VANCOUVER -- A new report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernadino shows Vancouver saw more reported anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020 than any other city in North America.

The authors of the report note a variety of reasons Vancouver holds this distinction, including differences in reporting between the U.S. and Canada, but for Vancouver lawyer Steven Ngo, the numbers ring true.

“Sadly, it’s not surprising,” said Ngo. “Vancouver has one of the highest concentrations of Asian residents in all of North America, and right now it’s happening left and right.”

CSUSB professor Brian Levin, who is also the director of the centre, told CTV News Vancouver in an interview that there is an important difference between the numbers in Canadian cities and in the U.S.

“We count different things,” he said. “Hate speech and other acts which would be deemed civil in the United States and would be counted as a hate incident and not a hate crime wouldn’t register (in data from U.S. cities), but would register in Canada.”

Levin said all along the West Coast of North America there is a similar trend: a spike in hate crimes reported since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

“Canada, unfortunately, has seen what we have been seeing in many countries, and that is when there is a cataclysmic event that affects a large amount of people, there is now – thanks to the internet – a borderless environment where our bigotry seeps over to you,” said Levin.

Levin said the pandemic is different from past incidents – such as terrorist attacks – that have led to spikes in hate crimes. Unlike such incidents, the pandemic is an ongoing event that has affected everyone in the world for more than a year.

With COVID-19 restrictions still in place across most of North America, Levin said he’s concerned about further spikes in hate crimes.

“What I’m more concerned about, frankly, is because nerves are so raw and stereotyping and conspiring is so ubiquitous, that when that cork is first pulled out, that’s when I’m worried about a peak in these kinds of victimizations which I think will extend a while as more and more people go out in good weather,” Levin told CTV News.

He also explained that having strong reporting systems in place can lead to higher numbers. In Vancouver, because of generations of hate against the Asian community, reporting systems have been put in place to make sure incidents can be highlighted, he said.

“Alabama reported zero in 2019,” Levin said. “You think it has less hate than Vancouver? I’ll let your viewers decide that.”

Both Ngo and registered clinical counsellor Angela Leong told CTV News barriers still exist that prevent people who experience hate from coming forward or pursuing justice.

“Even in my own clients, I’m hearing that they just don’t have the energy, they just don’t have the emotional capacity to seek legal assistance to then go through another battle,” said Leong. “Sometimes, they just can’t afford taking the time off work to go through a legal battle. That’s another reason some people don’t pursue this.”

She explained that some people do not know whether an incident that happened to them can be reported.

“Any sort of racially verbal epithet is a hate crime and they can report that and that has consequences at a federal and provincial level,” said Leong.

Ngo told CTV News of his own experience in April, when he was the target of a hate crime. Two men in a car next to him stopped at an intersection called him a racist name, and threw garbage at his car. When he went to report the incident, he discovered the Vancouver Police Department’s website only had forms in traditional and simplified Chinese.

At the time, a spokesperson for the police force said those forms were created specifically to make reporting easier for the Chinese community when hate crimes spiked during the pandemic.

But Ngo called it a barrier, saying he couldn’t easily file his claim because he speaks English. So he and a team of volunteers have translated the forms into a number of languages and created the website

He called it “a temporary measure for people to access forms,” and said he’s still waiting to see if the VPD will add the translated forms to its website.

“I don’t know what’s happening right now,” Ngo said. “I think they’re stalling, they’re waiting. There’s a lot of support letters coming out. I just wish everyone would understand that this is a systemic barrier, a systemic issue.”

The VPD told CTV News in April it was looking into the idea.

Leong said the worst moment for her personally was when she was on her way to work and saw a “giant billboard” that claimed the Chinese Communist Party is responsible for the pandemic.

“That’s when I really started getting scared,” she said.

She said one reason for the spike in hate crimes is that people are already stressed by the pandemic.

“They’re looking for someone to blame,” she said. “It’s an easy way out.”

Leong and Ngo are encouraging others to share their stories publicly and with the police if they face any sort of hate crime.

“We need to normalize stories around racial trauma, rather than minimizing it or saying, ‘Oh well, it’s not happening to me right now, so I don’t really want to talk about it,’” Leong told CTV News. “The more we keep these stories hidden, the more everyone else thinks, ‘Maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe we’re past this racism issue.’ The reality is that we’re not.”