One in four British Columbians have experienced or witnessed a hate incident since the start of the pandemic, according to a new poll by British Columbia’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner.
The troubling finding comes in the wake of increased anti-Asian attacks and gender-based violence reported by police and community groups during the pandemic.
The commissioner’s office has now launched a public survey as part of its inquiry into pandemic hate to collect more detailed information: everything from who’s being targeted, where hate incidents are occurring and how people are experiencing trauma.
“It is an ugly and disturbing trend,” said commissioner Kasari Govender. “That’s why we are conducting a public inquiry into hate in the pandemic and why we need to hear from people who have firsthand experiences of hate. We want to ensure our recommendations are rooted in the experiences of those most impacted.”
The survey, open until March 6, can be found here. The survey is anonymous, available in 15 languages online and 25 languages over the phone.
There are historical roots for blaming illness on people from a particular racial background or country, says Govender. But aside from race, the survey also investigates characteristics such as religion, gender identity, disability, Indigeneity, sexual orientation and poverty or homelessness as bases for hate.
Hate incidents, as defined for the purposes of the inquiry, are actions and speech rooted in prejudice that, in the view of the person who experiences or witnesses it, targets a person of a group, causing significant dehumanization, degradation, humiliation, injury or silence.
It also includes abuses of power by people in authority; incidents of people being denied the same treatment as others; and hate speech online.
The survey asks for information about the specific community and setting where an incident of hate occurred, whether online or in a public space such as a bus or park.
The survey is both very detailed and open-ended.
This is the first public effort to survey British Columbians about their experiences with hate during the pandemic, though a few community organizations have already been doing so.
A coalition led by the Chinese Canadian National Council’s Toronto Chapter documented over 1,000 incidents of anti-Asian racism between March 10, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021.
The report found that 44 per cent of those incidents took place in B.C., and 40 per cent in Ontario. It was a startling find, because B.C.’s Asian population is about one-third the size of Ontario’s.
Organizations that work with Asian Canadians have told Govender that many seniors have become afraid of going out alone or at night.
Another survey by Ending Violence Association of Canada found that almost half of gender-based violence workers noticed an increase in the prevalence and severity of violence.
There is police data, too. Statistics Canada did a nationwide tally and found 2,669 hate crimes were reported in 2020, up 37 per cent from the year before.
Hate crimes, according to the province, are likely to be the most underreported offenses.
Govender’s office launched its year-long inquiry back in August, starting with hearings from community groups, and the challenges of reporting hate was one of the key topics that emerged.
“Communities subject to hate might have less trust in the police as an institution, because it might not be able to give folks the responses or remedies they’re looking for,” she said. “Police follow the criminal standard for hate, which is a very high standard.”
Reporting a hate incident to community groups collecting data, on the other hand, is not about holding perpetrators to account in the same way as police do (though the province encourages residents to report all hate incidents to police).
Instead, community groups focus more on providing support to individuals who have experienced hate, and they turn the reports they receive into recommendations on how to combat hate from a systemic perspective.
Still, despite how easy or challenging an institution makes it to report hate, individuals sometimes face internal barriers that stop them from telling someone.
Doris C., one of the leaders behind the survey of Asian Canadians, told The Tyee last year that a person called her mother a racial slur at a London Drugs and her mother “didn’t even see it as racism.”
“It becomes so engrained,” said Doris, “putting our heads down not to make a fuss. We might not even recognize [our own experiences] or name it as racism.” Doris didn’t share her name in full because she received harassment for launching the project — yet another sign of hate.
Govender stresses the importance of documenting lived experiences so that we have a clearer picture of how hate has increased and affected B.C. residents during the pandemic.
“This isn’t a process where you need to prove that something happened to you,” she said of the survey. “This is really about understanding what individual experiences have been.”
The survey can be taken online here and is available in 15 languages. It can also be taken over the phone in 25 languages; see link above for more information. It is open until March 6.