Denial is one of the factors making the work of combatting racism in Salmon Arm more challenging.
Amanda Eastwood, Community Connections Coordinator with Shuswap Immigrant Services Society, chairs the Shuswap Committee Against Racism and Hate, which includes representatives from organizations such as the RCMP, the SAFE Society, the school district, city council and others. She made the observation during an interview about the reports Immigrant Services has received about racism.
“People say there isn’t any racism here, and that’s one of the problems – the denial. It’s hard to tackle it.”
She said she has been surprised that racism seems more overt in the community than in some others.
“Speaking to people in different areas of B.C. involved in combatting racism, they are quite shocked sometimes about what we have heard in Salmon Arm.”
While comments appear to come from a minority, they are openly expressed.
Eastwood also pointed out that much is being done in the community to counter racism.
Reports of racism includedracist jokes heard at school last year, student lockers being defaced with racial slurs, as well as social media sites used both by youth and adults treating racist comments and jokes as acceptable.
“I’ve have had quite a few people say that having racist jokes is not an issue as there are not enough people to be offended by them,” she said, adding the problem seems to boil down to lack of education.
Eastwood is hoping to set up training for Facebook moderators regarding racism and hate speech.
She added that homophobic comments at schools were reported to be “quite extreme.” She said students didn’t think enough was done as some teachers were within earshot of remarks.
“They felt hate speech wasn’t being dealt with.”
Along with overt racism, lack of inclusion has been experienced, some by Asian students, for instance.
In the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District, Carol-Ann Leidloff, director of inclusive education, said a lot is done in the schools but there is no packaged program delivered. Inclusive values are part of the culture and climate of schools as well as part of the curriculum, she explained.
Much work is done by teachers regarding social media, one of the big influencers of children, regarding what is OK and what is not, how to be responsible online, she remarked.
Regarding Indigenous students, Leidloff said the district has a strong program to support its Indigenous learners, both community and school-based.
While racism, bullying and related issues exist in every school district, the district’s goal is greater understanding and acceptance of diversity, she said.
Around town, reports to Shuswap Immigrant Services about racism have included staff in businesses being called derogatory names and told they should be doing more menial jobs. Eastwood said although employers try to defend them, “the psychological stress it causes people can make them feel unsafe. It leads to anxiety and can be very upsetting.”
Other reports have come from people of colour when they are customers themselves. Some have found they aren’t served at some businesses and believe it’s connected to race.
Eastwood said Indigenous people and Indo-Canadians seem to be targeted in Salmon Arm more than others, according to reports.
Gathering information is still in the early stages so no clear numbers have been tallied, she said.
A person of colour was standing outside his friend’s truck waiting for him in Salmon Arm recently when an onlooker called police because they suspected he was going to steal the vehicle.
“I’ve heard that a few times here,” Eastwood said. “People can be doing something quite innocent and people will make assumptions due to their race, that they are doing something criminal.”
Following an incident in the North Shuswap where a person’s sign supporting Black Lives Matter was damaged and/or stolen 22 times, Eastwood spoke to Resilience BC, a provincial network focused on identifying and challenging racism, which said prosecuting such acts of hate has been an issue. Police may focus on property damage, not on the psychological effects of such comments or acts.
Staff Sgt. Scott West with Salmon Arm RCMP said most of the racially motivated issues investigated in the community accompany a lead charge in the Criminal Code. In those instances, the accompanying racial/hate motivation would be considered at trial and during sentencing if the person is found guilty.
For example, graffiti or spray painting could garner a charge of mischief in the Criminal Code, and the subject matter of the graffiti – the hate or racism, would be considered later, during sentencing.
Eastwood said she is aware of at least one federal politician pushing for better hate laws.
In Salmon Arm, Immigrant Services is setting up a reporting system for incidents so, at this early stage, the complainants can at least be offered appropriate services. Eastwood encouraged people to email her with such reports at email@example.com.
She also invited local residents to a virtual Anti-Racism and Hate discussion. It’s for anyone with past experiences or who would like to learn more. Contact her via email to receive the Zoom invitation.