Vancouver’s school system can’t shoulder the load of educating youth about diversity and tolerance alone and needs cooperation from other communities and support from the province to prevent hate crimes, Vancouver’s mayor told a media conference on Aug 30.
Gregor Robertson’s comments came as Vancouver Police Department Chief Constable Jim Chu delivered the city’s latest annual report, which indicates crime rates last year dropped 7.5 percent.
The VPD report says there were 5,552 assaults in the city in 2009, down from 5,577 in 2008, a decrease of 2.4 percent.
The assault statistics released by the department do not specifically address hate crimes.
In the wake of an alleged June 12 Keefer Place gaybashing, Chu said undercover officers were now working in the Davie St area.
There are also policing changes afoot that will be reflected in statistics in the near future, Robertson added at the press conference without further elaboration.
He says the police will be stepping up their presence around big events such as the Ultimate Fighting Competition that took place on the evening of June 12. False Creek residents recently requested such a move after an assault on gay couple David Holtzman and Peter Regier the same evening left both men with head injuries. A head wound sustained by Regier required staples to shut.
Robertson says there are no direct ties between the event and the assault.
Parminder Singh Peter Bassi, 30, is charged with two counts of assault causing bodily harm in connection with that assault, while his brother Ravinder Robbie Bassi, 27, is charged with one count of assault causing bodily harm.
The brothers are due back in court on Sept 13.
The mayor says change needs to come in the education system to increase awareness around diversity.
While he praises the Vancouver School Board for its work on queer issues, he says the province needs to go further.
“They need more support from the province,” he says. “These efforts should be inaugurated around the province. It shouldn’t just be Vancouver.”
His words echoed those of virtually every gaybashing victim in the past few years.
“The province needs to take strong action so every district has a strong diversity policy to combat homophobia,” Vancouver-West End New Democrat MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert agrees.
“Right now, it’s hit and miss.”
Chandra Herbert says Education Minister Dr Margaret MacDiarmid is not helping matters by refusing to address the issue in requests from his office and by her refusal to speak to queer media on the issue.
“It’s clear we have a problem in our schools,” he says.
MacDiarmid was not available for comment up to posting time.
Chu noted many crimes such as sexual assaults are not reported to police and are not factored into statistics.
A report by Statistics Canada released in June noted the same problem in compiling statistics around gaybashings.
According to the data collected, the Vancouver region and Quebec City led the country with the highest proportions of reported hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation.
Of the 143 police-reported hate crimes in Vancouver in 2008, 34 were motivated by sexual orientation.
Among Canada’s largest populated areas, Vancouver and Hamilton also reported the highest hate-crime rates overall at 6.3 hate crimes per 100,000 population.
Chu said his department continues to work with the community to increase public confidence that hate crimes will be dealt with.
He said people charged are being brought to trial and convicted.
“The courts are treating this seriously as well, and they support the police department and the community,” Chu says.
He said the department is watching the courts to see what sentences are handed down in alleged gaybashing cases.
Recent cases include that against Michael Kandola, who pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm on March 31 and was sentenced on April 30 to 17 months in prison. BC Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves found the 2008 attack against Jordan Smith on Davie St was motivated by hate. Kandola has appealed that designation.
In early August, Shawn Woodward was convicted of aggravated assault for his March 13, 2009, punch that left a gay Vancouver man in a Fraser Valley care home.
Provincial Court Judge Jocelyn Palmer ruled Woodward “fabricated” his defence that Dowrey had sexually assaulted him “to justify his outrageous assault.”
Woodward faces a sentencing hearing on Oct 22.
It remains to be seen what will happen in the case of a youth charged in an alleged Dec 13 gaybashing on Commercial Dr.
That sentencing hearing will take place on Sept 29.