Police are warning of a spike in hate-motivated crimes following a string of recent arrests by investigators with the Edmonton Police Service hate crimes unit.
Between January and March of this year, police investigated 23 hate-motivated crimes in the city compared to 13 during the same period in 2021, police said. Police revealed details on six of the cases on Wednesday.
The investigations, which date back to February, involve eight victims who were assaulted, harassed, threatened and abused.
“With the increase in numbers, our plan is to facilitate more awareness when possible, as we want citizens to know that this behaviour will not be tolerated,” said Sgt. Gary Willits with the EPS hate crimes unit in a statement.
“It is critically important that the public report any and all instances of hate, and we are very thankful to those who came forward as witnesses in these files.
“We want our diverse communities to know they are valued, and we take these reports very seriously.”
The hate crimes unit is recommending that Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code of Canada be applied to each of the six cases released Wednesday. If there are convictions, the section allows the courts to consider increased sentencing when there is evidence the offence was motivated by hatred.
Willits is concerned about the impact the hate-motivated crimes are having on the community.
“We have communities out there living in fear,” Willits said. “These are people not attending their places of worship, not wearing their religious clothing. People not leaving their homes. We’re trying to increase the sense of security.”
LRT assault and a drive-thru attack
In the first first case, on Feb. 28, a South Asian man wearing a turban was assaulted on the Southgate LRT platform.
The accused, who was unknown to the victim, reportedly approached the man and spat on him, making racial comments, police said.
When the complainant attempted to follow the accused as he called police, the accused came toward the complainant again, threatening to punch him, police said.
A 34-year-old Edmonton man was charged with two counts of assault.
At around 4 a.m. on March 1, a 17-year-old boy at a drive-thru window at a north Edmonton restaurant made racial comments and spit on a Black and a Southeast Asian staff member, police said.
The teen was charged with two counts of assault.
Interracial parents threatened
On April 2, at around 4:40 p.m., a Black woman and a white man were walking with their baby in a stroller in the McCauley area.
The accused reportedly began uttering racial slurs at the couple, eventually pointing a firearm toward them. The couple fled the area, but spotted the accused driving around the neighbourhood. A tactical unit responded and the accused surrendered to police without incident, police said.
A search warrant on the man’s home found the weapon to be a replica firearm.
The 39-year-old man accused in the case has since died from non-criminal causes but was charged with two counts each of criminal harassment, assault with a weapon, uttering threats, use of an imitation firearm while committing an indictable offence, as well as one count of possession of an offensive weapon dangerous to public.
Black men assaulted in the street
The latest charges relate to three violent attacks on Black men in north Edmonton’s Alberta Avenue neighbourhood.
On April 14, around 7:30 p.m., a Black male was walking in the 118th Avenue area when the accused, who was unknown to him, walked up to him, swore at him and then punched him before leaving the area.
Then on April 17, at around 1:50 p.m., a Black male was walking in the same area when the accused, who was again unknown to the victim, reportedly pushed him to the ground, punching and kicking him. Passers-by stopped their vehicles and chased away the accused.
Then, at 4:30 p.m. on the same day, a Black male was in the same area when the accused, who was once again unknown to the victim, reportedly walked up and without any warning, struck the victim on the head with a pipe. The accused was arrested a short distance away, police said
A 46-year-old man, was charged in relation to all three incidents with assault, assault with a weapon, criminal harassment, possession of an offensive weapon and one breach of condition.
Willits said each accused was questioned about their motivations for the alleged attacks.
“Some have been very blunt,” Willits said. “They do have racial beliefs and they’re hurting, they’re upset, maybe trauma they’ve encountered themselves and they’re acting out. Some refuse to comment. Then we have some individuals that don’t even recall the situation.”
This behaviour will not be tolerated.– Sgt. Gary Willits
He said that addiction, mental health and homelessness are common.
While Willits doesn’t believe that jail is always the answer, he does insist that offenders must be held accountable.
“This behaviour will not be tolerated,” he said. “We’ll expend all our resources to identify who you are and hold you responsible.”
Police said the victims in all the cases detailed on Wednesday are being offered trauma support.
If you have been affected by a hate crime or incident, you can contact the EPS Crime and Trauma-informed Support Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 780-421-2217.
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