New group to address hate crimes, help victims

Tara Jeffrey

A new community alliance has formed to shine light on hate-motivated crime in Sarnia and encourage victims to come forward.

Sarnia Police Chief Norm Hansen

“We believe that hate crimes may be underreported,” said Sarnia Police Chief Norm Hansen. “And it might be through intimidation, or not knowing how to report, or not knowing what is a hate crime.

“We want to make it easier and more comfortable for people to report.”

The Sarnia-Lambton Alliance Against Hate is spearheaded by the local John Howard Society and supported by two-year provincial grant.

“We know these acts are happening, so let’s acknowledge they’re happening and recognize them and name them for what they are,” said project coordinator Lindsey Travis.

Lindsey Travis

There’s a growing awareness of hate-motivated (crime) happening locally, and across Canada, she said.

“We’re hoping that conversation continues to grow and fosters opportunities for people to come forward.”

According to police, a hate or bias-motivated crime is “a criminal occurrence committed against a person or property which is motivated by hate/bias or prejudice based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, race, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor.”

The local initiative includes Sarnia Police, the Lambton Kent District School Board, and Sarnia Lambton Local Immigration Partnership. One goal is to help victims with emotional support, assistance in repairing damage caused by the act, and help filing a police report.

An online reporting system is also available through the John Howard Society’s website.

Meanwhile, a number of local churches have spoken out against messages posted at Dunlop United Church earlier this month.

“Homosexuals will not go to Heaven unless their sins are washed by Jesus,” read the anonymous poster, taped to the church building. “The rainbow belongs to God and its people. It has been stolen by sinners.”

Adam Kilner

Reverend Adam Kilner said police are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

“The posting of homophobic messaging is a hate crime against the 2SLGBTQ community,” Camlachie United Church wrote in a statement of support, echoed by several other local churches.

“Those signs did not belong and they were put up on our property without our permission,” said Kilner, who ran as the federal NDP candidate in Sarnia-Lambton.

“There’s a number of people in this area who definitely have been questioning what it means to be a minority and live in Sarnia-Lambton, and whether it’s a safe place for them to live.

“I’m a person who was raised here and it always breaks my heart to hear that, but going forward, we’ve got much more work to do.”

The Sarnia-Lambton Alliance Against Hate also intends to provide education about hate crimes, their impact, and how to be an ally.

It is seeking volunteers and hosting a volunteer information session on Thursday, Oct. 28 at 2 p.m. at the Insignia hotel in Sarnia.

Anyone interested can contact slah@johnhowardsarnia.com or 519-336-1020, ext. 010.