Do numbers really show Vancouver as ‘anti-Asian hate crime?’

Analysis: Vancouver hate crime officer provides enlightening thoughts on the disturbing allegation, including the difficulty of collecting comparable data

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That’s hardly the reputation Vancouver, or any city, would have.

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But in May, some of the world’s largest media outlets called Vancouver, which has about 700,000 people of mixed ethnicities, “the anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America.”

The focus of the articles picked up by Canadian businesses was on a Vancouver police report that showed anti-East Asian hate crimes had risen a staggering 717 percent by 2020 from the year before.

The total number of anti-East Asian hate incidents collected by the Vancouver Police Special Unit for 2020, the year COVID-19 hit, was 98. That compared to 12 the year before.

Global businesses like Bloomberg, The Guardian and others then compared the numbers of the Vancouver police with some major Canadian and American cities and concluded that there had been more incidents in this west coast city than any of the other cities.

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Thus, the media stamped Vancouver: “The anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America.”

In August, British Columbia’s human rights commissioner extended the term to all of BC Kasari Govender launched a public inquiry to uncover why “this province continues to report the most hate-motivated incidents per capita in North America.”

What is the reality?

A member of the Vancouver Police for Hate Crimes offered a wide range of thoughts on the disturbing allegation and on the many complexities of collecting comparable hate crime statistics.

Sgt. Valerie Spicer, a 22-year-old veteran, has been in the city’s hate crime unit for four years. Spicer’s e-mail signature identifies her pronoun as “she / she” and acknowledges the work of First Nations “” traditional traditional territories. “

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Spicer has long been appalled by hate crimes of any kind. And her unit has for years urged more residents to report incidents to police because they are concerned that many are not.

She points out that Vancouver is the only city with a dedicated hate crime unit in British Columbia.

Source: Vancouver Police Department
Source: Vancouver Police Department

In the spring, Spicer’s unit released a chart showing anti-East Asian hate crimes suddenly skyrocketing in May 2020. It was two months after COVID-19 arrived in North America, where most scientists thought it originated in China.

Anti-East Asian hate crimes jumped from seven in April to 29 in May. They then fell steadily to 21 in June, 11 in July, seven in August, four in September and three in October.

Many things about the Vancouver Police Department’s troubling chart require context, Spicer says.

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One is that the 98 incidents specifically referred to East Asians, not “Asians,” which is the broader term used by the international media when they argued that Vancouver is “the anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America.”

Vancouver police, Spicer said, include ethnic Chinese, Koreans and Japanese under the heading “East Asian.” They do not include people with roots in South Asia, such as India.

Protesters gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery in March last year.
Protesters gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery in March last year. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG files

In all, the Vancouver unit said, there were 280 hate-related reported incidents last year — targeting people of other ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and religions.

The 98 reported incidents against East Asians (who make up about a quarter of the city’s population, with ethnic Chinese the largest group) were varied. Some constituted “hatred,” while others were less serious and involved “prejudice or bias.”

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Four months ago, Postmedia filed a request for freedom of information with Vancouver police to obtain full details of each complaint. But such a report has not been made available.

Nevertheless, Spicer clarified that although the unit’s chart uses the all-encompassing term “hate crimes” to describe the 98 incidents, 32 of them were “non-criminal.” The 66 potentially criminal acts included 22 involving assault or bodily harm and a further 21 so-called accidents.

The non-criminal incidents included reports of suspects (including those who were found to be mentally ill) and neighborhood disputes. Out of all 98 incidents involving East Asians, 14 were referred to the Crown Counsel for possible charges.

Spicer stressed that Vancouver police are extremely proactive in using various means to encourage residents to report hate incidents. That could be a factor, she suggested, why the city’s reported hate crimes sometimes seem higher.

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Vancouver Police Sgt.  Valerie Spicer (pictured in 2019): 'I would not say we are shockingly different,' says Spicer.  'Anti-Asian mood was seen all over the country.  We also heard it in the United States'
Vancouver Police Sgt. Valerie Spicer (pictured in 2019): ‘I would not say we are shockingly different,’ says Spicer. ‘Anti-Asian mood was seen all over the country. We also heard it in the United States’ Photo by Vancouver Police Department

For example, the department took unique steps last spring to reach the Chinese-speaking population. By May, when the sudden increase occurred, it had just become possible for residents to file online hate incident complaints on a PDF form in Mandarin and Cantonese. This option was not available in English or in other foreign languages.

Given that the Vancouver Police Department is one of the few in Canada with a hate crime unit, and is one that no doubt does much more than other jurisdictions to encourage the reporting of biased incidents, how does its number compare to other Canadian cities?

“I would not say we are shockingly different,” Spicer said. “Anti-Asian sentiment was seen all over the country. We also heard it in the United States ”

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Although Spicer did not have figures available on how Vancouver compares to other Canadian cities, Statistics Canada says police reported hate incidents with ethnicity increased after COVID. BC had 196 more ethnicity-related hate crimes in potentially criminal categories, while Ontario had 321 more. Across Canada, hate crimes involving ethnicity rose by 80 percent last year, while those involving East Asians and Southeast Asians jumped by 301 percent.

The value of Statistics Canada’s reports of police-reported hate crimes is that they rely on roughly the same approach, although the agency adds several caveats, including that data fluctuations “may reflect changes in public reporting due to increased community outreach from police or increased sensitivity after high-profile events. ”

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It is a much more difficult challenge to compare Canadian and U.S. statistics on hate crimes. And that’s what the global media reset to argue about Vancouver.

The sites looked at data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, which showed that by 2020, Vancouver police recorded three times the number of “anti-Asian” hate crimes like New York that logged the most of any U.S. city.

But Spicer warns, like other specialists, that comparing Canadian hate crime data with U.S. data is “comparing apples and oranges.”

While Canadian criminal law has a consistent national definition of hate crime, the United States does not. And when some U.S. jurisdictions try to define the term, they generally do so in a way that is much narrower than in Canada.

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The head of the U.S. Center for the Study of Hate, Brian Levin, told Postmedia pretty much the same thing: Canada’s laws on hate laws are much broader than any that might exist in the United States. So any comparison is filled with.

So what does Spicer ultimately think of the headlines that claim Vancouver is “the anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America?”

She paused to consider. “I think we should always go back to the numbers. We must have a balanced approach. I do not believe in a medium that further creates fear. ”

Next week: More on this issue.

dtodd@postmedia.com

twitter.com/douglastodd


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