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Hate crime reports jump 31% in Vancouver, fuelled by Israel-Hamas conflict: police

Click to play video: 'Israel-Hamas war tensions increased hate crimes and protests in 2023, VPD says'
Israel-Hamas war tensions increased hate crimes and protests in 2023, VPD says
WATCH: Tensions fuelled by the Israel-Hamas war sparked an increase in hate crimes and protests in 2023, according to Vancouver police, resulting in millions of dollars in overtime costs. Rumina Daya reports – Jan 16, 2024

The number of hate crimes and protests soared in Vancouver last year, with police citing the deadly Israel-Hamas conflict as a major driver.

According to the Vancouver Police Department, officers investigated 265 hate crime reports in 2023 — up 31 per cent from 2022 — with increased reporting from the Jewish, LGBTQ+ and South Asian communities. Antisemitism reports to police also went up 62 per cent, with 33 of 47 incidents occurring after Hamas launched its attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

Since that day, police have also spent more than $2.5 million on overtime costs in connection with 80 protests related to tensions in the Middle East, some of which have included “unprecedented volatility.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver police say Israel-Hamas war has fuelled rise in hate crime'
Vancouver police say Israel-Hamas war has fuelled rise in hate crime

Departmental statistics published Tuesday did not highlight increases in Islamophobia, but Staff Sgt. Astrid Bonter spoke of bitterly hateful graffiti targeting both Muslims and Palestinians. She said there has been a definite increase in Islamophobia, but the data is based on reported incidents and “there may be incidents of underreporting in all communities.”

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“I cannot begin to speak on behalf of the communities embroiled in this conflict. I can say that without question, their suffering is seen and heard,” said Bonter of the VPD’s diversity, community and Indigenous relations section.

“If there is a silver lining to be drawn from these reports of hate, increases in reporting mark grand-scale attitude shifts that have declared once acceptable behaviour to be wrong and intolerable…. More people calling out hate, more people seeing hate for what it is leads to an increase in our reporting numbers.”

Click to play video: 'Communities mark 100 days of war'
Communities mark 100 days of war

To grapple with the increase, Vancouver police said they’ve deployed more school liaison officers, activated a 24/7 operations centre to move resources with urgency when need arises, and beefed up security outside places of worship, schools and community centres.

“We continue to engage in significant outreach with community groups and faith groups, including members of our Jewish and Muslim communities, and others who have felt the impacts of the events in the Middle East,” Bonter said.

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To date, suspects have been identified in 26 of 50 criminal offences directly connected to the Israel-Hamas conflict, police said, and nine people have been charged in connection with 11 of them.

Click to play video: 'Tensions between pro-Palestine protestors and Israel supporters escalate in B.C.'
Tensions between pro-Palestine protestors and Israel supporters escalate in B.C.

There were more than 1,000 protests across Vancouver last year, up from around 800 in the previous year and 600 in 2021 and 2020.

Police also said tensions around Khalistan, civil unrest in Iran, and opposition to guidelines on sexual orientation and gender identity were at the root of some of those protests. The Khalistan movement advocates for the creation of a separate homeland for Sikhs from India, and made headlines last year after the June murder of a prominent B.C. Sikh leader and Khalistani, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Reports of hatred against the East Asian community, however — often connected to the pandemic — declined in 2023, Bonter said.

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Police said about 10 hate crime reports last year targeted the Muslim and West Asian communities, but that doesn’t mean more acts of violence against them did not take place.

“Why we’re here today is to break down those barriers, to invite those communities who may not have historically had a positive relationship with police to come to us,” Bonter said.

Click to play video: 'Rallies for peace in downtown Vancouver'
Rallies for peace in downtown Vancouver

In November 2023, B.C.’s human rights commissioner also documented a surge of discrimination and violence targeting Jewish and Muslim people in B.C.

Kasari Govender said it followed a wave of discrimination against trans and gender-diverse people in the fall, which followed a wave of hatred during the pandemic.

While hate isn’t new, Govender said it rises in times of crisis in society and is amplified by the spread of misinformation if no concerted action is taken. In a statement at the time, she added it’s critical that those affected by discrimination have appropriate avenues for reporting incidents — and that justice is pursued for hate crimes.

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