Neo-Nazi group's racist hate crimes condoned by public apathy and silence: police
As an associate of neo-Nazi group Blood and Honour returned to court yesterday, police detectives give VO an exclusive glimpse inside their battle against hate crimes in BC. They say racist hate crimes are made possible by public apathy.
Swastikas: not just paint on the wall
One of the greatest barriers remains under-reporting and a lack of awareness among the public.
“A fear of coming forward, a fear of retaliation or even embarrassment – that's also a hurdle,” Levas said. “We want people to know that if they are a victim of crime they believe is motivated by hate, we're here. There are resources we can offer.
“If you're coming from a country where the police are corrupt, and you come here and are the victim of a crime, you don't have that trust,” she said. “That's a big thing – trust.”
For hate crimes detectives, investigations are not divided into violent versus property crimes. That's because the patterns of behaviour among white supremacists transcend that definition – and because racist or anti-Semitic vandalism has a violent effect.
“A swastika to most people might just be paint on a wall to someone, but to a Jewish person that represents six million people murdered during the Holocaust,” Levas offered as an example. “That's one way to look at it.”
When asked about extensive vandalism and Nazi graffiti on a Jewish cemetery in Victoria at the end of 2011, as well as a spate of anti-
Semitic vehicle scratchings in Vancouver last month, Wilson agreed that vandalism targeted at a minority community is akin to violence.
“Even though a property crime might be a property crime, a swastika on Synagogue or a Jewish cemetery is a targeted act,” he said. “It's meant to – if you want to grandiose terms like 'terrorize' – it's meant to scare people, it's meant to disturb people.
“So although that would be coded as a property offence, the effect it has on that community is in relation to, is comparable to a violent offence.”
The number of reported hate crimes, according to Statistics Canada, are on the rise across Canada – the number of known incidents grew from 892 in 2006 to 1,473 in 2009, a 65 per cent rise. Among those, the vast majority were mischief charges, followed by assault and uttered threats. In 2008, Vancouver and Hamilton, Ont. tied for highest per capita hate crimes. In 2009, the most recent data, Vancouver had dropped to sixth place – the top four cities were in southern Ontario – but in fact the numbers had risen, just not as fast as other cities.
Vancouver had 73 reported hate crimes in 2006; 79 in 2007; 143 in 2008; and it rose again to 163 in 2009, or 7 incidents per 100,000 people (Canadian cities averaged at 5.6).
“I think what it shows you is that the communities in British Columbia – and the police in British Columbia – are much more aware of what a hate crime really is,” Wilson said. “As a result, we get good reports.
“Unfortunately, it means we do investigations, and the media highlights these investigations. There's no more hate crime than there was before, we're just now getting really good reports from community groups, and really good investigations by grassroots police officers.”