British Columbia

Asian Canadians dismayed by lack of hate crime charge in assault on elderly man

A B.C. provincial court judge gave Jamie Bezanson a year's probation and a $100 penalty for his assault on an elderly Asian man at a convenience store in East Vancouver in March 2020. Crown prosecutors did not charge him with a hate crime.

Asian community points to difficulty in proving crimes are motivated by hate

Jamie Bezanson was sentenced to a year of probation and a $100 penalty for his assault on elderly Asian man in East Vancouver. Some Asian Canadians say the decision highlights the difficulty to prove hate crime in Canada's Criminal Code. (Vancouver Police Department)

A Vancouver lawyer is among those in the Asian Canadian community who say they are saddened and appalled that a man who shoved a 92-year-old to the ground at a Vancouver 7-Eleven store two years ago was not charged with a hate crime. 

Jamie Bezanson, 52, pleaded guilty to assaulting Kaihong Kwong in March 2020 and last week was given a conditional discharge, a year's probation and was ordered to pay $100 to the victim. 

Steven Ngo, a Vancouver lawyer who has consulted with the Department of Justice on amending the Criminal Code, said he is "appalled" by the sentencing and is concerned it will discourage victims from reporting hate crimes in the future.

The incident has reignited conversations about the difficulty of prosecuting offences as hate crimes in Canada.

Police described the assault as a hate crime in the weeks following the assault, but Crown prosecutors did not charge Bezanson with a hate crime because they said there wasn't enough evidence to establish a "reasonable likelihood" of proving it was motivated by hate. 

Ngo wants the Criminal Code amended to include a clearer definition of hate crime, making it easier to establish hate as the motivation. The Criminal Code contains provisions for hate crimes, but those only apply to public incitement of hatred or advocating genocide. 

'Always a gap between justice and the law'

Ally Wang, co-founder of the Stop Anti-Asian Hate Crime Advocacy Group, said that while she accepts the court's conclusion and judgment, she is saddened by it. 

"If [the judge] thought there wasn't any clear evidence, I can accept that, but there's always a gap between justice and the law," she said. 

Ally Wang questions whether the uneasy feelings about the pandemic and its links to China may have influenced Jamie Bezanson's assault on the victim. (Submitted by Ally Wang)

Although Vancouver police said at the time of the incident Bezanson yelled racist comments about COVID-19, the B.C. Prosecution Service said there was "no reliable evidence" the assault was motivated by hate. 

"[Bezanson] knows what he did was wrong, but I wonder why he acted the way he did," Wang said. "I'm sure he's not a bad person, but I can't say I forgive him."

Wang questions whether uneasy feelings about the pandemic and its links to China may have influenced Bezanson's actions. Security footage of the incident doesn't have audio, and while it appears to show Bezanson yelling at Kwong, it's unclear what was said. 

Difficult to prove hate as motivation

Vincent Yang, a senior associate at the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy, says motivation is hard to prove. 

"If nobody can prove he said something to explicitly show his hatred against Asians, then it's really difficult to prove [hate was the motivation]," said Yang. "If you cannot prove it, even if everybody believes it, it cannot be charged as a hate crime."

Yang urges victims to come forward, to provide evidence and support investigations by helping to prove hate as a motivation. 

Steven Ngo says he's concerned the court decision may discourage victims from reporting hate crimes in the future. (Submitted by Steven Ngo)

Ngo, who wants the Criminal Code updated, says an updated definition of hate crime would benefit all Canadians. 

"I want to emphasize this is not only for Asian Canadians, this is for all communities across Canada," said Ngo. "LGBTQ+, the Black community, Indigenous communities. It's for all of us as residents of Canada, to show that we live in a safe and welcoming society for all."

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With files from Jason Proctor