By Vancouver Sun |
Ravi Kahlon’s roundtables on racism bring troubling stories to the surface, but also hope.
Ravi Kahlon has spent his summer talking about hate.
The MLA for Delta North and parliamentary secretary for forests told Postmedia he’s been troubled by the rise in hate crimes reported in B.C. and deeply touched by the experiences British Columbians have shared with him in a series of anti-racism round tables.
“We travelled into communities across the province to have this conversation on anti-racism and anti-hate,” Kahlon said as he prepared to host a round table in Victoria earlier this month. “It’s been eye-opening, and often really difficult to hear.”
Kahlon visited Courtenay, Comox, Duncan, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Osoyoos and Prince Rupert to talk with immigrant and refugee groups, indigenous elders, mayors and councillors, and anti-racism organizations. He also led round table discussions to address the need citizens have to feel safe in places of worship, including mosques, temples and synagogues.
“The attacks on mosques and temples has led to fear,” said Kahlon.
According to Statistics Canada, there was a 47 per cent increase in hate-motivated criminal acts across Canada in 2017. Police recorded 255 police-reported hate crimes in B.C. in 2017, an increase of 21 per cent over the previous year.
“The numbers of unreported hate crimes are significantly higher, and we heard that in the communities,” said Kahlon.
Kahlon said the conversations were often difficult to get rolling, in part because many people don’t like to say negative things about their communities—they may try to ignore or brush off a serious incident.
One international student told Kahlon she is so used to being told to go back to her country, she uses humour to deflect. “She hears it on a weekly basis,” said Kahlon.
In his own constituency, Kahlon said two South Asian seniors were called names, pushed to the ground and had their turbans knocked off by some kids. “They didn’t want to report it because they aren’t Canadians yet. They are permanent residents, and they didn’t want to risk losing that.”
The negative influence of social media was one of the consistent themes that emerged, said Kahlon, as well as people confusing free speech with hate speech. Although freedom of expression is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, public expressions that incite hatred against a particular group are illegal.
Kahlon said meetings were often standing room only. “We observed a real hunger in the community to have these conversations,” said Kahlon.
Kahlon said his staff is now combing through suggestions and proposals from the roundtable discussions. “The biggest question that came out is what happens when a hate crime happens? What is the province’s role? What is the mayor and council’s role in the affected community?”
Communities want political leadership, Kahlon said, but they also want dialogue in their own communities and protocols for for taking action if and when such incidents occur.
Supriya, 59, who didn’t want her last name used, is a Coquitlam resident who came to Canada 39 years ago from India. She recently received an anonymous letter in the mail referring to Donald Trump, her skin colour and telling her Canada is “white man’s land.”
Supriya said it is the first act of overt racism she has experienced in Canada. Although Supriya has not attended one of Kahlon’s roundtables, she said, “It is important to have the dialogue and open discussions to deal with the issue, and not hide or deny it.”
She turned the letter over to police.