What The BC Human Rights Commissioner Inquiry Learned About Hate In Schools During The Pandemic

After facing a daunting mandate, British Columbia's Human Rights Commissioner has released a report addressing how racism, hate and prejudice have spread during the COVID-19 pandemic, including in schools and among youth.

Hazel Woodrow
Canadian Anti-Hate Network

Source: Unsplash

Hate negatively impacted the school and learning experiences of K–12 students in British Columbia throughout the pandemic, according to a recent inquiry report. 

From Hate To Hope: Report Of The Inquiry Into Hate In The Covid-19 Pandemic was released this week by the Office Of The British Columbia Human Rights Commissioner, an officer of the BC legislature who is responsible for promoting and protecting human rights through education, research, and advocacy. 

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The Inquiry’s mandate was enormous. 

Examining “the reported rise in hate-related incidents in British Columbia” during the pandemic, the inquiry’s goal is to look for “root causes and to develop actionable recommendations.” 

The Inquiry incorporated data from a vast range of sources, including police-reported hate incidents, statements from civil society organizations, testimonies of victim-survivors and witnesses of hate, and more. 

Significantly, the Inquiry heard about the compounding effects of the pandemic, systemic racism, and overt hate incidents on marginalized groups, especially Black and Indigenous peoples. 

“As with the discovery of residential school gravesites, high-profile events, including incidents of police violence, are made even more painful when compounded by hate incidents in our communities,” the report reads.   

The Inquiry reported hearing about tremendously negative mental health consequences for Black youth as a result of “pervasive” hate and bullying, including high rates of suicide. 

It found many reports of hate incidents occurring in schools, including several that specifically referenced or intersected with high profile events. 

For example, “a white supremacist group dropped propaganda pamphlets on the sidewalks around several schools, advertising far-right websites and leaders” on Orange Shirt Day, in 2020.

The Commissioner also heard about the ways that the pandemic was invoked in instances of anti-Asian hate specifically.

“A school district representative described an interaction with a community member,” the report says, “who felt that Chinese students should be blocked from coming to their city and their international student program because of the threat of them bringing COVID-19.”

The intersection of hate and the pandemic also saw “examples of anti-government and anti-vaccine protests spilling into school board meetings. Representatives from School District 22 told us about how anti-vaccine protestors were dominating board meetings, including ‘hurling these false accusations and threats of legal lawsuits,’ to the extent that they had to have security and escorts for meetings and ultimately had to move the meetings.”

According to the Commissioner’s analysis of 3,931 police-reported hate incidents in BC from 2015 to 2021, 6.2% (approximately 244) occurred in schools, and 10% of victim-survivors were under the age of 18. 

The report details numerous instances of hate occurring in schools. Several of these incidents were either directly or indirectly inspired by or posted to social media, including:

  • “Students who made a video doing a ‘war dance,’ mocking Indigenous Peoples and their culture, that circulated on social media”
  • “Elementary students had been sharing antisemitic memes on Snapchat. One day at lunch, a student in the class asked the other students who in the class was Jewish. The boy then pointed at the Jewish students with his hand as a gun and pretended to shoot them. Earlier the same day, kids in the class were shouting ‘Heil Hitler,’ and ‘Death to Jews.’”
  • There was “an incident in a school where there was a LGBTQ2SAI+ pride poster campaign. The pride posters were torn and replaced with ‘super straight’ posters, which we heard were aimed at mocking LGBTQ2SAI+ students and their activism.” (“Super straight” was a transphobic trolling campaign that started on 4chan in order to “drive a wedge within LGBTQ circles.”)

With respect to causal links between the pandemic and hate amongst youth, the report states that “isolation and reduced opportunities for socializing may have had a big impact on youth, including when it comes to attitude formation and hearing views different from those expressed within their families.” 

While School District 20, located along the US-Canada border in southeastern BC, did not provide any data on hate incidents experienced in their schools, they did report that “the pandemic seemed to have exacerbated feelings of loneliness, a sense of disconnection from community/family and negative impacts on mental wellness, and these could be contributing to the issues.”

With respect to policies and documentation of hate incidents within schools, the report found that “The Ministry of Education and Child Care does not have policies, procedures or guidelines that describe how to monitor and respond to hate incidents” and that neither the Ministry nor individual school districts “consistently collect data on hate incidents in K-12 schools, which is concerning given the troubling stories the Commissioner heard about hate incidents in schools.”

The lack of policies and procedures on hate incident data collection is further compounded by the reports from youth advocacy organizations such as YouthTalkNation, who explained that “students often feel like their voices are lost when they go through a reporting system” and the Society for Children and Youth of BC, who similarly conveyed that “children and youth they work with shared that reports are not taken seriously.” 

Other confounding factors to youth reporting hate incidents, as relayed by YouthTalkNation, include time limited appointments with school counsellors, which cause students to “end up not feeling valued or understood;” and “a fear of authority that prevents some students from going directly to a counsellor.”

In addition to documenting and analyzing incidents and patterns of hate during the pandemic, the report also issued a series of recommendations. The recommendations relating to schools and youth include:

  • “The Minister of Education and Child Care should significantly expand anti-hate curriculum throughout the K-12 system so that all students develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to identify and combat hate and extremism.”
  • “The Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, with support from the Attorney General, should develop, adequately fund and promote a civilian- or community-led province-wide centralized reporting system for hate incidents” and that this reporting system should “Take into account the needs of young people and their experiences of hate in schools and other youth-oriented institutions.”

As well as these formal recommendations, the report lists several strategies for addressing hate, as reported by community organizations, that merit further consideration, including:

  • “A multi-stakeholder approach in developing programming addressing hate, which should include students, teachers and school administrators” (called for by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre)
  • “Community-based responses as well as restorative justice practices” (endorsed by the Community Legal Assistance Society and Restorative Justice Victoria)
  • “Incorporating Indigenous laws and legal orders into existing legal frameworks” (suggested by Dr. Sarah Morales (Su-taxwiye), Coast Salish, Cowichan Tribes member).

The report concluded that “while hate has deep roots in our society, it has risen sharply during the pandemic” and that “we must be decisive in our compassion and creative in devising non-violent responses to hate.”

The Confronting and Preventing Hate in Cana​​dian Schools workshop will help school professionals, parents, and all adults invested in the wellbeing of youth, in establishing around the young people in their lives, a fence of protection against racist, gendered, and anti-2SLGBTQ+ harassment and violence. When used by caring adults in their community, the knowledge gained from the workshop will help when children and youth are being groomed and recruited by white supremacists, and other purveyors of hate.

Our workshops, and the toolkit, are intended to complement -- not replace -- anti-racist education, and provide participants with the skillset to identify when youth are being groomed into hate movements, and what to do about it. There are currently no similar workshops with this focus provided by any other organization in Canada.

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