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Here’s what to do if you witness racism on the North Shore

The Racism Response Protocol gives you tools to take charge in harmful situations, and follow up with reporting and care afterwards
Impact North Shore spearheaded creation of the Racism Response Protocol. Members from the team that worked on the project: Jane Agyeman, Georgia Chan, Maryam Nani, Susie McLenaghan, Shadi Ashtari and Sarah More. | Nick Laba / North Shore News

You’re shopping at your local grocery store, and you notice a middle-aged woman berating a senior couple for not speaking English.

“You’re in Canada – learn to speak English,” she says.

Feeling unsure of what to do, you might stay silent even though you want to help.

That’s why a protocol has been developed by the North Shore Anti-Racism Network, to give people the tools to take action in situations like these.

The network itself is made up of numerous organizations including Family Services of the North Shore, Providence Health Care, North Shore Women’s Centre, Capilano University, as well as local municipalities, public libraries and police.

With reports of hate crimes on the rise, both across Canada and locally, the province-run Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network tasked its North Shore counterpart with developing a set of guidelines for responding to race- and hate-based incidents or crimes in local communities. The resulting North Shore Racism Response Protocol is similar to other community protocols that respond to disasters, traumas and other crisis situations, according to its creators.

But instead of just reacting when things go wrong – such as reporting incidents after the fact – the new protocol is designed to be proactive, which can involve preventing problem situations and actively intervening when they occur.

When you witness racism: See, Speak, Stop, Support

When an event like the grocery store scenario unfolds, there are four “S” words to follow, explains Lorelei Phillips, director of partnership engagement with Impact North Shore, which spearheaded development of the racism response protocol.

The first step is See: “assessing the situation, seeing if other people are noticing what’s happening. And to make eye contact with the couple so that they know they’re being acknowledged and not alone,” Phillips said.

Next, the Speak component is about demonstrating your support by engaging in the situation.

“If it’s appropriate, asking the couple something about what’s in their cart or what they’re shopping for – just trying to interact with them so they feel that someone is with them,” Phillips said.

If other folks are nearby, you can ask them to stand with you to create space between the couple and the person creating the problem. “You’re building safety around the people who are experiencing racism,” Phillips added.

The third word is Stop. If it’s safe to do so, you can say something directly to the person making the comments. “It could be something like, ‘That comment is racist. Please leave the couple alone,’” she said.

But in some situations, things can escalate quickly, so Phillips emphasizes that you should only do what feels comfortable and safe.

“Supporting the people who’ve experienced racism is really the key part,” she said.

Finally, if the couple wanted it, you could provide Support. “Staying there until the person leaves them alone, and asking them if they need any support,” Phillips said.

Part of the last step could be connecting them with some of the resources included in the protocol, like calling a crisis line for emotional support, or helping them report the incident.

“If there’s a manager, or staff person at the store you can connect them with, that would be an example of how to report that,” she said. “[Or] police resources, potentially, if someone wants to make a formal report.”

Some people might just continue with their shopping trip, and be thankful for the help, while for others it might be an extremely negative or triggering event.

“It’s not necessarily a linear process,” Phillips said. “It is a number of different components that will need to be used at the discretion of the situation and the individuals involved. Every situation is very unique.”

The four "S" framework falls within the protocol's STEP program of Safety & Prevention, Taking Charge, Event Documentation and Reporting, and Providing Care.

Police-reported hate crimes rising nationally and on the North Shore, statistics show

While the grocery store scenario is hypothetical, incidents of hate and racism in our communities are real. And troubling statistics show that reports of these kinds of situations are on the rise.

According to Statistics Canada data released in March, the number of hate crimes rose nationally by 83 per cent from 2019 to 2022.

In B.C., the number of police-reported hate crimes were 10.2 per 100,000 (roughly 543 incidents) in 2022, compared to 11.8 in 2021 and 6.3 in 2019 (roughly 320 incidents). Compared to other provinces, British Columbia ranked third highest, behind Nova Scotia (11.1 in 2022) and Ontario (12.7 in 2022). Most of the increases were attributed to targeting a race or ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

On the North Shore, around a third of the population (34 per cent) identify as visible minorities, per the latest census data from 2021.

Impact North Shore conducts annual client surveys, with the 2024 version showing one-in-eight people experienced “an attack, harassment or discrimination that they believe is based on their skin colour, ethnicity, religious affiliation or race in the past year.”

Most of these incidents happened while walking on the street, at a place of business or at school.

“A lot of those types of situations are not reported,” Phillips added.

North Shore business community championing anti-racism protocol

Since introducing the racism response protocol last year, Impact North Shore has been receiving encouraging feedback about the initiative.

“We have seen really positive responses from employers on the North Shore, which is great,” Phillips said. “North Vancouver Chamber in particular has been a big champion of the protocol.”

Phillips hopes uptake of the protocol among the business community continues, along with the effort to spread awareness.

“Across the North Shore, you’ll see some organizations [are] displaying posters and things like that around the #STEPUpNorthShore campaign, to create more awareness, not just within the organization, but generally across the community,” she said.

To spread the word about the protocol, the #STEPUpNorthShore campaign was launched, in support of the effort to equip and motivate people to intervene during incidents of racism.

Currently, the response protocol is a self-serve tool with no formal training program, Phillips said.

“But if folks are interested and have questions about how to implement that, I’d encourage them to reach out to us. We’ve got our [email protected] email, and we can certainly have those conversations.”