Hate-crime probe: Vancouver woman arrested over speech that praised Hamas attack

Hate-crime probe: Vancouver woman arrested over speech that praised Hamas attack
A Vancouver Police Department patch is seen on an officer's uniform in Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021.

Police say a 44-year-old woman has been arrested in a hate-crime investigation over a speech in Vancouver that praised the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel.

A statement from the Vancouver Police Department said that the woman “referred to a number of terrorist organizations as heroes.”

It said a criminal investigation was underway to determine if her comments violated hate-crime laws.

Neither the woman nor her protest organization have responded to requests for comment.

The police statement on Wednesday said the investigation was launched on the day of the speech, and the suspect had been released from custody while the inquiry continued.

The speech outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Friday drew condemnation from Premier David Eby, Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim and others.

Video of the rally shows a woman leading the crowd in a chant of “long live Oct. 7” and calling the attackers “heroic and brave.”

Sgt. Steve Addison said in the statement that police “defend everyone’s right to gather and express their opinions, even when those opinions are unpopular or controversial.”

“We also have a responsibility to ensure public comments don’t promote or incite hatred, encourage violence, or make people feel unsafe,” he said.

“We will continue to thoroughly investigate every hate incident and will pursue criminal charges whenever there is evidence of a hate crime.”

The police statement said video of the suspect’s speech had been “widely shared on social media and viewed several hundred thousand times.”

“Once the investigation is complete, the evidence will be presented to Crown for their assessment,” the statement said.

Eby said Monday that the speech about the attack that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, was “the most hateful” he could imagine.

“Celebrating the murder, the rape of innocent people attending a music festival, it’s awful,” he said.

“It’s reprehensible, and it shouldn’t take place in British Columbia. There is clearly an element of some individuals using an international tragedy to promote hate that’s completely unacceptable.”

In a statement issued Wednesday to mark Jewish Heritage Month, Eby said the province had responded to rising number of “acts of intimidation” by launching an anti-hate fund to protect places such as synagogues and community centres targeted by vandalism.

He also said B.C. was making Holocaust education a mandatory part of the province’s high school curriculum in an effort to combat what he described as “a shocking and unacceptable rise of antisemitic incidents.”

B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma said in the statement that every incident of hate “is a stark reminder of the work that still lies ahead of us as we try to build a more understanding and inclusive province.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2024.

Chuck Chiang, The Canadian PressChuck Chiang, The Canadian Press

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