The province’s Human Rights Commissioner visited Penticton on June 7 to speak to local leaders about hate and how to deal with it in the wake of COVID-19.
The Penticton Western News sat down with Commissioner Kasari Govender to talk one-on-one about ways to address hate in the community.
The topic is unfortunately a timely one following the spree of hateful comments and vandalism that followed the installation of a rainbow crosswalk at Penticton’s Queen’s Park Elementary School.
“Immediately condemning hate publicly is a really important step and it is one of the things we heard from thousands of people across British Columbia for the inquiry, this normalization of hate. That’s a scary environment and it also can lead to the harm that flows from hate, not just physical harm of being assaulted, but also the psychological harm and shame and internalization of the hate.
“So I’m really glad to see our leaders speaking up and that’s one important step.”
The final report on the inquiry includes many different recommendations, including a number directed to the provincial government and others to the federal government. One of the provincial recommendations, and one that could directly impact communities like Penticton if adopted, is to ensure that all RCMP detachments have officers specialized in hate crimes, and for further standardized training about hate for all officers.
“One of the things, another thing that we learned through collecting data for the inquiry was that we estimate there are about 20,000 hate incidents between 2015 and 2021,” said Govender. “If you look at how many of them are actually where charges were recommended and investigations were done, that only resulted in six prosecutions and three convictions across the province during that time for hate in related incidents.
“So we can see that there’s considerably more work to do to make the criminal justice system an effective response to hate.”
One things that Govender returned back to was how the findings of the inquiry into hate during the pandemic and the recommendations are for multiple levels of government. The report also noted non-governmental factors that make a large difference in dealing with hate.
Groups like the South Okanagan Immigrant Community Services, which was hosting Govender’s presentation in Penticton. Govender said it is important not only to help support those who have suffered from a hate crime to keep their sense of belonging, but also to support community organizations to foster the community as a means of keeping hate from taking root in the first place.
“A key prevention piece that we know is that people who are perpetrating hate often feel a lack of belonging. We know that sense of isolation and growing time online led to this rise in online hate,” said Govender. “So we also know that when people experience hate, they often feel like they’re being pushed out of their communities or are told they don’t have a place here, so the lack of belonging all around.”
Building a sense of social cohesion within the communities, both by municipalities and community organizations, is thus an incredibly important tool for battling hate.
Also there needs to be an education component as well, she said.
“Specifically aimed at the Ministry of Education to look at how to embed anti-hate curriculum through throughout the K to 12 system.”
The inquiry recommends increasing transparency around hate, allowing it to be better tracked and measured in order to get a better grasp of the problem.
“We know that hate is nothing new, but it did rise dramatically over the pandemic and it has shown up more and more online and again and that’s due to a number of factors,” said Govender. “I think this particular political moment of a lot of very polarizing positions being talked about in the public and there is a normalization of hate in that way, and also the fact that we spent so much time online and in isolation with heightened anxiety and fear during the pandemic contributed to this rise in hate.”
While Govender noted that as a B.C. Human Rights Commissioner, she does not have any power to direct the regulation of social media companies or the federal government, she hopes that they pay attention to the recommendations in her report when considering legislation.
The full report on the 2021 inquiry and its recommendations was published in March 2023 can be found online at hateinquiry.bchumanrights.ca.
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