Ottawa police urge reporting of hate crimes after U.S. attacks on Asian community

·3 min read
Ottawa police are encouraging the public to report any harassment or attacks involving members of the Asian community or anyone else who's been targeted.  (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Ottawa police are encouraging the public to report any harassment or attacks involving members of the Asian community or anyone else who's been targeted. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

Ottawa police have increased their presence in the city and are encouraging the public to report hate crimes due to a rise in attacks on members of the Asian-Canadian community, in the wake of a shooting rampage earlier this week in the U.S.

In 2020, the number of hate crimes reported to the Ottawa Police Service rose 60 per cent, with the largest increase involving the targeting of people of Asian descent (14 reports last year compared to two reports in 2019). In 2021, there have been three reports involving members of the Asian community.

"When we're dealing with hate crimes, usually that's just the tip of the iceberg; they're extremely underreported, " Sgt. Ali Toghrol, who's with Ottawa police's hate and bias crime unit, told CBC Ottawa.

I've talked to friends, I've talked to students that I teach, I've talked to a lot of people across the country about this and it's not unique. - Jamie Chai Yun Liew, immigration lawyer, speaking about hate crimes

Toghrol said the majority of the 14 reported cases in 2020 were acts of mischief, such as vandalism or racial slurs, with a bulk of them motivated by "rhetoric" linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the shooting in the Atlanta area on Tuesday, eight people, most of them women of Asian descent, were killed at three massage parlours. A man was charged Wednesday.

In a news release Thursday, Toghrol says the OPS takes all hate-motivated incidents seriously, and encourages the public to report anything of concern.

"The tragic events that occurred in the mass shooting event in Atlanta ... have refocused attention on this important issue," the release says.

It adds that Ottawa police continue to "reach out to the Asian community to express our support and our commitment to everyone's safety," including increasing the presence of uniformed police officers.

Raising awareness of hate crimes

In the interview, Toghrol said he and his team are trying to educate victims or potential victims about their rights and how to report hate crimes, while alerting the public about the consequences of such actions.

"Free speech has limitations," said Toghrol. "We can't go out there and blame individuals based on what we perceive to be the issue of the day. That is not appropriate — it's criminal."

Concerns over hate crimes aren't unique to one specific Asian community, and have been a concern across the wider community since the start a year ago of the pandemic, according to Jamie Chai Yun Liew, an immigration lawyer and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

"I've talked to friends, I've talked to students that I teach, I've talked to a lot of people across the country about this and it's not unique," she said.

Jamie Liew, an immigration lawyer and University of Ottawa associate professor, says she's been the target of racially driven incidents, including racial slurs.
Jamie Liew, an immigration lawyer and University of Ottawa associate professor, says she's been the target of racially driven incidents, including racial slurs.(Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Liew says she's been targeted a few times, including outside her home early into the pandemic.

"Right here on the street, I've had people tell me that maybe you shouldn't be outside because you could be the reason why things are spreading," she said, adding her son has also been targeted.

She said she had a racial slur thrown at her on Thursday while out for an errand, and that she's not alone in wanting to avoid going to the grocery store for fear of something like that happening.

"Today I was talking to someone about how now they're not feeling comfortable going to Chinatown because they know that's a place where people can be targeted," Liew said. "So the spaces that we used to feel safe are not feeling so safe anymore, and I feel heartbroken about that."

Liew said it can be hard for people who've experience a hate crime to report it. It's sometimes difficult to remember details about the aggressor and those in precarious work situations, such as temporary foreign workers, may struggle with whether to say anything, she said.