Alberta updates Crown prosecutor's manual to go after hate crimes

The manual has two foundational guidelines: a code of conduct and a guideline for the decision to prosecute. (Cort Sloan/CBC  - image credit)
The manual has two foundational guidelines: a code of conduct and a guideline for the decision to prosecute. (Cort Sloan/CBC - image credit)

Alberta is taking steps to crack down on hate crime by changing the guidelines used by Crown prosecutors.

Activists and experts commend the development but also advocate a more comprehensive approach to combating hate.

Prosecutors will now be explicitly directed that it would be in the "general public interest" to prosecute a crime that was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on the victim's ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation, among other markers of identity.

The prosecutor's manual is a document that provides guidance and instructions to prosecutors. Some of these instructions are procedural, whereas others are more general about how to utilize discretion and what things to take into consideration.

In Canadian criminal law, hate crimes are not well-defined. There are only two sections in the Criminal Code that explicitly refer to hate — advocating genocide and public incitement of hatred against an identifiable group.

Other crimes motivated by hate are prosecuted using other sections of the Criminal Code, like assaults or acts of mischief. If an offence was motivated by hate or prejudice, it is considered an aggravating factor.

From 2019 to 2020, the rate of hate crime per 100,000 population in Alberta rose by 39 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

Other changes to the manual are related to prosecutions of vulnerable persons, including those who live in rural areas, and prosecutions of repeat offenders.

In a statement last week, Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said that the updated manual will better support prosecutors' decision-making, including to help them "better protect victims of sexual and domestic violence and persons who live in rural and remote communities, and to prosecute those who commit hate-motivated offences and repeat offenders."

Dallas Sopko, president of the Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association, views the update positively.

"It's important that these types of offenses are prosecuted."

Sopko noted the manual's update does not change how cases are prosecuted nor the law itself.

"It's the government's instruction to prosecutors about how to do their job, essentially."

'A good starting point'

Stephen Camp, a member of the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee and a retired Edmonton police officer, says that the update will remove subjectivity on whether to prosecute hate-motivated offences.

"It shows that the Alberta government is understanding the impact that hate crime has on the community," he said, adding that he expects there will be more consistency in prosecuting hate-motivated crimes.

"I think there will be less files that are not prosecuted."

Samuel Martin/CBC
Samuel Martin/CBC

Irfan Chaudhry, a hate crimes researcher and the human rights director at MacEwan University, echoed Camp.

"Having this guideline… I think is key because it does have the ability to decrease the subjectivity as well as inconsistency that may go forward," he said.

"It's a good starting point."

But Chaudhry said it is still reactive. He said what's needed is to adopt a long-term perspective on what is contributing to hate-motivated offences in Alberta and Canada.

"That's what I'm not seeing in the provincial response in the last number of years."

Jibril Ibrahim, president of the Somali Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton, wants to see some creativity in what punishments are meted out to offenders to ensure behavioural correction.

"It will be really nice when the judge decides to go ahead and proceed [with] convictions," he said.

Ibrahim also wants to see the creation of a registry for hate offenders akin to the sex offenders registry.

Increasing trust

Camp expects that besides providing for a more consistent regime of hate crime prosecutions, the updated manual may have a beneficial side effect of increasing trust.

Not prosecuting hate offences diminishes the community's trust, he said.

"It makes them feel the government doesn't care."

The entire community feels the effect of hate crimes, Camp said, and the failure to address their concerns and alleviate their anxieties leads to divisive societal impacts.

"This addition into the manual — to make it generally a crime against the public interest — I think is valuable to augment the trust between government and our vulnerable communities."