Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Arrests lacking for hate posters

B'nai Brith official expresses concern

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It's been months since nasty posters surfaced downtown, upsetting members of the city's Jewish community.

But while a man has told the Free Press he's responsible for them, police have made no arrests and no charges are before the courts.

The posters are just one of dozens of incidents in the city against people who are members of a religious, sexual or racial group.

The Free Press has learned Winnipeg police dealt with more than 50 hate incidents during 2011.

David Matas, senior counsel to B'nai Brith, a Jewish advocacy organization, said he's troubled by the lack of charges in the poster case. He said he considers the posters to be a hate crime because of anti-Semitic content.

"Under-reporting (of hate crimes) is always a problem," Matas said. "There is often a sense that reporting leads nowhere, that the authorities will not do anything about it. The inaction in this case will only encourage this under-reporting.

"The inaction is a visible statement that even in clear cases, nothing will be done."

The posters referencing Adolf Hitler had popped up in downtown Winnipeg in September, and another similar poster surfaced in October.

Police said in September they were investigating after "questionable or inappropriate posters" went up downtown and asked anyone with information to come forward.

No one has been arrested to date for the offence, said police, and the posters remain under investigation.

According to police documents obtained by the Free Press, about half of the hate incidents reported to police in 2011 involved graffiti or mischief. They also included offences such as sexual assault, in an attack aimed at the city's gay community, in May 2011.

According to Statistics Canada, there were 41 hate crimes in Winnipeg in 2010 and 14 in 2009.

Sgt. Harold Schlamp, hate-crimes co-ordinator for the Winnipeg Police Service, told the Free Press recruits are taught about hate crimes at the WPS academy and during field training.

Officers also must review police procedure annually, which has a section detailing hate crimes.

The majority of incidents flagged as being hate crimes are graffiti-related, he said, such as tagging of swastikas, racial slurs or references to the Ku Klux Klan.

"Mischief offences are difficult to successfully prosecute as the offences are usually done in solitude and cover of darkness, with few if any witnesses, and little to no evidence to continue the investigation," Schlamp wrote in an email to the Free Press earlier this year. Schlamp said officers who are dealing with an offence can flag the incident if it has "hate-crime overtones."

The service's hate-crimes co-ordinator then reviews the case, and distributes it to other investigators if it needs followup.

Helmut-Harry Loewen, a University of Winnipeg hate-crimes expert, said groups such as B'nai Brith do a great job of collecting information about anti-Semitic incidents.

B'nai Brith has a 24-hour anti-hate hotline to which people can report anti-Semitic acts, and where other victims of hate crimes can get help.

There is no equivalent reporting mechanism for aboriginal people, said Loewen.

Of the 50-plus hate incidents police dealt with in 2011, one identifies aboriginals as the target group.

"It seems to me (to be) a major failing within the city of Winnipeg that we don't have that type of mechanism in place, and that we need to get a better sense of the volume of the extent of this type activity in the city of Winnipeg," said Loewen.

He said a look online can turn up some "quite chilling" racism against aboriginal people.

"It seems to me that the level of anti-aboriginal racism is pretty high in the city of Winnipeg," said Loewen.

Matas said there could be many reasons why no charges have been laid in the poster case.

"The problem may not be the police," he said.

"The charges require the consent of the attorney general and he may have refused consent despite the best efforts of the police."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2012 A9


Updated on Friday, December 21, 2012 at 8:26 AM CST: replaces photo

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