At the end of February, the Government of Canada published its latest police-reported hate crime statistics. The number of police-reported hate crimes across the country declined in 2018 by 13 per cent, but hate crimes in Alberta increased.
While a rise in hate crime numbers doesn’t look good, the story behind the increase in reports isn’t necessarily all bad either, says Irfan Chaudhry, director of MacEwan University’s Office of Human Rights, Diversity, and Equity (OHRDE).
“We’ve been doing a lot of work in Alberta to increase awareness about how to address hate from a law enforcement perspective,” he says. Efforts to increase collection and reporting data, such as the Stop Hate AB website, he adds, are gaining momentum and that could contribute to a rise in reports.
But the reality in Alberta, says Irfan, is that we are still likely only seeing a small sliver of the picture. “The vast majority of hate crimes continue to go unreported, and there are active hate groups in Alberta – two of which are on Canada’s terrorism watch list.”
Even though hate crime is extreme and clearly defined within the Canadian Criminal Code, Irfan says that there are many other small, insidious ways that hate creeps into our lives. Unchecked, biases, subtle microaggressions or borderline hate incidents can ultimately contribute to an environment that feeds hate-motivated crimes.
New podcast explores narratives of hate and counter-hate in Alberta
Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity launches the Common Ground Podcast.
And you don’t need to look very far for examples of the bias that drives hate. It could literally be right in front of you. Maybe it’s a truck with a decal on its back window with a graphic map of Canada and the words, ‘Fit in or eff off.” Or witnessing a microaggression – like not bothering to learn how to pronounce an ethic name or covering up racism as “opinion” or “freedom of speech.” Or someone holding a sign that says “It’s okay to be white.”
Those anti-immigrant or racist sentiments don’t hit the threshold for hate speech, says Irfan, but it’s clear exactly what each decal, statement or sign is referring to. “Those actions may not be criminal, being the target of actions like these leave people feeling violated, victimized and unsafe.” And when those everyday experiences of racism or discrimination are allowed to linger, there are implications.
“It’s easy to discount microaggressions and say they’re not a big deal,” says Irfan. “But they can be a big deal.” Cumulatively, microaggressions – even when unintentional or coming from a seemingly positive place – impact people’s identity and feelings of belonging in their communities. And the presence or absence of that sense of belonging can ultimately impact mental health and wellness.
Addressing microaggressions, hate incidents or even hate crimes begins with empathy, explains Irfan. It’s the motivation behind programs like OHRDE’s unconscious bias workshops, LGBTQ2S+ inclusive workshops and last year’s Equity Diversity and Inclusion Week events designed to give people an opportunity to try on a turban or hijab.
“Muslim women who practice wearing the hijab are the most common victims of hate crime,” says Irfan. “Giving people a chance to try on a hijab, to see what it feels like, to be curious and feel safe asking questions is a step toward building public understanding.”
It’s when we have that empathy and understanding, he adds, that we can look at positive ways to directly intervene and stop negative narratives in their tracks. That’s the goal of a new anti-discrimination response training workshop that OHRDE is hoping to launch this spring. It's aim? To help faculty members intervene when they see any kind of discrimination occuring.
But organized workshops and training are only one part of the collective mobilization Irfan says he’s seeing on campus – actions that are perhaps best illustrated by the first set of alumni, students, staff and faculty nominations received earlier this year for the new IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility) Leaders initiative.
“I was floored by the many ways people on our campus are addressing issues that could lead to direct or indirect discrimination,” he says. “The work of equity, diversity and inclusion isn’t something done solely by the OHRDE office. It’s a collective, shared responsibility.”
The inaugural IDEA Leaders recipients include students, alumni, faculty and staff who are advancing and promoting equity, inclusion and human rights on campus or in the community – everything from creating a gender studies minor at MacEwan, to setting up international students for success in a new country.
Sunpreet Johal, a fourth-year Bachelor of Science student and Champions of Diversity and Equity (CODE) volunteer, was recognized for his involvement across every single opportunity to promote equity and diversity.
7 members of the MacEwan community recognized for groundbreaking ideas
University’s first IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility) Leaders announced.
“To me, his involvement speaks boldly about his sincere commitment to equity and inclusion,” says Irfan. “It doesn't matter what issue he is working on, he is there trying to be an ally.”
That message to take some kind of action – no matter how large or small – is something Irfan hopes people will take away from the week.
“There is so much happening already that it’s easy to get involved,” he says. “I hope this week, leading up to the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, that we all take some time to think about our everyday actions, what we can do in our own lives to address racism, how we can get comfortable intervening in some way when we see racism happening, and how we can influence the people in our lives to make those changes too.”
3 things you can do to combat hate
Irfan Chaudhry talks about how to know hate when you see it – and how to challenge yourself and others to fight it.