After a series of high-profile hate crimes in B.C., including damage to a Jewish cemetery in Victoria last month – and recent criminal charges for the burning of a Filipino man and assaults on Black, Hispanic and Native people several years ago – anti-racist activists are organizing a renewed drive to stamp out racism in Vancouver.
With three alleged members of the hate group Blood and Honour facing trial – one of them tomorrow – for a string of attacks on people of colour, several groups are organizing around the upcoming February 13 trial of Alistair Miller and Robert de Chazal.
The pair – who were arrested in December – are accused of pouring kerosene over a sleeping Filipino man and lighting him on fire in 2009, and then attacking a black man who intervened. Tomorrow's trial centres around another alleged Blood and Honour member, Shawn MacDonald, charged with separate attacks on an Indigenous women, a Hispanic man and a black man in Vancouver.
“We're interested in building an anti-racist campaign,” said Krystle Alarcon with the Filipino-Canadian Youth Alliance (FCYA). “People think of multicultural Canada, and of Vancouver as a beautiful and diverse city. But racism exists in Vancouver.
“These were very clear acts of outright racist ideology.”
The migrant justice group No One Is Illegal announced plans this morning to attend MacDonald's trial tomorrow and is also rallying around the February 13 court date. The group said that hate crimes stem from systemic problems of racism in Canadian society – listing colonization of Indigenous peoples, Conservative immigration policies, and anti-Chinese and anti-Muslim sentiment as examples.
“Racism is an ugly truth about Canada,” said the No One Is Illegal statement. “The crimes of white supremacists are not exceptions, because they exist amidst an underlying racism that continuously places people of colour as Outsiders from an imagined White Canadian identity.
“We encourage our friends and allies to remain vigilant, to be pro-active in countering racism, to strengthen our communities of solidarity and resistance, and to never let the haters have power over us.”
Alarcon questioned why the Vancouver Police Department (VPD)'s hate crimes unit took more than two years to lay charges against the Blood and Honour members. In MacDonald's case, his alleged 2008 beating of Papi Ngoqo, a South African man, was captured on video by a CBC camera. In de Chazal and Miller's case, several witnesses came forward to describe the attack.
“The really slow reaction from the police – two years to actually respond – is the generally legal atmosphere where racism isn't taken that seriously in Vancouver,” Alarcon said. “It seems the police know the group – there's enough evidence for the police to shut them down, or investigate their operations.”
The VPD said it could not discuss details of its Blood and Honour investigation, but said that investigations often last years before charges are laid. In December, the department displayed white supremacist flags and materials seized by officers after the arrests of Miller, MacDonald and de Chazal.
“Incidents involving potential hate bias or prejudice are extremely important to the VPD,” said spokesperson Cst. Lindsey Houghton in an email. “We want to be able to investigate crimes and assist victims of crimes so we encourage anyone who’s been the victim of a crime to contact us. Everyone deserves to have the police investigate if they’ve been a victim of a crime.
“It is not uncommon for criminal investigations to last a significant period of time as evidence is gathered, a criminal case built up, and information compiled before it is submitted to Crown Counsel for their consideration.”
Alan Dutton, chair of Canada's Anti-Racism and Education and Research Society (CAERS), told the Vancouver Observer he is pleased the alleged Blood and Honour members were arrested – but questioned how seriously the legal system is taking hate crimes. He said members of Blood and Honour being released on bail raises many concerns.
“I can't understand how or why these individuals are not in jail – why are they out on bail?” Dutton asked. “These are serious charges. It certainly looks like they're hate-crime involved. Why are they out walking the streets?”
The veteran anti-hate researcher – who has documented racist groups for 25 years – told the Vancouver Observer that he believes hate crimes are on the rise in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
“In the early 2000s, we saw ... the ebb of hate group activity,” Dutton said. “Now what we're seeing is the growth again.
“This is spurred on by continuing fears about the economy – downturns in the economy always result in people blaming others, in particular minorities and immigration for the loss of jobs, when we know that's not the case. That is one of the ways they mobilize young people and get them to join hate groups – by blaming other people for the problems we're facing.”
Alarcon told the Vancouver Observer she witnessed exactly that phenomenon recently on a bus from Joyce Skytrain station.
“A guy walked onto the bus,” she recalled. “(He) said, 'You guys' – it was a bus full of immigrants from Joyce station – 'You should go back and build our railway, this is our land, you're stealing our jobs.'
“Nobody said anything except me ... calling him out for being a white supremacist.”
Dutton said that Commercial Drive – where the Blood and Honour incidents occurred – has a several-decade history with organized hate groups. But many other parts of the city have seen activity, he said, citing New Westminster, Surrey and Richmond in particular.
He said that incidents of hate crimes reflect a growing acceptability of racial prejudice across class lines in Canadian society, and fears and resentments which can can be stoked by government policies such as the recent ban on Muslim face coverings at citizenship ceremonies and the deportations of thousands of allegedly “fraudulent” immigrants.
“If you don't have that underlying racism in society, then hate groups would never be able to recruit,” Dutton said. “When you have politicians that appear to be blaming people who are Muslim and who appear to be different, you are going to have resentment and fear – people will use that as a basis for mobilizing young people.
“What we see, across Western Europe and in North America, is the rise again of organized hate groups and political parties representing those hate groups. We are very concerned that we do not have the mobilization of the community at this point.”
Dutton, Alarcon and No One Is Illegal all agreed that mobilization many people to speak out against racism is essential to combatting the rise of hate crimes and white supremacist groups. Dutton cites previous mass rallies in Vancouver for the decline in hate activities in the late 1990s, and praised hundreds of Victorians who rallied in December against attacks on a Jewish cemetery.
“Mobilization – this is the critical factor – mobilizing the community against hate,” he said. “There were pickets, there were marches, there were massive demonstrations.
“We need to be aware of what's going on and bring out large numbers of people to demonstrate against hate.”