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Attorney General Niki Sharma promises racist-incident hotline while applauding change to policy on hate crimes

Niki Sharma on hate crimes
Attorney General Niki Sharma acknowledges that some people are reluctant to report hate crimes.

Attorney General Niki Sharma welcomes BC Prosecution Service’s revisions to its policy on hate crimes. On Friday (February 16), the BCPS announced that it had added several prohibited acts to its definition.

These offences include advocating or promoting genocide, public incitement of hatred, willful promotion of hatred, and willful promotion of antisemitism. In addition, hate crimes now incorporate conversion-therapy offences, including advertising or promoting this practice. Moreover, the BCPS added mischief to property of an identifiable group that’s motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate.

“These changes will go a long way in supporting our collective efforts to appropriately recognize and address the significant harm that hate crimes can have on individuals, communities and the province,” Sharma said in a statement.

As a result of the policy change, hate crimes now encompass offences under the Criminal Code motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate. This can be based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression, or on any other similar factor. If a court determines that a person was motivated by hate or bias in committing a crime, a judge may impose a harsher sentence.

“We know that reporting, identifying and prosecuting hate crimes can be challenging, and the process often retraumatizes those involved,” Sharma noted. “Aligning the BCPS hate crimes policy with the Criminal Code will make it easier to deliver justice to victims and survivors. In particular, the inclusion of hate propaganda and conversion-therapy offences, as well as advice on five new hate crime offences, will help us hold people who perpetrate these harms accountable.”

Police-reported hate crimes rose sharply

Certain proceedings or applications for a hate-crime designation will require the consent of the attorney general, which may be provided by the assistant deputy attorney general.  They include the Criminal Code offences of advocating or promoting genocide, willful promotion of hatred, and willful promotion of antisemitism. As well, this consent is required applications for warrants to seize hate propaganda or materials promoting conversion therapy from premises or computer systems.

Sharma added that more actions will be taken to address this issue.

“We know, for example, that some people may not feel comfortable reporting racist incidents directly to police,” the attorney general stated. “That’s why we are launching a racist incident helpline later this spring. This toll-free number will offer trauma-informed supports for those hesitant to get police involved when they have been victimized or have witnessed such an incident.”

In addition, Sharma stated that new anti-racism legislation will be introduced in the next session of the legislature. It will “identify and remove the barriers that make it difficult for racialized people to navigate government programs and services”.

Last year, Statistics Canada reported that there was a 27 percent increase in the number of hate crimes reported by police in Canada in 2021. That followed a 36 percent spike in 2020, which was the first year of the pandemic.

“Higher numbers of hate crimes targeting a given religion (+67%; 884 incidents), sexual orientation (+64%; 423 incidents), and race or ethnicity (+6%; 1,723 incidents) accounted for most of the reported increase from 2020 to 2021,” Statistics Canada states on its website.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.