A new tool aims to help create and advance anti-racism policies and initiatives in Surrey and beyond by charting racist incidents out on a map.
The Surrey Local Immigration Partnership is asking anyone who’s been a victim or witness to racist incidents to report it anonymously through RAMP, a Racism Mapping Project.
Surrey LIP is holding two online workshops Feb. 4 and 5, both from 10 to 10:30 a.m., to explain how to use the new racism-charting map.
An event posting says the data map was created, in partnership with PeaceGeeks, to “plot such incidents across the City of Surrey in order to chart the types of hate events that have occurred and the people they have been directed at.”
The tool allows for a general report, incident reporting for yourself and incident reporting for others.
“The launch of this community map is intended to address our firm conviction that in Canada, racism against Indigenous peoples, newcomers, and immigrants is a norm and needs to be proactively addressed,” the post adds.
Surrey LIP co-chair Neelam Sahota, who is also CEO of DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, said the project has been in the works for several years after hearing anecdotal evidence from social service organizations and surveys in the community.
“This was a reoccurring scene that we were starting to see, and definitely something that has been ramped up in the last few years,” she noted, referring to the rise in reported hate and racist incidents since the pandemic began.
“It’s been amplified, which is why I think we actually have turned it into action now. There’s no more denying, these are not one-off issues, these are not incidents that were only happening in one pocket as a region versus another.”
Sahota said Surrey LIP is hoping for as many incidents as possible to be reported. The first step is creating the tool and the second step is helping the community understand why it’s needed.
“Idealistically, we have as many of these types of incidents reported as possible and people see the value in doing that and they understand how to do the reporting and what are the possible dots that may get connected when they do that.”
She added the hope is that with the data and information collected, it could bring about changes in government policy and legislation.
“Not only will our federal government benefit out of this as it pertains to their immigration policies, but provincially we should definitely see some synergy, especially with the creation of the provincial anti-racism branch,” said Sahota, pointing to Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh becoming the province’s first Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives in 2020.
Singh said government has a responsibility to tackle racism, but it’s “great to see some grassroots initiatives from the community and this project, I think, will go a long way.”
“At this time, when we are facing bigotry, racism, division, anything that can be done to conquer that is good.”
Data collection, Singh said, is “just a first step.”
“Because a lot of times when we don’t have the data, we are blindsided. We don’t know what needs to be done to fill in the barriers, the gaps, that the radicalized, Black and Indigenous communities are facing.”
While she acknowledges that for most racialized communities, this data will just confirm what they already know anecdotally, the information is important for the mainstream communities, data analysts and policy makers.
“It is right in front of us and then we have to do something, we have to work on it, we have to make some changes.”
Asked if the results from the map could come as a shock to residents of Surrey, which is always hailed for its multiculturalism and diversity, Sahota said she thinks so.
“We’re going to have a lot of eyes wide open and I think it’s going to — in the short-term — definitely going to cause a feeling of unsettlement, and typically that’s usually a precursor of larger change that needs to happen.”
She said it also gives context from the victim’s perspective.
“We all know it’s not something you shake off and say you had a bad day,” explained Sahota. “This something that quite often leaves very long-lasting marks and quite often builds a lifelong distrust of community which is counter-productive to the work of the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership where we want to make sure that we’re fostering communities that are welcoming.”
While there will sometimes be “a few brave victims” that will feel comfortable to come forward publicly with their story, Sahota said the “vast majority feel a lot of shame and stigma, even though they have done nothing wrong themselves to sort of warrant this behaviour.”
But the tool is not meant to be sensationalized, she noted, but really about “getting a sense of what are the types of incidents that are happening, where are they happening.”
Brenda Locke is Surrey LIP co-chair and a city councillor. She said the new map will give Surrey Lip and other agencies the tools they need when providing specific services, “whether it’s from a policing point of view, from a service provider’s perspective, it gives people an understanding of how that community is managing, how we can help everyone, including those people that are new … immigrants to the area, to Canada and how we can ensure that … there’s equity and people are treated equally.”
In late 2020, when Surrey LIP was already discussing the project, Locke recalled posters popping up throughout Surrey that referenced “white-erasure.”
Those posters popped up again a few months later, she noted.
But Locke also said she thinks it will be a “shock” to some people to “learn the level of bias that there is out there, the lack of understanding often.”
“It’s easy for people like me who have always lived with white privilege, there’s no doubt about that, but when people, especially people who are new immigrants, it’s just so challenging and we have to be sensitive to that.”
Surrey LIP is a community partnership that brings together a diverse group of voices “to build an equitable and inclusive city where all immigrants, refugees and citizens thrive.”