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Action needed to combat rising anti-Semitism, Islamophobia in B.C.: advocate

Human Rights Commissioner says anti-hate recommendations she made 1 year ago have yet to be enacted
B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender speaks in Vancouver, on March 7, 2023. On Nov. 6, 2023 she released a statement calling on the province to take action on hate, amid a rise in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner says the province needs to be doing more to address hate, amid a surge in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia spurred on by the Israel-Hamas war.

Kasari Govender said in a statement Monday (Nov. 6) she is “deeply disturbed” by a rising number of hate incidents against Jewish and Muslim communities in B.C. She pointed to numbers from the Vancouver Police Department, which said it has received 18 reports of incidents targeting the Jewish community since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on Oct. 7. The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it’s seen the worst surge in Islamophobia in decades in recent weeks.

Govender said she’s also concerned by the accusatory rhetoric being directed towards people who are peacefully protesting and speaking out against the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“Every person in B.C. deserves to feel safe and to be free from discrimination and violence. We all also have the right to peaceful expression within the bounds of the law. Peaceful demonstration and protest are essential to our democracy in part because they allow us to speak up against injustice and violence, even when such views are controversial. Conversely, hate is corrosive to democracy,” Govender said.

She said she has been glad to see Premier David Eby speaking out against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, as well as making Holocaust education mandatory, but that more needs to be done.

Govender pointed to recommendations she first gave the province in November 2022, including creating a community-led, province-wide database for reporting hate and making hate crime response training mandatory for all police. The commissioner also asked the province to expand K-12 education to include more anti-hate curriculum, including online hate, and to reform how the B.C. Prosecution Service treats hate crimes. Govender further suggested creating a uniform policy for all police on how to collect data on and enforce hate crimes.

She issued those in the wake of the surge of anti-Asian hate incidents seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, Govender said B.C. has also witnessed a rise in hate against transgender and gender-diverse people. Despite this, the commissioner said she has yet to see the province enact any of her recommendations.

“For nearly a year, the provincial government has had this road map describing how to take action on these issues and yet has repeatedly delayed reporting to my office, even on what actions they plan to take. I urge the premier in the strongest terms to follow his words with concrete actions to solidify our communities against hate.”

Asked for comment, the ministries of public safety and education pointed to steps they are taking to enact anti-racism policies in policing and schools. The province launched an anti-racism action plan in K-12 schools last January and said it is set to launch new anti-racism legislation next spring. The Ministry of Public Safety is also working on developing an anti-racism helpline.

Neither ministry indicated that they are implementing Govender’s anti-hate recommendations, specifically.

READ ALSO: B.C. to make education about Holocaust mandatory starting 2025-26

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READ ALSO: B.C. commissioner urges creative ways to fight hate as reports double during pandemic

About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media after starting as a community reporter in Greater Victoria.
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