Several central Alberta communities are trying to crack down on racist symbols, such as this hateful graffiti scrawled on buildings around Stettler in March — including on a grocery owned by a family originally from South Korea. (Twitter photo @jennymcbeeanz)

Several central Alberta communities are trying to crack down on racist symbols, such as this hateful graffiti scrawled on buildings around Stettler in March — including on a grocery owned by a family originally from South Korea. (Twitter photo @jennymcbeeanz)

Central Alberta towns support anti-racist policies, federal initiative to ban hate symbols

Innisfail, Rocky are among regional communities wanting to crack down on hate symbols

Cracking down on racist and hateful symbols is the aim of another Central Alberta community.

With at least one Confederate flag on display in a residential window in Innisfail and some stickers left on lamp posts that are purportedly from far-right groups, Innisfail’s town council is endorsing a private member’s bill by federal NDP MP Peter Julian.

The MP from New Westminster-Burnaby wants to amend Canada’s Criminal Code. His Bill C-229 would make it an offense to publicly display visual representations promoting or inciting hatred or violence against an identifiable group.

This initiative, given first reading in February, would include a ban on Confederate flags, swastikas, and other white-supremacist symbols.

With a 40 per cent reported increase in Canadian hate crimes since 2018, and a tripling of extremist organizations in the country, Innisfail Mayor Jean Barclay said town council had initially wanted to do more than just send a letter of support for Julian’s bill.

Council had first explored tightening its Community Standards bylaw to outlaw hate symbols.

But town lawyers advised this would be difficult to enforce, especially when these symbols are on private property. This could infringe on personal freedoms of expression, as protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, said Barclay.

Instead, town council learned “we can indirectly regulate it throughout bullying and harassment policy,” added Barclay. This policy includes verbal and non-verbal gestures, including flags and hate symbols on Innisfail public property.

Earlier this week, the Town of Rocky Mountain House went in a similar direction. After hearing a report from staff that “hate speech and hate crimes have become an increasing concern in recent years,” as shown by statistics, Rocky town council expanded its Anti-Racial Discrimination and Anti-Racism Policy to prohibit the wearing or displaying a symbol of hate by any elected official, staff or the public in a town facility, park and playground. Anyone seen wearing or displaying symbols of hate could be suspended from the town’s facilities or be reported to police.

Across central Alberta, RCMP were investigating racist graffiti around the Town of Stettler in March. This included swastikas and “go back to your country” scrawls at several locations — including a local grocery store owned by a family that’s originally from Asia.

Stettler’s mayor Sean Nolls said bylaws relating to serious criminal matters, such as hate symbols, can be effective for larger urban centres that have a dedicated police service, “but our community simply does not have the resources to enforce criminal bylaws to the extent needed.”

Nolls added, “The Stettler RCMP does a fantastic job in our community, and we are proud to have a close working relationship with them to address any signs of hate crime, as was done in March. The RCMP takes these matters very seriously.”

Red Deer also has no bylaw that particularly addresses hate symbols, but has a Community Standards Bylaw.

Darin Sceviour, the city’s building and inspections supervisor for Inspections and Licensing, said any offensive posters or symbols, including graffiti, on public property would immediately be removed.

Due to the free expression argument, the municipality has no means of dealing with racist or hateful symbols that are on private property — but these can be reported to the RCMP, added Sceviour.

It would be up to city council to determine whether the city should explore other measures.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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