An Exploration of the Needs of Victims of Hate Crimes
In order to develop a preliminary understanding of what services are currently being offered to victims of hate crimes, the questions below were sent to some members of the Federal Provincial Territorial Working Group on Victims of Crime (see Appendix B for a list of those who were sent questions).The members of this permanent Working Group meet on a bi-annual basis as part of the Victims of Crime Initiative and include provincial and territorial directors of victim services. These particular members were asked to respond to the following questions:
- Are there any services specifically for victims of hate crimes in your jurisdiction? If yes, could you provide a brief description (what, where, who it serves).
- What are the main barriers for victims of hate crimes accessing regular victim services in your jurisdiction (e.g. language, lack of knowledge about the service, particular needs that cannot be met)?
- What are the special needs of victims of hate crimes and what do victim services require to address them? (e.g. resources for additional languages/culture, additional training on hate crimes, long term counselling, etc.)
Follow-up emails were sent to those jurisdictions who had not responded by the deadline.
Ultimately, nine out of the thirteen jurisdictions responded and a summary of the responses is provided below. The responses were, for the most part, unvarying in their consistency, which was expected. Italics are used to denote direct quotations taken from responses. Alberta undertook to respond in a more fulsome manner and their response is summarized in Textbox 2 below.
In addition to these email responses, the Policy Centre for Victim Issues had the opportunity to meet with and have discussions with members of the Ontario Hate Crimes Community Working Group during the research and writing of this report. A list of Working Group members can be found in Appendix A. Learnings from these discussions are incorporated into the next two chapters. Specific quotations from members are noted.
Examples of some incidents noted in responses included: gay bashing; Jewish cemeteries being vandalized; and crosses on lawns of homes belonging to Black Canadians.
No jurisdiction reported providing specific services to victims of hate crimes. In general, victims would receive the generic service available to all victims of crime. Victim services workers would provide victims with information on the specific sentencing provision in the Criminal Code, that courts should take into consideration at sentencing for crimes which show
"evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor" (Criminal Code 718.2 (a)(i)).
As well, specific referrals would be made to appropriate community and support groups. In most cases, victim services do not provide long term support or counselling so referrals to other services are common and considered part of the mandate of many victim services organizations.
* In BC, there is a 24 hour a day/7 day a week toll free victim information line (VictimLINK) that provides services in 130 different languages including 17 Aboriginal languages. In addition there are specialized Chinese and Indo-Canadian programs, as well as services to immigrant and refugee populations.
* Ontario's Victim Witness Assistance Program now treats victims of violent hate crimes as a priority client group.
The services that would be provided could include, depending upon the specific model and mandate of the organization:
- information about the status of the investigation and court proceedings,
- information about the justice system and how it operates,
- assistance in preparing for court,
- emotional support and counselling,
- referrals to other agencies and services,
- assistance in preparing victim impact statements (see Appendix C for Criminal Code provisions),
- information to help recover financial losses resulting from the crime, including application for (where available) Criminal Injury Compensation.
Several police services across the country have established hate crime units, which are designed to be the focal points for the reporting and investigation of hate crimes. Many are working directly with the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics which provides training to front-line police officers to identify and document hate-motivated crimes. This training has a particular segment on victims.
The jurisdictions noted that the number of hate crime victims is low as compared to all victims who require assistance. Given that the current generic services for all victims are very limited in scope and victim needs are generally not being met, it may not be realistic to expect specific services to address the special needs of these victims who represent a small sub-group.
The reality is that we have to significantly improve services available to all victims before we can consider providing specialized services to individual groups of victims.
–Response from jurisdiction
The barriers reported by the jurisdictions are similar to those noted in the literature that was reviewed in Section 3. There can be language or cultural challenges in accessing services, or these can contribute to a lack of awareness of victim services in general. As well, there can be a reluctance to engage with the criminal justice system, the police, victim services, the courts. This reluctance could stem from a variety of issues: fear (of the police, of retribution from the alleged perpetrator/s), shame (of being a target, of being associated with a particular group), a belief that the criminal justice system would not be able to assist, etc.
The same barriers to accessing victim services for all victims apply to victims of hate crimes. For example:
- lack of awareness of services,
- lack of transportation to service,
- service not provided in their local community, and
- limitations on the range of services offered.
There are no specific barriers to their accessing the "regular" victim services.
–Response from jurisdiction
Several jurisdictions acknowledged that victims of hate crimes do face particular challenges due to the nature of these crimes. First, the impact of a hate crime can be particularly significant because the acts are directed to an individual because of an identity (e.g. race, sexual orientation, etc.) characteristic. As one respondent noted,
Victims of hate and bias crimes are uniquely affected. They are specifically targeted for something that they do not have power to change. A Break & Enter victim can put locks on doors, put (an) alarm system in, however, a victim of a hate crime cannot change who they are.
– Response from jurisdiction
Second, unlike certain other categories of crimes, whole communities can be victimized when a hate crime occurs. In that respect, support and remediation programs need to consider both the individual and the community.
Finally, as hate crimes are symbolic acts, the character of the crime (e.g. a violent act or a property crime) may correlate imperfectly with the degree of impact and damage to the victim and his/her community. For example, it was noted that defacing a mosque or synagogue could have a greater impact on an entire community than an assault on an individual.
Researchers and advocates in the United States call for special services for victims of hate crimes (see for example Herek 1999). Responses to the e-mail survey show that jurisdictions strongly support the enhancement of current generic services, rather than the development of specific or special services for victims of hate crimes. This is likely due to the low numbers of hate crime victims and the limited resources for general victim services. It is important to remember that the United States has been developing awareness through legislation (e.g. the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, 1990), policy, data collection and other research, and education for many more years than Canada.
In response to the needs of victims of hate crimes, jurisdictions broadly identified two areas where immediate action would be warranted:
- Training - Overall, jurisdictions did not believe that specific services would be the appropriate response, given the small numbers of victims and limited capacity. More training and resources (public legal education and information, interpretation services) were identified. The training would probably need to address what is a hate crime, who might it affect, how does a hate crime affect a person, how can a staff member help such a victim and who might they refer them to. Improved training and increased coordination in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes for all criminal justice professionals would benefit victims.
- Recognition - Victims need the hatred behind these crimes identified and acknowledged by the criminal justice system. Materials that are directed toward police and prosecutors to assist them to identify the hatred aspect of these crimes and to make the case before the courts may be helpful. A pamphlet or brochure that outlines the provisions in the Criminal Code in relation to hate crimes may be a helpful tool for victim services in dealing with victims of these crimes. Special projects or special funding to provide victim support in major cases in relation to hate crimes could build knowledge on service issues and service models that could be adopted to provide services when subsequent cases arise.
Alberta gathered answers through the following means:
- An e-mail survey was conducted through the Education Coordinator of the Alberta Police-based Victim Services Association;
- A phone call was made to the RCMP "K" Division Hate/Bias Crime Coordinator/Diversity Program Manager; and,
- Calling/e-mailing a sampling of victim service unit coordinators from large and small municipal police services, as well as from victim service units (VSUs) located in RCMP detachments. The coordinators or other contacts from the police services were either police members or civilians.
The themes regarding barriers to victims of hate crime, in no particular order of importance, included:
- Fear of reporting the crime by victims who have come from countries where the police/judiciary cannot be trusted. Similarly, a low reporting rate among victims of hate crimes was identified as a possible consequence of fear, since female victims may be too embarrassed to report the crime, especially if the culture in their country of origin is male-dominated, and the outcome could result in a backlash against the victim from family members.
- In a similar vein, fear about what kind of reaction they may get from the police or victim services advocates.
- Most coordinators and advocates in Alberta’s VSUs are Caucasian. To help ameliorate the differences between the victim advocates and victims of colour, many Coordinators indicated that the VSU personnel worked closely with not-for-profit agencies that assist immigrants or specific ethnic/cultural groups, so that they are aware of services available to all victims of crime.
- Isolation – a coordinator whose service area encompasses three First Nations said that for Aboriginal people living on the reserve, once the criminal justice process is in motion, and the victim returns home where support from the community doesn’t exist, he or she will feel totally isolated.
- Lack of understanding by VSUs of history of other cultures.
- Lack of knowledge.
- Language – As might be expected, all coordinators and police members identified language as a barrier to victims of hate crimes. Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat Police Services use telephone translation services, which charge monthly fees. Coordinators of VSUs that serve smaller communities were aware of these services, but indicated that they were cost-prohibitive. One respondent noted that small communities also lack the agencies that could assist in dealing with diverse language and cultural needs.
- Translation services - in particular that they are independent of family members in cases where the victim doesn’t want family members to know what has happened;
- Referrals – to counselling or to other agencies that provide services specifically developed to assist victims who are immigrants or minorities, or to people who are gay and lesbian.
- Special sensitivity on the part of police and advocates – although it is expected that police who work in the area of hate crimes, and victim service advocates in general, are sensitive to the needs of victims of crime, it was suggested that a higher level of sensitivity on the part of advocates is necessary when assisting victims of hate crimes, who may feel embarrassed, ostracized or fearful in coming forward; and,
- Access to counselling services in rural and isolated communities.
In order to address these needs, VSUs require:
- Readily accessible and affordable access to translation services;
- Training on hate crimes, in addition to the module in the Victim Advocate Training Manual;
- Education about other cultures - their values, beliefs, customs and criminal justice systems; and,
- Resources directed to accessing any service specific to the hate crime victim’s "group."
 The Ontario government established the Hate Crimes Community Working Group in December 2005 to identify potential barriers to the delivery of programs and services that help victims of hate crimes. In addition, it looked at best practices for combating crimes motivated by hate in Ontario, across the country and internationally. It presented recommendations to the Attorney General and the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services in December 2006.
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