The incident involving the phrase “Heil Hitler” and a swastika drawn on a chalkboard in the UBC Forest Sciences Centre earlier this month was not the first of its kind.
Similar hate incidents have occurred periodically on campus — Pro-Nazi posters found at UBC’s War Memorial Gym ahead of this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies sent shock waves through the UBC community. Last year, a rainbow flag outside the old Student Union Building was torched over the Family Day long weekend. In the aftermath of Paris bombing in 2015, two Muslim women were reportedly verbally attacked at UBC campus.
After the recent incident in the forestry building, the response from the UBC community was commendable — the dean of forestry sent a faculty-wide broadcast email message to denounce the incident. On November 14, faculty members organized a seminar by UBC Director of Conflict Engagement & Dialogue, in the Equity & Inclusion Office that provided a reflective space for students, faculty and staff to discuss how to respond to incidents that offend or upset members of our community. The Forestry Undergraduate Society responded with a Facebook post, which reflects the sentiments of students in the faculty.
But still, more needs to be done to end hate incidents on campus.
The success of UBC is tied to being a diverse and welcoming institution for all. But hate threatens UBC’s values and according to President Santa Ono, it is “antithetical to UBC’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.” The American Psychological Association claims that individuals or groups victimized by violent hate crimes are “more likely to experience more psychological distress than victims of other violent crimes.” The psychological distress could contribute towards mental health problems, which in turn could escalate into more ugly incidents.
The BC government recognizes hate crimes in various forms, such as, “violence, threats of violence, vandalism, distribution or production of hate literature, hate graffiti, individuals spreading hate or organized hate groups in the community.”
Despite Canada being one of the most tolerant societies in the world, hate crimes are on the rise. According to Statistics Canada, “Canadian police reported 1,362 criminal incidents that were motivated by hate in 2015, a 5 percent increase from the previous year.”
It's important to note that these statistics are based on only incidents reported to police and therefore constitute only a portion of the hate crimes in Canada.
A study conducted at the UBC Department of Psychology identified the contributing factors towards discriminatory attitudes, which can potentially lead to hate crimes. Among them, the study found, is “hubristic pride,” a source of pride in individuals that arises from power, domination, money, or nepotism. As hubristic pride is based on arrogance and superiority, it reduces empathy and fosters prejudices.
The debate surrounding hate speech and freedom of expression is particularly relevant here as there is a fine line between free speech and hate speech. Unlike the United States, where even the most hateful and offensive speech is constitutionally protected, freedom of speech in Canada is not an absolute right and Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows the government to reasonably limit it. This means that one could be jailed for promoting hate speech that targets a group, such as handing out a pamphlet with Neo-Nazi literature. Inciting violence is where Canadian law draws the line on freedom of expression.
These types of incidents are a reminder to all of us at UBC that we must actively work and speak out to eliminate hate. We must be clear. It is never okay to stand idly and watch another person be verbally or physically assaulted and not do something.
The UBC administration and RCMP should step up their outreach efforts, particularly to ethnic communities on campus, to educate them about what constitutes a hate crime in Canada and why and how to report them as soon as they occur. We must stand together for respect and for each person’s right to be at UBC to learn, to work and to teach.
Haris Gilani is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UBC Faculty of Forestry.