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Hate crimes and protests increased in 2023, driven by Israel-Hamas conflict: Vancouver police

A VPD officer mediates between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators during a rally for Palestinians at City Hall in Vancouver on Oct. 19, 2023. During a press conference Tuesday, Vancouver police said the number of hate incident reports and protests rose sharply in 2023.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A VPD officer mediates between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators during a rally for Palestinians at City Hall in Vancouver on Oct. 19, 2023. During a press conference Tuesday, Vancouver police said the number of hate incident reports and protests rose sharply in 2023. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The Vancouver Police Department says the war between Israel and Hamas led to an increase in hate crimes and protests in the city in 2023.

VPD investigated 265 hate crime reports last year, an increase of 31 per cent from 2022, according to Staff Sgt. Astrid Bonter. South Asian, 2SLGBTQ+ and Jewish communities all had increased reporting, she said.

"If there is a silver lining ... these reports of hate and increases in reporting mark grand-scale attitude shifts that have declared once-acceptable behaviour to be wrong and intolerable," said Bonter.

"If you have been targeted ... we want to hear from you."

More than 1,000 people showed up in the latest pro-Palestinian rally in Vancouver on Saturday, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
More than 1,000 people showed up in the latest pro-Palestinian rally in Vancouver on Saturday, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Protesters are pictured in a pro-Palestinian rally in Vancouver in November 2023, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. (Sohrab Sandhu/CBC)

Reports of antisemitism increased 62 per cent in 2023, with 47 incidents reported, up from 29 in 2022. Of the 47 incidents in 2023, 33 occurred after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, according to the VPD.

Bonter said approximately 10 hate crimes against the "West Asian/Muslim" community are being investigated.

A record number of protests in the city in 2023 drove up the VPD's overtime costs to a total of $4 million, double what was budgeted, according to the head of emergency operations and planning.

Insp. Jeff Neuman said 1,018 protests were staged in Vancouver last year, up from 600 in 2020.

He said since Oct. 7 — when Hamas launched deadly attacks inside Israel — the VPD has proactively deployed officers to 80 potentially volatile events, which alone have incurred overtime expenses of $2.5 million.

Staff Sgt. Astrid Bonter, with VPD’s diversity, community, and Indigenous relations section, is pictured during a press conference in Vancouver on Tuesday, Jan. 16. According to Bonter, VPD investigated 265 hate crime reports last year, an increase of 31 per cent from 2022.
Staff Sgt. Astrid Bonter, with VPD’s diversity, community, and Indigenous relations section, is pictured during a press conference in Vancouver on Tuesday, Jan. 16. According to Bonter, VPD investigated 265 hate crime reports last year, an increase of 31 per cent from 2022.

Staff Sgt. Astrid Bonter, with VPD’s diversity, community, and Indigenous relations section, is pictured during a press conference in Vancouver on Tuesday, Jan. 16. According to Bonter, VPD investigated 265 hate crime reports last year, an increase of 31 per cent from 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Neuman said the VPD has not asked the city for more money to cover the unexpected costs at this point.

"The money will eventually get pulled from our larger budget, then our executive will have to approach the city and the city manager and they'll have to try to resolve where they can to find the future funding if this continues at the pace that it has in the last 90 days," he said.

VPD has launched investigations into a total of 50 potential criminal offences connected to protests of the Israel-Hamas war, including assaults against police officers and obstructing police.

To date, criminal charges have been recommended in 17 of the cases, resulting in nine people being charged. Another six cases are being reviewed by Crown.

Ezra Shanken with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver says the VPD data showing rising antisemitism is disturbing, but not surprising.

"These are people who live here who are not connected to decision-making in the Middle East, surely not, and are experiencing very, very violent and hateful language," he said.

At a mosque in Delta, Imam Umran Bhatti said extra safety precautions have been in place for months.

"We, of course, have beefed up our security here locally around the clock to make sure if anything does happen, it gets reported right away, especially during our Friday services," Bhatti said.

Nico Slobinsky, the Pacific region vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, thanked police in a statement Tuesday, saying antisemitism affects how Jewish people feel in public spaces.

"We know that this comes at significant cost, and we therefore call on all levels of government to ensure that the VPD and other police forces have the resources required to ensure that the Jewish [community], and all other affected communities, can live safely."

Bonter said the reported number of hate crimes against the East Asian community has declined from its pandemic spike, from 98 incidents in 2020 to 46 in 2023.