A sign next to the Trans-Canada Highway at the west end of Salmon Arm asks, “Am I racist?”
With hate crimes rising in B.C., particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, the Salmon Arm sign and ones like it in other B.C. municipalities are part of a public awareness campaign launched by B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner.
The campaign takes British Columbians through the first steps toward a more anti-racist B.C. by asking them to examine their inner biases, states a news release from the human rights commissioner’s office.
Updates to the campaign include more specific questions about what constitutes racism. One sign asks: “If I say I don’t see skin colour, am I racist?” Another question is: “If I want to forget our province’s history, am I racist?”
An interactive website can be found at bchumanrights.ca/BeAntiRacist, designed to help British Columbians look deeper at the issues that divide citizens.
“Systemic racism is a difficult and urgent problem in B.C.,” said Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender. “Statistics show a rise in hate crimes in B.C., both gradually over the last decade and rapidly since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the province. We need to name the problem before we can solve it, and that starts when we confront our own, often subconscious, racial biases.”
Govender said if people have different views of the campaign, it’s hoped that will generate conversations about the value in recognizing racism and what a difference that might make in people’s lives.
Reported hate crimes in B.C. rose more than 34 per cent between 2015 and 2018. In the first nine months of 2020, the Vancouver Police Department, for instance, reported a 116 per cent rise in hate crimes in Metro Vancouver compared to the same period in 2019, with Asian communities bearing the brunt of the increase. Anti-Asian hate crime incidents increased from just nine reported in B.C. in 2019 to 88 reported in the 2020 period, an 878 per cent increase.
Along with individual racism, structural racism in health care and other institutions, including the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on health in racialized B.C. communities, is raising concerns.
The Office of the Human Rights Commissioner began its work in September 2019 with a mandate to educate the province on issues of systemic racism, following the 17-year absence of a provincial human rights commission.