B.C. launches racism helpline with support in 240 languages

British Columbia has launched a new helpline for people who witness or experience a racist incident, with support available in more than 240 languages.

The province said in a news release that helpline callers would receive support and guidance, which could include referrals to local community support services, such as counselling or help with reporting to police.

But it’s also part of an effort to collect more data about racism in the province, which includes a provincewide demographic survey about systemic racism.

The helpline and the results of the survey into barriers experienced by Indigenous and racialized people in the public service, schools and health care were separately announced on Thursday.

The Ministry of Citizens’ Services said the data from the survey and “other sources” indicate there are barriers for racialized people in the province’s public service, including under-representation among employees.

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Click to play video: 'B.C. government proposes anti-racism hotline'

B.C. government proposes anti-racism hotline

It said racialized students tend to be less likely to receive a special needs designation in the K-12 system and that Indigenous people may be disproportionately impacted by diabetes, asthma and mood and anxiety disorders.

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Mable Elmore, parliamentary secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives, said in the release that the “existence of systemic racism is not a secret, but without concrete statistics, Indigenous and racialized people have often been ignored when talking about it.”

“Thanks to the research being carried out under the Anti-Racism Data Act, we now have clear facts to use as evidence. This information has been and will continue to be invaluable in strengthening the Anti-Racism Act, and our collective efforts to make a fairer B.C. that works better for everyone,” she said.

The Anti-Racism Data Act came into effect in 2022 and requires the province to publish statistics or other information respecting systemic racism and racial equity by June 1 each year. This is the first year research findings were released under the act.

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B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma noted that a main goal of the new helpline is to collect “anonymized aggregated data” that will allow officials to better understand where and how such incidents are happening in B.C., and help them better combat racism.

“It will be a useful government tool,” she said. “It’s designed to be meaningful to people that call in, and we’ll be monitoring that, but also we’ll be watching the data that comes from it so we can understand how our society is doing.”

Callers will be asked to describe where and what happened, and whether they’d like to disclose “basic demographic information,” a news release said.

Click to play video: 'B.C. government takes steps to address hate crimes and victims'

B.C. government takes steps to address hate crimes and victims

The helpline will operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and the province says people who call outside those hours will be asked to leave a voice mail with information and a callback number.

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The province says the line, which is toll-free and was established in partnership with United Way BC 211, is not intended to replace emergency services and people who need immediate help should still call 911.

Sharma said the hope is that more people are comfortable reporting racist incidents, which is also why so many languages are offered.

“Unfortunately, the incidence of reporting to the police on hate crimes has gone up, and has been over the past few years,” she said. “What we heard from people is that sometimes they’re not comfortable going to the police and if they had a resource that was available for them to report and receive services, it would go a long way in terms of the impact to the victim, and the trauma.”

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People wanting to report an incident are asked to dial 1-833-457-5463.

The province also notes in the news release that local organizations can also apply to United Way BC for funding if they are interested in being part of the helpline’s referral database.

Sharma said the province has initially allocated $22.7 million toward the helpline.

“We’re obviously going to be monitoring to make sure that it’s valuable and it’s hitting the right mark, and it’ll stay as long as it’s needed and communities are using it,” she said.


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