Members of BC’s gay community are hailing a shift in Crown policy on hate crime prosecutions as a victory.
If evidence exists that a crime may be motivated by hatred, that evidence must be introduced at trial, says the new policy, which came into effect in BC on Oct 12, 2010.
“Hate-motivated offences differ from other crimes because they are committed with the purpose of harming and terrifying not only a particular victim, but the entire group to which the victim belongs,” the policy states.
The policy lists assaults based on sexual orientation and “mischief to property, such as spray-painting” as examples of potentially hate-motivated crimes that should be prosecuted as such.
Not only does the policy instruct Crown counsel to lead existing evidence of hate motivation at trial, it also orders them to seek a hate crime designation at sentencing.
Criminal Justice Branch spokesperson Neil MacKenzie says the policy is a result of ongoing internal policy reviews in BC’s Ministry of the Attorney General.
The new policy came to public light after a provincial court judge in a Kamloops assault case with an alleged hate motivation stepped down from sentencing on Dec 21.
The accused had already pleaded guilty to assault after calling a man anti-gay names then punching him on the street. The Crown was seeking a hate crime designation when Judge Sheri Donegan stepped down.
According to the Kamloops Daily News, Donegan cited a conflict of interest since she had received an email while still a Crown counsel a few months prior to the sentencing hearing.
The newspaper reported the email was sent to then-Crown Donegan “as a result of an internal policy stating senior prosecutors must be notified whenever the Crown pursues a hate crime. Donegan was the deputy regional Crown counsel at the time.”
MacKenzie says the email was case specific and not related to the wider issue of the policy that was instituted in October. But “to remove any perception of bias, she recused herself,” he says. “It’s not unusual.”
As a result of Donegan’s withdrawal, the sentencing hearing will resume on Feb 3, the Kamloops court registry says.
While Vancouver police officers have urged Crown to seek several hate crime designations in the last few years, Kamloops RCMP spokesperson Const Rose Dunsmore says the national force does not take the same approach.
An important part of the new Crown policy, notes Vancouver gay activist Jim Deva, is that it could finally lead to the establishment of a BC-wide database of hate crimes.
The new policy says Crown counsel are “requested” to advise the provincial Hate Crime Team of the prosecution and outcome of hate-motivated cases in their regions.
The policy suggests that information can be put into a database to monitor hate-motivated offences in the province.
“Resultant case law is made available to Crown counsel in the province,” the policy says.
“We need to demand we get the data,” Deva says. “That’s really important data.”
The BC Prosecution Service website also has a booklet and pamphlet on hate crimes available for download.
“These crimes can lead to social tensions between individuals, groups, the police and other government agencies, thereby furthering the destructive aims and objectives of those who encourage and promote hate,” the booklet says.
“Hate crimes create stress in the wider community. They are divisive, engender repetition by others and incite retaliation.
“If left unchecked, these crimes can increase in their severity and may result in an escalation in social tensions between different groups that can destroy the harmony in our communities.”
MacKenzie says the policy is not intended to hamper the independence of prosecutors but rather to provide a framework for prosecutions.