Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Hate Crime Conversation the first step to rebuilding trust between cultures

For the Lakeland Regional.

The former Cold Lake Native Friendship Centre.
(they have since moved to a new location by the Fire Hall)
A collection of Cold Lake citizens gathered together to discuss how to best combat hate.

Organized by the Hate Crimes Committee, the Conversation on Hate Crimes was held at the Cold Lake Native Friendship Centre on May 31. The group is a collaboration of police, community, and justice organizations that want to raise awareness about the problem of hate and racism in society.

The gathering of 16 people included representatives from the Cold Lake Peace Officers, Cold Lake Victims Services Unit and the Cold Lake RCMP. It was just one of a series of talks that are happening throughout the province.

The aim of the sessions is to allow victims of hate crimes to meet with officials and create a better understanding of the problem and what can be done to solve it. Cold Lake was the only talk scheduled where the RCMP accepted the invitation.

During the talks, a number of attendees aired personal grievances from incidents they had recently experienced. During the discussion, Cold Lake Mosque Manager Mahmoud El Kadri recalled a recent incident he believes could be racial profiling.

His 19-year-old son and his wife were driving back to Cold Lake from Edmonton when they had to stop for gas in St. Paul. After filling up, they continued on their way until reaching a stop sign before turning onto Hwy. 28.

El Kadri explained that an RCMP officer three cars behind them then pulled them over. “He drove all the way past the first three cars to this first car turning onto Hwy. 28, and he looks inside and sees my wife wearing the scarf (hijab),” said El Kadri.

“They accuse (my son) of running the stop sign. The situation got worse when he saw her in the scarf. He asked her ‘what were you doing in Edmonton, and what are you doing in Cold Lake?’ She told him that Cold Lake was her hometown. ‘Your hometown?’ said the officer, and it went on like that.” El Kadri added that the officer treated his son and wife like outsiders, then gave his son a $300 ticket and no charges were laid.

S/Sgt. Jeremie Landry of the Cold Lake RCMP pointed out that El Kadri would be able to access the footage taken by the camera now present in the dashboard of all RCMP vehicles.

“What I would recommend in that particular case is to speak with the detachment commander in St. Paul, where the incident occurred,” explained Landry.

“Through speaking to that commander that process could be facilitated.”

However, El Kadri was not the only person in the room with a grievance.

Agnes Gendron, Executive Director of the Cold Lake Native Friendship Centre, explained was that despite the fact many First Nations experience racism on a regular basis, they don’t report it as often as other groups – adding to the problem.

“I think one of the reasons aboriginal people don’t report incidents is that they aren’t taken seriously by the people taking the reports,” said Gendron. “The way the government treats aboriginal people works its way down to the people themselves.”

Others in the discussion were a bit blunter on why they didn’t bother to report incidents.

“It’s such a pain to report a hate crime, it becomes a situation where you say, you know, ‘suck it up princess, it’s just another day, right?’” commented Zane Thain, who works at the Native Friendship Centre. “It’s just an everyday normal thing.”

Landry expressed that people need to have realistic expectations of what the legal system can do, as well as the limits of police authority.

“I think it’s important that people to understand exactly what has to happen for a hate crime to be proven,” pointed out Landry.

“For example, if a First Nations person is assaulted, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a hate crime. It may just mean they were assaulted.

There has to be a substantive criminal offence that has to be in place first before it can be proven that there is a hate crime.”

Landry added that in order to properly police hate crimes, RCMP need to get accurate feedback from the community, which involves building better relationships.

“I think the more we educate everyone on what exactly constitutes a hate crime the more likely we are going to get reporting,” noted Landry. “In the RCMP we have a special way to categorize hate crimes so that we can actually gather statistics and be able to show how many crimes were against an identifiable group or religion. Without that reporting we’re not going to have accurate stats on what’s going on.”

A hate crime is defined as a crime that is targeted at a specific group of people instead of a specific individual. The vandalism of the Cold Lake Mosque was given as an example of a hate crime. It was also the only reported hate crime in recent memory, according to Landry.

Landry explained that in the case where a crime is not committed, there isn’t anything the RCMP can do. Cases like that should be taken up with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, which has its nearest office in Edmonton.

“We look after hate crimes that fall under the criminal code. Other bodies look after situations such as unlawful dismissal that can be remedied.”

While there is no simple solution to overcoming hatred, a starting point on pathway to combating the problem became evident.

One of the key messages conveyed is the need to start building trust between minorities, the rest of the community, and government institutions.

“The structures that we have in place to deal with rights violations are extremely problematic,” said Tabrina Stenz, adult services coordinator for the Centre of FASD, who was also in attendance. “They’re not accessible, they’re not welcoming. If there’s no trust built, or it’s been broke, it’s very hard.”

El Kadri agreed.

“The government has to teach their staff how to treat people equally,” said El Kadri. “If we see the RCMP taking all of our matters seriously, people will report to them.”

All parties agreed that they were quite happy to have had the discussion, and everyone left the conversation with a feeling that they were moving in the right direction.

“We have come a long ways over the years with regards to treating everyone the same, but we have a long way to go,” said Landry. “I want to be part of the discussion and the solution. The stronger relationships are, the more you are going to get out of those relationships.”

If you think you or a member of your community may have been a victim of a hate crime, you have up until one year to make a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Complaints can be made in person in one of the two major cities or by the phone over a confidential line at 780-427-7661.

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