British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province, is defined by its Pacific coastline and mountain ranges. Nature areas like Glacier National Park offer hiking and biking trails, as well as campgrounds. Whistler Blackcomb is a major ski resort that hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. The scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway links Whistler with Vancouver, a city known for its film industry, at the province's southern U.S. border. The total population of B.C. is 4.6 million.
In British Columbia, 82 per cent of visible minorities have experienced prejudice or some form of discrimination, according to a March 2017 survey commissioned by Vancity. Interestingly, 28% of survey respondents believe racism has increased recently, targeting all minority groups.
However, this sentiment is not reflected in the hate crime statistics, most likely due to either incidents not being reported and or once incidents are reported, they may not be classified as hate crime in some jurisdictions. The Vancouver Police provided hate crime statistics which recognize 5 incidents against the Jewish community in comparison to 16 against the Muslim community and 18 against the LGBTQ community.
On June 6, 2017, Castanet reported that one of Vernon's colourful murals had been defaced with a swastika and Hitler-type moustache drawn on the face of an indigenous woman.
In March 2017, a B.C. court required Arthur Topham to not use the internet after he was convicted of online hate against Jewish people. In 2015 a jury convicted Topham of one count of communicating online statements that willfully promoted hatred against Jewish people.
According to reports, Topham was “unrepentant, telling the court before sentencing that it was his ‘duty to alert the public to the imminent threat of the Jewish lobby.’" Topham was running a hate website which “featured frequent posts that touted Jewish conspiracies and demonized Jewish people.”
In a recent incident in Vancouver, a Globe and Mail headline reported on May 5, 2017 – “Outrage over Holocaust joke posted in Vancouver buy and sell group.” A “Jewish bunk bed for sale” was advertised on a Facebook buy and sell group with an image of an oven attached. The 17 year old (who is a minority himself) posted the ad and said it was a “joke” while many comments validated the ad and laughed it off.
In yet another stunning case of politicized antisemitism early in 2017, The Island School of Building Arts in B.C. apologized after an Israeli engineering student said his application had been rejected due to “geopolitics.” Apparently, the school had a policy of not accepting Israeli students. In an email to Israeli Stav Doron, Patricia Rokosh – the manager of student services – wrote, the reason was “due to the conflict and illegal settlement activity in the region.” Doron did not reapply to the school.
In yet another school related incident, on March 21, 2017 the Mounties in Nanaimo investigated half a dozen racist posters hung around Vancouver Island University. Non-coincidentally, six posters with Nazi imagery were discovered around campus the day prior International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The university condemned the incident.
Pamphlets and flyers are still choice for white supremacists especially – used in an attempt to victimize and frighten people. Preceding the Nanaimo incident were racist KKK flyers left on doorsteps of Fraser Valley homes in October 2016 (the same flyer was distributed in Chilliwack in July). In November 2016, “hundreds of flyers promoting white supremacy websites were strewn around Vernon, BC.”
Then in January 2017, Canadian Press headlines stated, “Abbotsford police investigated racist KKK flyers sent to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.” The responsible group calls itself the “Loyal White Knights KKK.”
Antisemitic graffiti was also found in Kelowna in January 2017 on the Staples building. Interestingly, while it is reported that the graffiti was antisemitic in nature, the RCMP classified it as vandalism, not hate speech. This may account for why in many provinces and regions, hate seems to be low – due mainly to classification.
Similarly, on February 20th, the CBC reported a photo of “vandalism” at Vancouver’s Gladstone Secondary school. The words, “Hail Hitler” were written on the exterior doors with a swastika in the corner. Another section said, “prepare 2 be gassed”.
Racist and antisemitic graffiti seems to be in vogue in British Columbia. How sad when students at Surrey high school arrived last fall for their first day of school to be greeted by a large swastika and hateful slurs. Similarly, an interracial couple found a swastika drawn on her car in Port Albrni in February of 2017. In April, swastikas were found in Abbotsford spray painted on two cars – while “white power” slurs defaced a local school in the same town.
Clearly in B.C., white supremacists are holding to their values of intolerance and racism against all, no matter race, religion or creed. On February 18th, CTV Vancouver reported that families are being targeted by racist graffiti in East Vancouver. Their homes were desecrated with swastikas and references that East Vancouver is for “white Europeans.”
Similarly, In April 2017 – Liberal incumbent Naomi Yamamoto and NDP candidate Bowinn Ma’s campaign lawn signs were defaced with swastikas and hate language.
Unbeknownst to the Jewish Community Centre of Vancouver and reeling from continued antisemitic attacks (as described above) – the JCC was evacuated twice due to bomb threats. On March 8th and 12th – the Centre received email threats. While Jewish organizations do not take chances on bomb threats, it is now widely known they were part of a pattern of hoax’s throughout North America. In twisted form, an Israeli adolescent with mental illness had been sending hoax bomb threats to JCCs across America and Canada.
The pressure on the Jewish community of British Columbia continued unabated, even on university campuses. On March 31, 2017, the B.C. Supreme Court rejected a petition to stop the University of British Columbia’s student government from holding a referendum on the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign.
The judge rejected the petition even while he found that the referendum question “is divisive, creates a toxic atmosphere for students supportive of the state of Israel, and is destructive of open and respectful debate on an important issue.” Additionally, the judge argued that the BDS petition “drove a wedge between religious groups on campus who had previously enjoyed inter-faith outreach and collaboration.” In the end, the referendum was defeated with students voting against BDS at UBC.
Similarly, the Simon Fraser University Teaching Support Staff Union attempted to pass the antisemitic BDS resolution. Their referendum vote was decided in January 2017 at the union’s annual general meeting. An intensive campaign proceeded following the AGM which saw electronic voting take place from May 15th-19th. Worth noting was that this campaign referenced an organization called Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. In the final tally, the BDS motion failed to gain strength and was defeated.