Fine line between hate crime, intolerance

Create: 12/01/2015 - 19:37

A Topix.com forum debate on Aboriginals in Thunder Bay has raised the ire of a woman in the city.
Frances Wesley, a Constance Lake band member living in Thunder Bay, felt angry reading comments posted online.
The forum was first posted March 30.
“Feel like your city is becoming one huge reservation? You are not alone. Sad times, really,” wrote user Robbed_and_Stabbed.
Added user sick-tired-SCARED: “Yes. Thunder Bay’s crime rate is rising everyday. Our elderly can’t even go out in broad daylight without the fear of being jumped and robbed. Our kids can’t walk through a park without a bunch of Native kids beating them. The police know who are committing these crimes but they can’t come out and say it because they will be called racists!
“They keep coming in from the reservations and as our Native population increases so does our crime rates! Figure it out.”
Added user lazyshit: “Ya know, I constantly hear that there (are) no jobs left here, but i don’t know one person, not a single one that is out of work except some redskins. I have three family members who moved here recently and all found work.”
Comments have continued to the present day.
To sign up for an account on the site, a user must only provide a username, email address and password.
On the registration page, it says the email address will never be shown to other users, thus maintaining anonymity. The people who are writing on the forum need-not self-identity themselves.
“I think (the commenter’s) are ignorant about Aboriginal people,” Wesley said. “We make significant contributions to the local economy. It makes me wonder how much more can we do with the community to reach out and educate the public.”
Wesley, who is the urban Aboriginal planner for the Thunder Bay Urban Aboriginal Strategy, works to bring the community together. She helped establish the Neighbourhood Building Capacity Project in the city, an in- and after-school program for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children and youth between 7 and 13 years of age.
Wesley is disappointed such content can be found on the Internet.
“People are always going to try and bring you down,” she said. “I feel like this is a hate crime. I feel like we (Aboriginals) are being targeted as bad people,” Wesley said.
But establishing what makes a hate crime isn’t always easy.
According to the Criminal Code of Canada, a hate crime is a “criminal violation motivated by hate, based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or any other similar factor.”
Because of the freedom of expression issues at stake in hate speech, each offence requires evidence establishing intent, according to the Ontario Provincial Police.
“The threshold for qualifying an action as a hate crime is not easily met, even where race appears to have been an issue, unless it can be proven that the accused intentionally acted out of hatred,” according to OPP literature on hate crimes.
For a criminal charge to proceed, the attorney general of Ontario must sign off on the matter, according to the OPP.
Thunder Bay Police Service spokesman Chris Adams summed up the issue.
“People can be prejudiced and make a racial statement,” he said. “But that is not always a hate crime. For a hate crime to take place, there needs to be deliberate intent … and the person must be trying to provoke action.”
Margaret Leighton, of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, said it would not be appropriate for her agency to discuss hate crimes in a general sense because it makes rulings about the matter.
“Hate crimes are a complex area of the law,” she said, because people’s rights intersect, such as an individual’s right to free speech over someone’s right to not be discriminated against. “It is always evolving.”

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