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Vancouver police under fire for delaying going public with hate crime investigations
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Police Department waited a month or more to ask the public for help in two major hate crime investigations, and those are delays that lasted too long, according to members of the city's Chinese community.
Barbara Lee, the President of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, said the VPD should have appealed for witnesses and informed the community of potential danger much sooner.
"Thirty days is way too long to hold this information. There are elderly people who could have been warned. There's a lot of hate and fear and lashing out," she told CTV News Vancouver. "The public needs to know for their own safety, for their family's safety, for their community's safety."
Lee said two attacks — one targeting an elderly man and another involving graffiti outside a cultural centre —have frightened the community as well as heightened the misguided and racist notion Asian people are to blame for the global pandemic.
On March 13, a white man pushed a 92-year-old grandfather down to the ground outside an East Vancouver convenience store. In spite of the violent nature of the incident, the VPD waited 40 days to ask the public for help identifying the suspect. The police released images on April 22, and the suspect was identified the next day.
The VPD took a similar approach after graffiti appeared on the exterior of the Chinese Cultural Centre. On April 2, at least one man scrawled racist words on the centre's windows. The suspect also threatened the lives of Asian people and, using slurs, called for them to be driven from the country.
Thirty days later, Vancouver police released surveillance photos and asked the public to help identify the suspect.
Lee said she was stunned by the delay.
"I couldn't believe they waited that long. These people were out and they could have hurt other people," she said.
In comparison, Transit Police went public with a racist attack four days after it was reported.
On April 25, they were notified about a violent attack that took place on the Skytrain the previous weekend. Transit Police shared surveillance video of that attack April 29, and a suspect was arrested that same day.
Going to the public can be complicated, said Const. Tania Visintin, because police must consider individual privacy and must also consider whether publicity could cause the suspect to flee before an arrest can be made.
She said what the public and media see presented from a VPD spokesperson at a podium — often including video and images — is only a small part of the operation.
"Giving this public plea is just one tool," said Visintin. "Our officers, our detectives, and our community policing officers are involved in the community day to day."
Going to the public for help is a demonstrably effective tool to help solve crimes and keep people safe, said Sean Holman, a professor of journalism at Mount Royal University in Calgary.
But he said there's another reason to let the public and media know about racist attacks in a timely way.
"The public needs this information so that we can press government to do something about this problem," said Holman.
The Asian community is being scapegoated for the COVID-19 outbreak, in part, because nationalist politicians in this country and elsewhere are deliberately stirring up hate and xenophobia, he said, pointing to Conservative MP Derek Sloan, who levelled attacks against Canada's public health officer Teresa Tam. He also criticized U.S. President Donald Trump.
"Referring to this virus as the 'Wuhan virus,' or the 'China virus' — the effect of these labels is to gin up racism and create scapegoats that are politically convenient for certain parties," Holman said. "Yes, it originated in China, but a disease has no boundaries or borders. A disease doesn't have a nationality."
The Vancouver Asian Film Festival has introduced the hashtag, #Elimin8Hate, and Lee hopes people who have been the victim of racism can find support. The goal is also to use the hashtag as a tool to report racism and hate crimes.
Lee also said she hopes alleged criminals can be arrested faster with help from the public.