Ottawa police say the confusion stemming from its contradictory messaging about a hate crime unit is “really unfortunate,” and that a review of its unit names and website is needed.
Last week, the force said it never had a dedicated hate crime unit, despite plenty of evidence that it did and disbelief from anti-racism advocates who said they had worked with its officers for years.
Multiple reports dating back decades said the unit was created in 1993 in response to the 1989 death of a man who was murdered while walking home by attackers who mistakenly identified him as gay. At the time, the unit was billed as the first of its kind in Canada.
And in 2008, then mayor Larry O’Brien heaped praise on the unit on the occasion of its 15th anniversary, declaring Jan. 15 Hate Crime Awareness Day in the capital.
Interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell told CBC News by phone Tuesday that the unit was “renamed or moved over to the Security and Intelligence” section in January 2017.
We need to do a more fulsome review of our policies in terms of the the names of our units … and what units we’re telling people they’re contacting.
– Interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell
Despite the change, the force’s website still has a page for a hate crime unit, which advises people reporting a suspected hate crime that their complaint will be “forwarded to the Hate Crime Section for investigation,” and that someone “from the Hate Crime Section will contact you.”
“I think it’s really unfortunate if there is any confusion, because … one of the most important things we investigate is hate crimes and hate-based incidents. And we’ve always been really — tried to be — always really clear with our messaging to the community about that,” Bell said.
“We need to do a more fulsome review of our policies in terms of the names of our units … and what units we’re telling people they’re contacting. That’s been flushed out through this for sure, because … you go to our website and it directs you to a hate crime unit, and we actually don’t have that specific entity. It’s got a different name; it’s the security and intelligence service.”
Bell added that Ottawa police take suspected hate crimes seriously, and are asking people to keep reporting them.