Lawmakers have long tried to make hate a crime – but there’s little the law can do, advocates say
It has been 40 years since the British Columbia Civil Rights Protection Act was passed in the wake of the rise in crimes against people of color in the province.
The law, which prohibits the promotion of hatred, means perpetrators can be fined up to $ 2,000 or up to six months in prison, or both.
Although the law is a step forward, many advocates say most human rights laws remain ineffective in delivering justice to those wronged by race-based violence and harassment. The problem has become even more acute over the past two years, with an increase in hate crimes in British Columbia.
Police-reported hate crimes in the province increased by almost 60 percent between 2019 and 2020, while nationwide hate crimes increased by 37%. The majority of these crimes were targeted at Blacks, East Asians, South Asians and Aboriginal people.
Provincial and federal governments say they are trying to fight racism through legislation, but advocates say more practical, on-the-ground action is needed.
KKK hate campaign
In 1981, British Columbia’s Civil Rights Protection Act was considered historic anti-racism law. The hope was that it would help fight a resurgence in hate crimes led by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
At the time, the white supremacist group had already been linked to various incidents in the Lower Mainland. The previous year, 42 Nigerian students at the British Columbia Institute of Technology had been the target of verbal and physical attacks by the KKK.
The campaign, which lasted nearly four months, involved garbage dumped on doorsteps, threatening phone calls and the letters “KKK” carved into houses and cars.
“[The KKK’s] the plans, of course, were to make sure that blacks in particular – but other visible minorities [as well] – had no right to be successful in society, “said former lawyer and human rights activist Paul Winn.” They thought we were less than human in some ways, according to their doctrine.
Now 82, Winn, former president of the late BC Black Solidarity Association, still vividly remembers the many paths he was forced to take after the provincial government continued to fail to protect people of color. .
Winn filed a complaint against the KKK with the British Columbia human rights branch, but it was dismissed, a spokesperson telling the Province newspaper in November 1980 that the human rights code man would have little effect.
Several activists then called on Alan Williams – who was Attorney General of British Columbia from 1979 to 1983 – to prosecute the KKK under a section of the Criminal Code that prohibits “willfully promoting hatred”. But Williams refused, saying the KKK had not broken any laws.
In response, Winn, along with former Vancouver MPP Emery Barnes, advocated for new anti-racism legislation. With the help of a lawyer hired by the province, the Civil Rights Protection Bill was drafted.
The law, which came into effect in June 1981, differed from the Criminal Code in that individuals could now take action against those who incite hatred without the permission or assistance of the Attorney General.
Hatred remains legally undefined
But the laws are far from perfect, say human rights defenders.
According to Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII), only 28 cases in British Columbia have cited the law since the early 2000s.
“I think there is this problem of the law not being specific enough and allowing discretion to be enforced, which all laws do,” said June Francis, president of Hogan’s Alley Society – a nonprofit that shines a light on black history in British Columbia – and special advisor on anti-racism to the president of Simon Fraser University. “But the more discretion there is, the more systemic racism is likely to affect the outcome.”
She added, “The vagueness with which these categories are constructed allows for the exercise of discretion in deciding what or not meets the test for a hate crime. And once there is discretion, that discretion often plays against people like us blacks. “
Cpl. Anthony Statham, of the RCMP’s Hate Crimes Team in British Columbia, echoed Francis’ sentiments, noting that there was no legal definition of what constitutes hate – and much of it. what is considered a “hate group” is expressed by the media and public opinion.
“The federal government is trying to address this problem by addition of a definition of “hate” to the Criminal Code“, he said.” There are laws that speak of what it is, but that in itself is not defined in the law. We’re now at a point where we’re a little out of step with what the law is trying to do or not doing. “
Statham said that Section 2 (b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provides for freedom of expression, essentially allows people to legally join hate groups.
“But if you do anything to support this group – whether it is fundraising or anything that is intended to support this group ideologically or to promote its cause or its capabilities – then this is where the terrorist offenses go. can come into play, ”he said.
KKK Literature make derogatory comments about Martin Luther King Jr. was distributed as recently as 2017 in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. As of the date of publication, the KKK is not listed as a terrorist entity on the Public Safety Canada website.
A spokesperson for Public Safety Canada said a group must meet “explicit criteria” involving terrorist activity to be added to the list.
Legal deterrents will not stop hate crimes from happening in British Columbia, said Statham, who instead stressed the need for systemic change.
“I don’t think there is a lot of evidence that people stop committing hate crime because they are deterred by the results of other cases before,” he said. “I think in order to try to have an effect on that really, it’s a bigger strategy that has to target a lot of different things that are problematic in society.”
For example, Statham said, minorities are largely suspicious of the police because of a history of poor relations between their communities and law enforcement. In addition, many victims are prevented from reporting crimes for fear of not being believed and ultimately fired.
Francis, meanwhile, calls for more members of the BIPOC community to hold positions of power and influence to ensure that decision-making is inclusive and representative of society at large.
After making her home in British Columbia in the 1980s, she says she only heard about the KKK’s hate campaign against Nigerian students much later in her life. Only a handful of newspapers reported on it at the time.
Francis says this problem stems from the various ways in which institutions promote racism and systematically erase and downplay racist experiences.
One example she uses is “the intentional displacement of the black community” by the city of Vancouver, the province and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) – notably through the leveling of Hogan’s Alley, a bustling black neighborhood. from Strathcona – for place at the Dunsmuir and Georgia Viaducts about 50 years ago.
When contacted for comment by CBC News, the City of Vancouver and CMHC recognized their role in the move and vowed to do better to move forward. MP Rachna Singh, Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives, said the province has made tackling anti-black racism a priority.
British Columbia is currently developing anti-racism data legislation using a public survey. Singh told CBC News that the data the province collects will help identify gaps and obstacles in the system. Further public consultations will then focus on how the provincial government can try to correct them.
Francis stressed the importance of data collection, noting that it is the first transformation step towards tackling inequality.
“What you don’t see you can ignore,” she said. “What you don’t measure doesn’t exist.”