British Columbia's human rights commissioner says she is disappointed with the provincial government's bid to address the rise in hate-motivated incidents in B.C.
On Wednesday, the B.C. government announced it is launching a racist incident helpline and offering community groups up to $10,000 to combat hate-motivated violence in the province.
Premier David Eby made the announcement on Wednesday, citing a "deeply troubling rise in hate and racism" against members of the Muslim and Jewish communities, and against Asians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
B.C.'s human rights commissioner, Kasari Govender, says she was "underwhelmed" by the announcement.
"We know that it's time to move beyond nice words and into real actions, and I'm glad to see the province taking some steps in that direction, but this doesn't go far enough," Govender said.
She called the measures reactive and said more needs to be done to take preventative measures.
"Education, for example — how do we prevent hate incidents from happening in the first place, or how do we change our society so that we don't have these responses and really address hate at its roots?" Govender said.
B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender calls the province's measures reactive and is calling for a comprehensive action plan that includes more preventative measures. (Kasari Govender/Twitter)
Govender recently expressed "deep concern" about the rising number of hate incidents stemming from the Israel-Hamas war, highlighting a surge in discrimination and violence toward both Jewish and Muslim people in the province.
"We absolutely have seen a spike in Islamophobic and antisemitic incidents in recent weeks, and I've really been calling for action in response to that," she said. "We can't sit back and let this happen — we need to have real action."
Vancouver police have reported some two dozen incidents aimed at the Jewish community, while the National Council of Canadian Muslims has said the last few weeks have been the worst in decades for Islamophobia reports.
Govender says the latest surge follows a wave of discrimination this fall against trans and gender-diverse people, which came after a dramatic rise in hate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What the province is doing right now, in helping people to feel safe and that the government has their back, is a great start.- Ezra Shanken, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver CEO
It spurred her to write a report last year, after getting feedback from thousands of British Columbians.
It included 12 recommendations for the B.C. government to combat the rise in hate.
Govender says the majority of those recommendations have been left unaddressed.
"This government has had my draft recommendations for a year to the day," said Govender. "What we see with this latest announcement is a step in the right direction, but far too small and far too limited a step to really tackle the breadth of the problem."
She said she wants to see a comprehensive action plan, rather than a "piecemeal" collection of measures already announced.
Province's steps applauded by Jewish group
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver says it has been targeted with more than 24 hate-motivated cases that are now being looked at by police in the past month alone.
"From swastikas being scrawled on a house of worship in South Surrey, to hate speech, to windows being broken, to people being harassed and threatened ... This is a really challenging time and people feel unsafe," said CEO Ezra Shanken.
He commended the province's new measures and said his group will continue advocating the province to provide security guards.
"The security costs have skyrocketed across the Jewish community over the past month," he said. "What the province is doing right now, in helping people to feel safe and the government has their back, is a great start."
The initiatives are estimated to cost $2.4 million, funded through the civil forfeiture program which allows the province to seize and sell property connected to criminal activity.
The B.C. government says anonymized data collected from the helpline will be analyzed to recognize patterns and trends for authorities to decide how to deploy anti-racism resources in the future.