms of justice are available to those who do not feel safe according to police, such as restorative-justice programs and human-rights complaints.”
The result of a public inquiry she launched in 2021 into hate incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Govender’s report focuses on marginalized communities, online hate and increases in gender-based violence.
Compared with support from community organizations, the report points out legal and government responses toward hate have been “largely ineffective in addressing the problem because of a lack of relevant policies in public institutions, an absence of data, the underfunding of community organizations who are well-situated to address hate in their communities and the failure to apply a human rights-based approach to emergency management.”
The report says the Crown takes a “conservative” approach to laying charges, but victims of hate crimes are thwarted when attempting to seek other avenues of justice: the civil justice system is frequently inaccessible, and the human rights tribunal in the province is beset by severe delays.
In an investigation last May, The Globe and Mail analyzed the performance of the country’s 13 largest municipal and regional forces, and found that the average rates at which individual forces solved a hate crime by charging someone – or “cleared” it, in police-speak – varied widely, ranging from 6 per cent to 28 per cent. The Vancouver Police Department ranked fifth in laying charges among the 13 forces examined.
Ms. Govender’s report offered a dozen recommendations, including urging the B.C. government to create an action plan to address hate, such as developing a province-wide, centralized reporting system for hate incidents and processes for better data collection. As well, the government should be providing mental-health support to victims and help them navigate the court system.
The education curriculum should be expanded to include anti-hate instruction at all grades and students should be taught to detect online disinformation, the report says.
The report also points out that social media companies “were unable or unwilling to provide the commissioner with data on hate in their platforms in B.C. or in Canada during the pandemic.”
Ms. Govender said she didn’t make recommendations to the federal government because it falls outside of her legislative mandate. However, she added she hopes her recommendation of requiring social-media companies to do more to crack down on hate will be noted by Ottawa.
B.C. Attorney-General Niki Sharma thanked Ms. Govender for her work, and said the government will take some time to consider the report. Ms. Sharma said that through the government’s Safer Communities Action Plan and the Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network, “we’re strengthening enforcement, improving support services, and empowering more people to diffuse hate incidents where and when they happen.”
Queenie Choo, the chief executive officer of SUCCESS, a non-profit based in Vancouver’s Chinatown that helps new immigrants, applauded Ms. Govender’s call for better data and for improvements to education.
“We need to ensure it’s not just those people who are really affected … but also the rest of the community needs to understand what hate means to people,” Ms. Choo said.
With a file from The Canadian Press