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B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry at a news conference in Vancouver, on Jan. 30. In testimony she offered to an inquiry into hate during the pandemic, Dr. Henry said she was receiving between 10 and 50 abusive or threatening calls a day.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

There was a point during the pandemic when Bonnie Henry was receiving between 10 and 50 abusive or threatening calls a day. By April 1, 2022, the day she spoke to an inquiry into hate during the pandemic, conducted by British Columbia’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, Dr. Henry – the Provincial Health Officer and very much the public face of B.C.’s COVID response – had received more than 200 direct threats by e-mail. In the mail, she received used masks. Also, human feces.

Dr. Henry’s experiences are recounted, along with those of many others who experienced hate during the pandemic, in the inquiry’s report “From Hate to Hope,” which was released on Tuesday.

The hope part, frankly, is hard to see.

“The pandemic marks a period of unprecedented division, intolerance and hate in the province,” the report states.

“After reviewing the mountain of evidence presented in this report, it is impossible to deny that we are at a reckoning.” The document, which comes with a trigger warning, cites rocketing hate crime statistics, incidents in “every corner of B.C.” and a dramatic increase in online hatred. (Social media companies are berated for not providing data about B.C. hate incidents.)

While rarely surprising, the findings lay out in black and white how low we have sunk in this societal moment.

The inquiry, launched in August, 2021, polled 800 people, received more than 2,600 responses to a public survey, and heard 52 presentations by organizations at 46 virtual hearings.

It reports that Asian Canadians, in particular, were targeted by hateful comments and microaggressions. People threw garbage at them, spat at them and changed seats so as not to be near them.

“Go back to China and take your disease with you,” a woman was told by fellow customers at a restaurant.

A worker on a crisis line who has an Indian accent was told by someone calling for help that he was part of the problem – that he had brought the virus to Canada.

Someone threw a can of pop from a moving vehicle at an Asian-Canadian woman and her partner and yelled, “Thanks for COVID,” while using a racist slur.

The inquiry heard from a Vietnamese-Canadian whose grandmother, afraid to go out in public, got her exercise by walking in circles in her backyard.

These incidents happened in the public spaces of everyday life: streets, parks, transit, restaurants, stores, schools and health care facilities.

The report also looks at the unprecedented harassment and abuse experienced by front-line workers and health care professionals, including Dr. Henry, who was doxxed and targeted.

“She described staff being fearful to come into work, wanting to protect staff from the vitriol in her inbox and staff leaving. She described a sense of losing faith in humanity and that one of the impacts is that it affects the way you see other people,” the report states.

“It shapes you,” Dr. Henry told the inquiry.

She believes the derision was gendered, noting that Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, was also a target. There was a different tone to the comments aimed at the then-premier and Health Minister, both male, Dr. Henry said. “It’s definitely because I’m a woman. … Definitely misogynist, sexist, the comments that are demeaning and meant to, you know, invoke fear.”

I was also frustrated with Dr. Henry at times but, my goodness, that woman worked relentlessly managing the unprecedented pandemic – and all the while tried to get us to be calm, kind and safe (a catchphrase which I know became irritating for some people).

Dr. Henry certainly has not deserved the, er, feces she has had to deal with.

It’s hard to know how we come back from this – from angry people hurling pop cans, insults and saliva.

It feels as if, during the pandemic, a line was crossed – and the bad behaviour is only getting more pronounced. The divisions are deep and ugly.

The report notes that the public survey received many responses “that did not align with the inquiry’s definition of hate or discrimination.” These included conspiracy theories, anti-government rhetoric and calls for prosecuting government officials, including the Prime Minister.

The report’s recommendations include a significant expansion of anti-hate curriculum in schools, a centralized reporting system for hate incidents and mandatory training for police on hate crime responses. It also says emergency planning for major crises must include plans to address a rise in hate speech and hate-fuelled violence.

“It is our duty to act now to be prepared for the next crisis.”

If – when – that happens, we will be starting from a much lower point than we were at the beginning of our current one.