British Columbia’s human rights commissioner has released new evidence about the rise of hate and hate-motivated incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it asks the public to share their personal experiences.
Police have documented an alarming increase in racist incidents since early 2020, but new polling data commissioned by the commissioner’s office suggests those figures significantly under-represent the problem.
Among the poll’s findings were than nine per cent of people had directly experienced a hate incident, including 20 per cent of Indigenous people and 15 per cent of Asian descent.
More than one quarter of respondents said they’d witnessed hate incidents during the pandemic, and 16 per cent said they’ve been affected by hate incidents involving racism.
“(The poll) in fact gives us much higher numbers, because it includes people who didn’t report to police, who maybe kept the stories to themselves and this may be the first time they’re disclosing,” B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasri Govender told Global News.
“If you combine the numbers of people who have witnessed hate, who have experienced hate directly and the people who have been impacted in some way by hate during the pandemic, we’re up to 41 per cent of British Columbians.”
Along with hate motivated by race and religion, the poll also included hate motivated by gender, poverty or homelessness, and other grounds of identity.
Govender said it appears the upheaval brought on by the pandemic and its social impacts has led some people to lash out.
“We find ourselves in a time of very heightened fear and anxiety in our society, many of us feel this fundamental sense of insecurity,” she said.
“And that has some people, I think, falling back on racist, discriminatory, hateful stereotypes as a way of kind of holding onto power, or a sense of security in the world.
Queenie Choo, CEO of SUCCESS, a B.C. non-profit that helps newcomers to the province, said the poll’s findings were no surprise.
She said her organization has heard countless stories from its clients about racist incidents and their impacts.
“When you see a 70-year-old person pushed down onto the ground out front of a convenience store … it’s very despicable to see those things happening in our communities,” she said.
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Racism is nothing new, she said, but it has clearly been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has affected people both economically and mentally.
“Very often there’s a scapegoat situation happening,” Choo said.
“They’re looking at the vulnerable population, the racialized community, First Nations people. All of this is a very complex matter, but it needs to be addressed, and it needs to have the collaboration between communities, organizations, as well as the government (and) law enforcement authorities.”
The poll is just one part of a public inquiry Govender’s office launched in August, in the wake of media and police reports of rising hate-motivated incidents.
The inquiry has recently wrapped up hearing with community organizations and will now hear from public and private institutions, First Nations governments and academics.
It is also appealing for individuals to share their experiences with hate, and has launched a new portal on its website where people can weigh in.
Govender will produce a report based on the inquiry’s findings in the fall, which she said will look at the connection between times of crisis and rising and discriminatory violence, and make recommendations on how to prevent it in the future.
She said the report may also touch on how hate is reported, and whether B.C. has effective tools to collect those reports.