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B.C. commissioner urges creative ways to fight hate as reports double during pandemic

Expanding the anti-hate curriculum in schools and creating restorative programs in the justice system are among some of the recommendations being made.

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's Human Rights Commissioner says the province is facing a "reckoning" as hate in society rose sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kasari Govender released a nearly 500-page report Tuesday detailing the results of her office's public inquiry into hate incidents during the pandemic.

It offers a dozen recommendations, including a call to create a centralized system for reporting incidents of hate that connects victims with counselling, helps them navigate the legal system, and collects data to analyze trends. 

"While hate has deep roots in our society, it has risen sharply during the pandemic. Once you have traversed this mountain of evidence, it becomes impossible to deny that we're at a reckoning," the report concludes.

"In our hyper-polarized society,we must be decisive in our compassion and creative in devising non-violent responses to hate."

The report says hate incidents have increased dramatically during the pandemic, disproportionately impacting marginalized communities, along with increases in gender-based violence, and online hate. 

At the same time, it says both legal responses to hate and government responses have been "largely ineffective."

The report says police reported hate crimes in B.C. in 2021 were 118 per cent higher than in 2019. 

In the same period, police reported hate incidents targeting Indigenous people in B.C. were up 367 per cent, incidents against Black people rose 112 per cent, those targeting southeast and East Asian people were up 181 per cent and hate against South Asian people increased 78 per cent.

Hate occurrences aimed at people based on religion was up 74 per cent, while it increased nine per cent based on people's sexual orientation, the report says.

Govender warns that while the numbers show increases, there is also “significant” under-reporting to police regarding hate events and most public bodies don't collect that information. 

The report says there's no tracking of when hate is considered a factor in court sentencing, and 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." 

Govender calls on the province to create a post within government to lead prevention and responses to hate and develop an action plan that includes reliable data on incidents from police databases, social media reports, and a new centralized community reporting mechanism. 

"The reporting system should be multilingual, accessible to people with disabilities and utilize a variety of reporting platforms, such as online and by phone, text and email," the report says.

She says the system needs to support victims with counselling and help them navigate the legal system. 

"Supports available through the reporting system must be accessible across urban, rural and remote communities."

Govender wants her office to be given legal powers to oversee the implementation of the provincewide strategy.

In schools, the report calls for an expansion of anti-hate curriculum in grades K-12.

In the justice system, the report asks the government to create restorative programs to deal with hate, develop Crown policy directives that encourage a broader range of prosecutions for hate-related incidents and give guidance on when gender-based violence should be considered a hate crime.

She also calls for a new policing standard and a requirement that all police departments have at least one trained hate crimes specialist.

Though the federal government falls outside the commissioner's mandate, she says she hopes a series of recommendations around social media will be “informative for the government of Canada if and when they choose to address the significant impact of online hate across the country.”

Her recommendations directed at social media platforms include enforcing rigorous terms of service dealing with hateful content, reforming the algorithms to favour less discriminatory content, and stopping placement of ads alongside hateful content.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2023. 

Ashley Joannou, The Canadian Press