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5 reasons to question Vancouver’s label as the ‘anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America’

October 23, 2021

By Vancouver Sun |

Some international media outlets this year labelled Vancouver “the anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America.”

They focused on a Vancouver police report that showed hate incidents against East Asians (not “Asians,” as the articles misstate) jumping by a startling 717 per cent in the year that COVID hit, up to 98 from 12.

Bloomberg, The Guardian and other media outlets then rushed to compare the Vancouver hate-crime unit’s data to figures from some large Canadian and U.S. cities and concluded that there had been more incidents in this relatively small West Coast city.

While it’s always essential to combat the scourge of hatred, many specialists are concerned that sensational and misleading characterizations of the residents of a city can misdirect blame and cause unnecessary fear.

Sgt. Val Spicer, of Vancouver police’s hate crimes unit, said in an article last week that it’s difficult to collect comparative data. Spicer said Vancouver is the only B.C. city with a police unit devoted to hate crimes, that it does more to encourage reporting than other cities, that Vancouver’s numbers are not much different than other Canadian cities, and that juxtaposing hate statistics between Canada and the U.S. is “comparing apples and oranges.”

Here are five clear reasons to hesitate before accepting the stereotype that residents of Vancouver are the most anti-Asian on the continent.

1.    It’s impossible to compare Canadian and American hate-crime stats

This is the most obvious problem in the reporting. Even the California academic who collected the data that led some media to declare Vancouver the capital of anti-Asian behaviour says you can’t directly compare hate crimes across the border.

Canada has more consistent and much broader laws against hate than the U.S., where, among other things, hateful speech is not a criminal offence. Dan Levin, of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, says U.S. methodologies are so inconsistent they can lead to a state like Alabama, which has a legacy of racism, reporting no hate crimes while Vancouver, population less than 700,000, reports dozens.

Bloomberg News buttressed its contention that Vancouver, where almost half the population has Asian origins, is the hotbed of hate by highlighting a survey reporting 43 per cent of British Columbians of Asian descent say they experienced a racist incident in the past year, ranging from racial slurs to physical assault.

The accusatory articles, however, did not try to measure other Canadian provinces or the U.S., let alone Mexico of fear-filled El Salvador (also a geographic part of North America.) If they had looked beyond the borders of British Columbia, they would have noted similar ratios.

The Angus Reid Institute, for instance, found 58 per cent of East Asian Canadians, which includes Chinese Canadians, say they’ve been affected by some form of racism over the past year , including seeing offensive social media posts (28 per cent) or being attacked by strangers (three per cent).

A Pew Research survey, in addition, found anti-Asian reports increased in the U.S. during COVID (as they did for other ethnic groups). Overall, 45 per cent of Asian Americans said they were on the receiving end of a possible threat, an epithet or joke.

2. Hate is terribly hard to categorize

Textbooks can be written about the difficulties of classifying incidents of hate, most of which are not criminal offences in Canada or the U.S. — despite the media’s use of the umbrella term “hate crimes.”

Spicer is among the many who make it clear that police and judges can spend days going over evidence to determine which emotion motivated an alleged hate “incident” (a more inclusive term than “crime”).

Adding to the confusion is the remarkably different definitions Canadians hold about hate . For instance, Angus Reid found 68 per cent of Canadians don’t believe it’s necessarily racist to “impersonate someone of a different ethnicity.” But 32 per cent do believe it’s racist.

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