Metro Vancouver had the highest rate of hate crimes reported to police in 2018 of Canada’s three largest metropolitan areas, according to data released Monday by Statistics Canada.
A hate crime was reported to police at a rate of 7.1 times per 100,000 people in Metro Vancouver last year, moving the region from third place in 2017 to surpass the metro regions of Montreal (6.5) and Toronto (6.4).
Nico Slobinsky, the director of the Pacific Region for The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the statistics show “a very problematic trend” in Vancouver and the region.
“We need to close the door on these types of racism and discriminatory behaviours,” he said, noting the data indicates the Jewish community remains the most frequently targeted group in Canada.
The data doesn’t break down the number of hate crime reports by municipality in Metro Vancouver, but statistics released by the Vancouver Police Department last month showed hate crimes and hate crime incidents in the city increased from 61 in 2016 to 141 in 2018.
Of those 141 cases, Jewish people and property were the main targets, followed by the LGTBQ2S+ and black communities.
In the first quarter of this year, anti-Asian hate motivated incidents were as common as crimes and incidents in the LGTBQ2S+ community, police reported.
Police have said the types of crimes or incidents most commonly investigated are related to graffiti, harassment, assaults and suspicious circumstances.
The Statistics Canada data comes the same week that NPA Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung will introduce a motion at city hall that aims to stop the hatred against the Jewish community.
More than 50 people had signed up as of Monday to speak to Kirby-Yung’s motion, which requests the City of Vancouver adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance non-legally binding working definition of anti-Semitism.
“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Kirby-Yung’s motion also requests the definition be shared with Vancouver police, the Vancouver public library, Vancouver park board and Vancouver school board.
“This is something I feel very passionately about,” she said, adding that such a definition provides a common platform for people to have a conversation about what constitutes anti-Semitism.
Kirby-Yung said she was encouraged the Statistics Canada data showed a decrease of 13 per cent in the overall number of hate crimes in Canada, particularly in the Muslim, black and LGBTQ2S+ communities
But, she added, Jewish people are still the number one target of hate crimes in Vancouver and across the country.
She mentioned an incident that occurred in the city where images of swastikas and male appendices were drawn into freshly poured concrete sidewalks outside the homes of Jewish people.
“For me, Vancouver has always been inclusive and welcoming, and honestly I fear we’re losing that,” she said. “The fact that the Jewish community is targeted consistently is really worrying to me.”
Kirby-Yung pointed out the city has made strong commitments to reconcile with Indigenous peoples and apologized to the Chinese community for the legislated discrimination enacted decades ago by previous city councils.
Advocating for the safety of the Jewish community and to take a stand against hatred is another important step for a city council, she said.
Slobinsky said to effectively fight hate crime and hate-related incidents “one must consistently and clearly identify it” and that is the reason council should adopt the IRHA definition.
Racism has to be fought with increased awareness of the problem, education, the application of relevant laws and enforcement and by sending a strong political message, he said.
“All residents of Vancouver deserve to live their lives to the fullest potential without fear of being discriminated, without fearing for their personal security and living in conditions of dignity and peace,” said Slobinsky, who is one of the registered speakers to address Kirby-Yung’s motion.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he looked forward to debating Kirby-Yung’s motion at council, despite what critics have said on social media about the definition and questioned whether city hall was the proper forum for such debate.
“I think we need to focus on nuts and bolts issues here at city council, but I also think we can send very valuable messages,” Stewart said.
“We don’t have anything to do with nuclear weapons, but declaring Vancouver a nuclear-free zone [in the 1980s] I think is a very valuable thing for a city council to do—and I think speaking out against hatred is also very valuable. It sends a message to the rest of the world.”
Former NDP MP Svend Robinson, who is campaigning for a seat in Burnaby-North Seymour in the fall election, took to Twitter over the weekend to criticize Kirby-Yung’s motion.
Robinson wrote that he “respectfully and strongly” disagreed with Vancouver-Granville Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould’s support of the definition.
“Key author of this IHRA definition, Kenneth Stern, warns that it will ‘restrict academic freedom and punish political speech.’ Solidarity with Palestinians and fighting anti-Semitism both key. Just say ‘no’ @VanCityCouncil.”
Council is expected to debate the motion Wednesday after hearing from speakers.