British Columbia’s new racist incident hotline is being called a step in the right direction, but a first step only.
The province announced the new multilingual line, which will allow people to report racist incidents and get support and referrals, on Friday.
The line will not be operated by police and does not aim to replace emergency response services when a person could be in danger.
“It’s a very positive step, but it is a step, it’s not the solution,” Daniel Fontaine, CEO of the Métis Nation British Columbia, told Global News.
“Once all of this is collected and received, it’s very important to act upon it so that it’s not simply being recorded and catalogued.”
Fontaine said he was encouraged by the message creating the hotline sends, but that he’d be watching to see how the government followed up with changes in legislation to create real consequences for people who participate in racist actions.
Steven Ngo, a Vancouver lawyer who was recently the target of racism, expressed similar concerns about the gap between ideals and action on the anti-racism initiative.
Ngo said when he tried to report his incident — which involved someone yelling a racist slur and throwing trash at him — to Vancouver police, he ran into barriers.
When he tried to call the non-emergency line he was left on hold for over half an hour, and when he tried to report it online, the only form available was in Chinese.
“It’s one thing to get overt racism, it’s another thing to face systemic racism from those who are supposed to protect you. The fact that the police are saying only Chinese can report a hate crime just really boggled my mind,” Ngo said.
Like Fontaine, Ngo said he was encouraged the government was making an effort to address the issue of racism.
But he too wanted assurances the line could generate results for people calling.
“What does the hotline do?” he asked. “It’s like I’m injured and I’m just calling a phone line to get help? I need a doctor to help me right away.”
Ngo said he appreciated that some people calling into the hotline wouldn’t want police involved in their situation.
But he said after his own experience, he’d like to see an option on the hotline to be connected directly to police to report a hate crime.
Ngo also wants to see the online reporting tools for B.C. police services to be improved to include a way to report hate crime.
The phone line comes amid a documented rise in anti-Asian hate crimes since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vancouver police reported a 717 per cent rise in hate crimes against East Asians in 2020 compared to the previous year.
The province says it will use data collected from the hotline to support future anti-racism initiatives, including legislation aimed to pave the way for race-based data collection that could inform future anti-racism efforts.
With files from Emad Agahi