Community fears racist backlash after police release list of men who allegedly pose public safety risk
Community engagement and support are more effective at reducing crime, says expert
Some members of Metro Vancouver's South Asian community have expressed concerns over potential racist backlash after police released a list last week of 11 men they say pose a risk to public safety due to alleged gang affiliation — nine of whom have Punjabi names.
The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia (CFSEU-BC) says the men are known to police and have connections to high levels of gang and organized crime-related violence, including a recent incident in Whistler where two men were shot to death.
As most of the people identified on the list are South Asian, Manpreet Sarai says she worries it will lead to negative ramifications for people from that community, like an increase in random police stops and racist stereotyping.
"It's important to remember that the gang members on that list represent a very small portion of the overall South Asian population," said Sarai, who works as a case manager for the South Asian Community Resource Office (SACRO) program at Archway Community Services, based in Abbotsford.
Sarai said it is important for the public to be informed about people who may pose a threat in order to protect themselves, but she's not sure the list reflects the demographics of B.C. gangs.
"We know that it's hard to track gang demographics and there are more established gangs with older members who tend to fly under the radar and don't get as much attention," she said.
In a statement last Wednesday, Aug. 3, the CFSEU-BC said police believe "anyone with, or in the proximity to these individuals, may be putting themselves at risk," and that they have identified the men and issued a public warning "in order for family, friends, associates, and the public to take measures to increase their own personal safety."
Vancouver Deputy Chief Fiona Wilson said at a news conference that the brother of two men on the list has already been killed: Meninder Dhaliwal was shot to death outside a Whistler hotel last month.
"I want to make it clear that today's announcement is not about naming and shaming," said Wilson. "Identifying these men is in the interest of public safety."
But some argue that these lists create more problems than solutions.
Tamara Humphrey, assistant professor of sociology specializing in criminology at the University of Victoria, says there is no evidence that releasing lists of individuals allegedly posing a public safety risk significantly lowers crime, or protects people.
"We're not really seeing that they're impacting public safety in any meaningful way at all," said Humphrey. In fact, she says, such lists instill panic in the general public, without providing support or clear preventative actions.
The panic can be misdirected, Humphrey adds. Because the men on list are overwhelmingly South Asian, "we can see an increase in harassment or aggression toward communities of colour as a result of these widespread notifications," she said.
Humphrey says while the 11 men named in the list are known to the police, this does not mean that they have been charged with a crime.
She says a better way to discourage them from criminal activity is to help the individuals retain their community ties and employment opportunities.
"These are the kinds of important connections that are actually crime-prevention mechanisms that we know for sure work," said Humphrey.
CBC reached out to CFSEU-BC for comment, but did not receive a response by publication time.