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VPD’s forms limit who can file anti-Asian racism complaints, says Vancouver lawyer

May 5, 2021

Vancouver lawyer Steven Ngo was in his car on the corner of Fraser Street and 41st Avenue in mid-April when two white men called him a harsh, racial slur. He thought he misheard, so he rolled down his window. They responded by throwing garbage at him.

Incensed, he went to the Vancouver police website to report what happened. And hit a roadblock.

The VPD website said people who have experienced hate, prejudice or bias because of ethnicity should call the police non-emergency number. He did, but after waiting on hold 30 minutes, he gave up.

Then he found there are reporting forms offered on the VPD’s website. But there are only two versions. One uses traditional Chinese characters and the other simplified Chinese characters.

As Ngo, who is ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese, put it: “Not all Asians are Chinese, and if you are Chinese, you may not read or write Chinese.”

His mother, who is Cantonese, could use the form, he said. His father, who is Vietnamese, could not.

Not having an English form was the most egregious thing to him.

“It’s a serious oversight and is a systemic barrier that actively prevents people from reporting hate crimes,” said Ngo.

Last year, the VPD said, there was a 717 per cent jump in the number of reports it received about anti-Asian hate crimes. There were 98 of them in 2020, up from 12 the year before.

Ngo wondered if this figure might have been higher if there weren’t the barriers to reporting that he experienced.

VPD Sgt. Steve Addison VPD said the majority of the reports made to police in 2020 were made by phone and the online forms are used infrequently.

He said the form were created last year after there was a spike in hate crimes: “Many of these crimes occurred in Chinatown and Strathcona and the forms were meant to be an extra option for people who wished to report incidents.”

Addison told Ngo that there can be delays when calling the emergency line, but calls to 911 as an incident is happening offers access to “a  translation service for those who can’t communicate effectively in English” and that the VPD workforce speaks more than 50 languages.

Ngo was not satisfied. He reached out to other lawyers and together they translated the VPD’s Chinese-language form into English and several other Asian languages including Vietnamese, Tagalog, Korean and Japanese.

Addison told him the VPD is considering the forms. He told Postmedia News it is “currently reviewing our processes for reporting hate crimes.”

Last week, the provincial government said it’s working with community groups to develop a hotline for reporting racist activities.

“When comparing our province with communities across North America on a per capita basis, there can be no doubt we are a major hot spot for anti-Asian racism,” Attorney-General David Eby said in a statement.

He said the hotline was considered because people may be reluctant to call police and there may be “an under-reporting of the scope of the problem.”