Canada’s federal budget promises anti-hate action, but can the government actually do anything?

OPINION: The new Action Plan to Combat Hate may just be another empty promise

While the 2023 federal budget released last month had very little that was new for queer and trans communities, mostly pointing to previous investments that had been made, there was a promise buried within to introduce a new Action Plan to Combat Hate later in the year. Just what exactly they’re promising is murky, and it’s hard to tell how many dollars are actually attached to this plan. It notes that between 2019 and 2021, police-reported hate crimes rose by 72 percent, but just how the federal government proposes to tackle that is unclear.

“To confront hate in all its forms, including hate faced by 2SLGBTQI+ communities, the federal government plans to introduce a new Action Plan to Combat Hate later this year,” the budget reads. “This new Action Plan will include measures to combat hateful rhetoric and acts, building on measures being taken in Budget 2023 to build safer, more inclusive communities.”

The dollar figure attached to that is $49.5 million over five years, starting in the 2023–24 fiscal year, with Public Safety Canada to expand its existing Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program. This largely goes toward things like providing more security to synagogues and mosques, which LGBTQ2S+ community centres could also access (if they haven’t already), but there aren’t many of them across the country, and most are situated in bigger cities. The budget indicates that this means an additional $5 million this year, and $11 million for each of the four subsequent fiscal years.

The infrastructure program is not without its critics within the queer and trans communities. The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD), an education, advocacy and research organization, put out a statement decrying the lack of specific investment to combat anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate.

“In its current form, we do not feel confident that the Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program is structured in a way that will protect at-risk 2SLGBTQI+ events (such as pride festivals or drag story hours),” the CCGSD statement reads. “While we look forward to the Action Plan to Combat Hate, there is no indication in Budget 2023 that it will contain any specific funding dedicated to combating anti-2SLGBTQI+ hate.”

This is the part where I start to raise questions, because I’m not sure just what the federal government should be doing about Pride festivals or drag story hours, given that those are largely under the jurisdiction of local governments. Yes, federal governments past and present have given funding support to Pride festivals through Canadian Heritage or tourism grants to help with things like operational funding, but how does the federal government enhance security at a Pride festival? While the CCGSD doesn’t specify what they think the federal government should be doing, I wonder what would those federal dollars be funding for security that shouldn’t be provided by the municipality through local police? I have a hard time seeing a case for millions of federal dollars to be dispersed to provide private security for these festivals, even if some of the larger ones in the country may rely on it as part of their festival operations, particularly because that private security is unlikely to be equipped to deal with potential hate crimes.

 

Likewise, most drag story hours are held in public libraries, which are the responsibility of municipal governments, and the fervent right-wing animosity toward them are both recent and unlikely to be sustained, and shouldn’t justify permanent security infrastructure funding. Any protests are an issue for local police to deal with—and no, it’s not the federal government’s job to deal with the failures of local police in this country. Policing is a provincial jurisdiction, and civilian oversight should be with the hands of the local police services board (though their efficacy can depend on just how much local involvement there is).

I do think that a federal program to combat hateful rhetoric is a good thing, but we need to see more details about what this is going to look like. We also need to be aware that trust in government when it comes to delivering messages to the public has been eroded thanks to a steady stream of misinformation and disinformation during the pandemic, which capitalized on early mistakes by public health officials, and the evolving nature of our understanding of the virus itself. Because trust is low, combatting that rhetoric could be harder, because there will be those who insist that if the government is trying to combat it, then their homophobic and transphobic rhetoric must be justified. That’s going to be a problem.

If the idea is a national ad campaign that says we should embrace diversity, stamped with the Canada wordmark at the end, that is less likely to be as effective as something akin to providing communities with tools to local police or community organizations to help de-radicalize individuals and groups that are targeting these events. Those tools, whatever they may look like, are more in keeping with what kinds of supports that are appropriate for the federal government to provide.

There is also the ongoing funding for the 2SLGBTQI+ Action Plan, and the various project and community funds that are part of it. This is helping a number of queer and trans organizations and communities across the country build resilience in the wake of increasing hate, but there should also be warning signs here—that groups receiving the funding should be thinking about capacity-building and sustainability. These funds may not survive a change in government, and there has been no move to create a self-sustaining endowment fund like has been done for the Black community, leaving the queer and trans communities that rely on this federal funding more vulnerable. Sustainability is work that these groups should be aware of and working towards.

We are in a time of increased polarization and radicalization, and the queer and trans communities are bearing the brunt of that as the culture war makes targets of us. While it is a good sign that the current government recognizes that there is a problem and is taking steps to address it, they also can’t do everything—particularly at the federal level—and we need to be aware of those limitations. I am eager to see just what this Action Plan to Combat Hate is going to entail, but I’m also going to keep my expectations tempered—especially given we have a government that talks a bigger game than it has success in implementing the programs it promises.

Dale Smith is a freelance journalist in the Parliamentary Press Gallery and author of The Unbroken Machine: Canada's Democracy in Action.

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Power, Politics, Opinion, Canada

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