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Why experts agree Edmontonians should report non-criminal 'hate incidents' to police

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Edmonton police launched a new tool Monday to encourage reports of "hate incidents," something officers believe will help them track people who may escalate to "hate crimes."

Victims, or people who have information about hate-motivated situations, are being asked to visit a new webpage which includes options for reporting and links to community resources.

"We know that hate incidents often go unreported for a number of reasons," Acting Insp. Michelle Greening said.

"In some cases, victims don’t realize that what has happened to them is reportable to police, even if it wasn’t a crime."

Reporting hate incidents, she said, will allow officers to collect information and possibly "do an intervention and educate that person."

Greening, wearing a Pride rainbow on her uniform, also acknowledged a lack of mistrust some people have because of "negative experiences" with officers and said Edmonton Police Service is "working to remedy" that.

Police said there were 83 hate crimes and 172 hate incidents reported in Edmonton last year. In 2021, those numbers were 109 and 208, respectively.

"Edmonton is a diverse city and there is no place for hate here," Greening said.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A 'CRIME' AND AN 'INCIDENT'

Both hate incidents and hate crimes involve "bias or prejudice towards an identifiable group" often based on race, religion, sexual identity or gender expression, police said.

Hate incidents are non-criminal actions where no laws were broken, such as someone shouting racial comments or slurs, or displaying offensive symbols.

These are not defined as crimes under The Criminal Code of Canada, but are cases that EPS' Hate Crime and Violent Extremism Unit has already started tracking.

Hate crimes are criminal offences committed against a person or property, including "direct threats of violence, graffiti, distribution of hate literature, and destruction of religious property or symbols."

Police reminded people that hate crimes should be reported in person, by phone at 780-423-4567 or 911 if the case is an emergency.

'ESCALATION COULD HAPPEN'

Criminologist Dan Jones worked as a police officer in Edmonton for 25 years and is now chair of justice studies at NorQuest College.

He said it's common for people to come into police stations to report hateful and scary incidents, only to be told officers cannot arrest that person because a crime wasn't committed.

"I couldn't tell you how many times, but too many," Jones told CTV News Edmonton.

"It really does suck when people come in and they are visibly hurt, they're visibly upset, they're visibly afraid, and you're like, 'Oh, we can't do anything.'"

Jones also did a six-month undercover investigation of "radical right-wing groups" in 2005.

He believes people who spread hate have become more bold in recent years, in part due to the popularity of Donald Trump and his rhetoric.

"What we saw [in 2005] was the stuff that people were saying, was said in these back closed doors, behind closed doors, kinda hidden," Jones recalled.

"And you're starting to see that kind of stuff being said in the open now."

Jones believes EPS is doing the right thing by making it easier for people to report hate incidents.

"If somebody starts out by throwing racial slurs at somebody, it's probably a good thing for the police to know who that person is, because escalation could happen," he said.

Despite some of the hate he's witnessed firsthand, Jones doesn't think changing laws in Canada is the answer to stomping out hate.

He believes education, people standing up for one another and proactive community policing are better ways forward.

"I truly believe no law is going to make this better. You're just going to charge more people and put more people in jail and I think that would probably increase their hatred," Jones explained.

"I think you would have a terrible cycle of additional crime from that. I think as a society we just need to be better."

'IT IS A DELICATE ISSUE'

Temitope Oriola, a Black man and professor of criminology at the University of Alberta, agrees with Jones that online reporting of hate incidents is a step forward for Edmonton.

Oriola explained that he, himself, has been the victim of recent hate incidents.

In one case, he said he and a colleague were targeted by a person leaving a series of hateful voicemails. The words were so similar in each that he believes a script was created.

The messages were designed to be hurtful, Oriola said, but were careful not to cross the line of being illegal.

"There is a degree of skillfulness to it. There is a degree of expertise to the deployment of that type of rhetoric," he explained.

As for changing laws, Oriola said he doesn't want to see Canada become a police state that prevents free speech but believes when people commit repeated hateful attacks, "there may be a case for it."

"It is a delicate issue, I recognize that, but I do believe we are at a stage in Canadian society, certainly in Edmonton, where we can find that balance where we're not policing what people are saying but we, in fact, are promoting sane and just and reasonable, legitimate discourses," Oriola stated.

He also encouraged people to report hate incidents to EPS but said that also creates an onus on the service to respond to serious cases where people are afraid.

Oriola believes officers have been slow to react in some Edmonton cases before.

"If there is no response of any kind or those calls are not treated with the seriousness they deserve, then that would be totally unfortunate," Oriola said.

"But I think that this presents an opportunity to build greater trust with communities that are most impacted by hateful comments."

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