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Alberta Hate Crimes Committee hosts community meeting in Lethbridge

Lethbridge residents met at a Alberta Hate Crimes Committee meeting Tuesday. .
Lethbridge residents met at a Alberta Hate Crimes Committee meeting Tuesday. . Danica Ferris / Global News

The Alberta Hate Crimes Committee hosted an engagement session in Lethbridge Tuesday afternoon, aimed at spreading education and awareness on the incidents motivated by hate.

The meeting was presented in partnership with the newly formed Lethbridge Diversity and Inclusion Alliance as well as the City of Lethbridge and the Lethbridge Police Service.

“This is about the third event that we’ve had in Lethbridge here, and one of the reasons that we do it is we want to build awareness,” said Less Vonkeman, a diversity liaison officer with LPS.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t understand exactly what the parameters are for a hate crime, and don’t know whether or not to report it,” he said. “We want people to report it. Even if it’s not criminal in nature, we can use it as a stat.”

READ MORE: Lethbridge police address string of random, violent crimes

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Vonkeman said that any information citizens can report is important to police.

“The majority of hate crimes don’t start off as crimes — they start off as incidents and build from there. So any incident that goes unreported — whether it be to the Stop Hate Alberta website or to police directly — might manifest and grow into a crime.”

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The difference between hate crimes and hate incidents was a major talking point at the meeting, with the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee defining an incident as “actions or occurrences that are non-criminal in nature but are still motivated by hate and evoke similar effects on the community.”

Hate crimes are any criminal offence that’s motivated by hatred.

The meeting evoked discussion that exceeded the expectations of organizers, including the City of Lethbridge’s diversity and inclusion specialist, Tymmarah Mackie.

“It was really meant to be just education and awareness about hate crimes and hate incidents, and it ended up being a community dialogue,” she said.

“It was an initial step into some other dialogues that will likely happen as a result of this.”

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READ MORE: Lethbridge police charge man in series of violent crimes

The small but passionate group has already discussed further action.

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“At the end of the meeting, we heard people talking about what they would like to see as next steps, and they are looking at future gatherings and [bringing] more people to the conversation,” Mackie said.

“Even though it’s a small group, we might make a ripple,” said Vonkeman, “and that ripple will expand outwards.”

With frustrations mounting throughout Lethbridge after a string of crimes in the city, the opportunity for discussion was cathartic for some.

Lethbridge City Council considers increasing size of police force
Lethbridge City Council considers increasing size of police force

“We do want people to feel safe. We are working towards that,” Mackie said.

“It’s not perfect, but we do have people that are willing to come forward and work on issues that are being brought up from the community.”