Alberta hate crime study could be ‘breath of life’ for anti-racism work

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A provincial project attempting to tackle the growing problem of hate crimes in Alberta needs to be « laser-focused » on the effects of such incidents, an Edmonton researcher has said on the matter.

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The Government of Alberta is funding two non-governmental organizations, the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee and the Organization for the Prevention of Violence, to research hate crimes in Alberta as part of a $250,000, the province announced last week. The government has also appointed former police officer Abdulkadir Abdi to coordinate the project and write a report of recommendations aimed at both preventing hate crimes and helping survivors.

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Irfan Chaudhry, a hate crimes researcher at MacEwan University in Edmonton, said he was eager to see evidence-based recommendations drawn from the voices of those affected by these crimes, particularly after the government’s « shotgun » approach to dealing with the problem. Last year.

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In 2021, amid a series of violent and racist attacks against Black and Muslim women in and around Edmonton, the province created an Alberta Hate Crimes Liaison and Coordination Unit, as well as a grant program for religious and ethnic organizations to enhance security on their premises. Kaycee Madu, then Alberta’s justice minister, went so far as to ask the federal government to allow people to wear pepper spray in self-defense.

« A big missing piece was a really strong community contribution and outlook, » said Chaudhry, who is also director of the university’s office of human rights, diversity and equity.

Postmedia contacted the two nongovernmental groups involved in the research and Abdi for more information about the project, but received no response.

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In its news release announcing the research, the province said the study will involve field work that will engage local communities for feedback, as hate crimes are often underreported.

Nonetheless, August data from Statistics Canada shows that the number of hate crimes reported by police as well as the rate of incidents per 100,000 population have increased in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge over the past five years.

Edmonton recorded 66 such crimes in 2017, up from 116 in 2021, while Calgary’s figure rose from 77 to 139 and incidents in Lethbridge rose from 2 to 10 over the same period.

A 2018 report from the Center for Race and Culture in Edmonton found that people recognize that reporting incidents can help prevent others from experiencing discrimination or harassment in the future, but concerns about “the personal and professional repercussions, frustrating processes and lack of meaningful results” also influenced the decision to do so.

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The same report identified many of the barriers people face when trying to access organizational support or services in response to discrimination. A lack of awareness of these organizations and services tops the list, followed by others downplaying the incident and negative experiences when trying to seek support in the past.

Chaudhry said the province’s study may be able to pinpoint and unpack why many hate crimes go unreported.

“More importantly, it could also highlight some of the support gaps present in municipal services or with the RCMP as a point of contact in rural areas,” he said.

Speaking to the project on Saturday, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he was also looking forward to the results and echoed Chaudhry’s concern to understand the complexity of this issue.

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« Some are organized, absolutely, » Sohi said of hate crimes, adding that the city has allocated funds for its own anti-racism programs and recently released an anti-black racism strategy. « But some of these crimes are acts of individuals who may be facing mental health issues. »

Chaudhry said funding for the project from the province is a “much needed breath of life” for anti-racism work in the province, but the effort needs continued support for long-term effects.

“People are willing to formally commit, and that commitment often comes with sustained funding,” he said.


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