Hamilton police's Hate Crime Case Review Team must have critics of police too, advocates say
Police have to do some work to bridge historical gaps in trust among communities, Ameil Joseph says
An announcement by Hamilton Police Service that it's working to establish a Hate Crime Case Review Team in response to hate-motivated crimes in the city, is being cautiously welcomed by a community advocate, while an anti-racism expert said police are taking the wrong approach.
Cole Gately, Hamilton Trans Health Coalition chair, said the formation of the review team is "a very good idea," but it must have buy-in from the communities that are affected and it has to be thoughtfully put together.
"It can't just be the police picking people who they see as leaders in the community, it can't be another exercise for the police to say they were doing something and not really fully participating in a real fulsome review," Gately told CBC Hamilton.
"It has to involve people who are critical of the police as well. They can't just have people in there who are not going to critique the process.
"So, they have to have experts in hate crime and in hate crime law and they have to have people who actually have skin in the game who are racialized, who are queer, who are Muslim, etc., to be involved in that committee and it should be fairly small," Gately said.
Police said the Hate Crime Case Review Team is modelled after the Sexual Assault Community Review Team (SACRT) and would partner with local community organizations to review cases, provide recommendations and advise on training.
Meanwhile, Ameil Joseph, a McMaster University associate professor and anti-racism expert who studies critical race theory, said the announcement by the police seems a little preemptive.
"People want to see some of the work happen downstream," Joseph told CBC Hamilton.
"So, my initial reaction is, you know, there would have to be some appreciation of the work and history [of] community leaders and their advocacy efforts when trying to establish a team, whereby community members are asked to contribute in a way that provides analysis that aids police in their inadequate analysis that has resulted in these poor relationships that we are in the midst of to begin with."
In 2020, there were a total of 80 hate/bias incidents reported to Hamilton police. This number represents both suspected hate/bias incidents and criminal offences.
I think there's a lot of work to do before community leaders, community members, people with an actual case on hate crime and hate incidents in this city would be willing to serve on the team and what the structure of that team would look like.- Ameil Joseph, associate professor, McMaster University
Over the past eight years, the average number of reported hate crimes is approximately 121.2 per year.
As recently as this Tuesday, a 40-year-old man was arrested by Hamilton police in what is being investigated as a hate crime after a Muslim mother and her daughter faced racial slurs and threats to their lives.
Police say the mother, 62, and daughter, 26, were walking through a parking lot in the Ancaster Meadowlands area around 9:30 p.m. ET on Monday. A vehicle pulled out of a parking spot, officers say, and almost hit one of them.
The driver uttered threats toward the mother and daughter while using slurs targeting the Muslim community, police said.
Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann, the only woman of colour on city council, called the incident "unacceptable."
She said on Twitter, "Hamilton, we have a hate problem. There is no denying it."
There are gaps in trust, anti-racism expert says
Joseph said if the police need community support, they have to do some of the work to bridge the historical gaps in trust among communities before a Hate Crime Case Review Team could be established.
"I think there's a lot of work to do before community leaders, community members, people with an actual case on hate crime and hate incidents in this city would be willing to serve on the team and what the structure of that team would look like."
Joseph, who says he's experienced racism throughout his life, has been personally involved in a number of initiatives to respond to issues of hate and racism in Hamilton, including the establishment of the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre.
He said the independent, not-for-profit organization was developed to help respond to issues of hate and racism in Hamilton.
He also pointed to the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, which is developing an online community-based hate-reporting platform to allow for community members and those impacted by hate incidents and incidents of racism to decide how they would like to collectively respond through their own data collection and analyses, rather than just police-based hate-reporting or hate crime analysis intervention.
"I know the Philadelphia Model is one such that these review teams have no police involvement — they're actually entirely community-led and run such that they have the autonomy to provide input and feedback on these cases in ways that aid police in deciding what kind of analyses they need to build capacity on and what kind of training they might need, new policies etc," Joseph said.
Reaching out to community organizations
Hamilton police said they will be reaching out to community organizations to form the Hate Crime Case Review Team.
Chief Frank Bergen told CBC Hamilton on Wednesday that they are in the very early stages and the review team has not yet been formed.
He said the goal will be to work collaboratively to develop comprehensive recommendations to improve outcomes for hate crime victims. Similar to the SACRT, the scope of the review will include an internal and external analysis of hate crime investigations, as well as looking at policies, procedures, and training. Organizational representatives on the Hate Crime Case Review Team would also have a background in anti-racism, anti-oppression practices.
"We have listened to the community that increasing transparency and opportunities for community engagement is required in rebuilding trust," Bergen said in a news release.
"Working alongside the community to identify wraparound approaches will be integral to creating informed solutions."
In an effort to enhance support for victims, the Hate Crime Detective and Victim Services will also initiate contact with a victim following a hate crime report, police said.
According to the police, Victim Services Branch staff will provide emotional support, assist in safety planning, provide community referrals, and guide victims on accessing financial support in some cases.
In 2020, Hamilton police implemented an additional reporting option to allow individuals to report hate/bias incidents online. This option also provides an opportunity for friends and family to report on a victim's behalf, police said.
Last year, the majority of reported incidents were directly related to racial bias, followed by religion and sexual orientation. The Black community, the Jewish community and the 2S and LGBTQIA+ community were the groups most frequently victimized.
"Hate crime in Hamilton is not acceptable. Left unchecked, we know hate crime can have a far reaching impact on communities. We must come together and work collaboratively to eliminate hate in our city," Bergen said.
With files from Bobby Hristova