B.C.'s first parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives sees change on horizon

·3 min read
A protester holds a sign calling for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women at a protest in Vancouver in 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A protester holds a sign calling for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women at a protest in Vancouver in 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

A rise in hate crimes in B.C. over the past year shows an urgent need to take action against racism, says B.C.'s first parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives.

The province is in the process of drafting anti-racism legislation and Rachna Singh says communities and grassroots organizations will be consulted on their unique needs during that process.

"The past 12 months have shown to us that we need to do more to address systemic discrimination and hatred in this province," said Singh, who is also NDP MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers.

"This legislation ... won't end racism, but it is the next step toward creating the society that we are striving for."

There has been a surge in anti-Asian crimes in the past year and online radicalization is on the rise.

Data from the Vancouver Police Department shows the number of anti-Asian hate crimes rose from a dozen incidents in 2019 to 98 in 2020. The federal Liberal government has identified the rise of right-wing extremism and hate as a major threat to Canada.

There are at least 130 active far-right extremist groups in Canada, a 30 per cent increase since 2015.

And in November, former children and youth representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond released a report with evidence that Indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by systemic racism in B.C.'s health-care system.

B.C. Premier John Horgan has called for violence against people of colour to be treated as a hate crime, and Singh says he is making anti-racism a priority.

Singh's mandate includes focusing on lasting reconciliation efforts, having equity and anti-racism inform policy and budgetary decisions and reviewing anti-racism laws in other jurisdictions.

Rachna Singh says her goal as says her goal as B.C.'s first Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives is to bring B.C. closer to becoming a more socially just and equal society.
Rachna Singh says her goal as says her goal as B.C.'s first Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives is to bring B.C. closer to becoming a more socially just and equal society.(Doug Kerr/CBC)

She says her years spent working as an addictions counsellor and support worker for women facing domestic violence helped her understand the importance of speaking up for those who can't advocate for themselves.

"I always liked to look beyond the medical point of view, or what things looked on the surface, to know exactly what it is that has brought a person to a situation," she said.

"It could be the result of intergenerational trauma or systemic racism."

Critics have raised concerns about how effective this role will be when it comes to real change.

The B.C. government has been criticized for not providing data showing how COVID-19 is affecting racialized communities.

Last fall, B.C.'s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner said the government could better address systemic racism in the province by collecting and using disaggregated demographic data. The commissioner called for new legislation to make that happen.

Protesters are pictured during a rally against racism in Vancouver in 2020.
Protesters are pictured during a rally against racism in Vancouver in 2020.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

Singh acknowledges change won't happen overnight.

She believes the upcoming legislation will put words and actions into law, and says her goal is to bring B.C. closer to becoming a more socially just and equal society.

"I want to see that everybody has the right to live with dignity, with respect, and whatever we can do to break those barriers," she said.

"I think the introduction of B.C.'s first anti-racism act will reinforce our goals to combat racism throughout B.C. and ... ensure that everybody is treated equally, regardless of their race or skin colour."