The Israel-Hamas war fuelled a “record-breaking” year for protests in Vancouver in 2023, triggering additional policing costs in the millions for overtime.
Vancouver police said at a news conference Tuesday they responded to 1,018 protests in the city last year, up from both the pre-pandemic average of about 600 annually and an elevated average of 800 for 2021 and 2022.
Sgt. Steve Addison said police have had to respond to “very intense emotions” and personal safety concerns stemming from the Israel-Hamas conflict, which has given rise to increasing cases of antisemitism and anti-Muslim acts.
“We have continued to engage with the community throughout the past 100 days to continuously assess … to make sure that everybody can remain as safe as we can keep them, and can feel safe at a time that’s very much uncertain,” Addison said.
Since the conflict started on Oct. 7, police in Vancouver have investigated 50 cases of criminal offences related to the Israel-Hamas war, including 33 allegations of antisemitism and 10 cases involving a hate-crime component against Muslim or West Asian communities.
Overall, police say instances involving antisemitism rose from 29 in 2022 to 47 last year, an increase of 62 per cent. Thirty-three of those cases — about 70 per cent — happened in the last three months of the year.
Vancouver Staff Sgt. Astrid Bonter said there may be more such hate-related incidents because of the possibility of under-reporting.
“Part of why we are here today is to break down those barriers, to invite those communities who may historically have not had positive relationships with police to come to us,” she said. “We are here to listen.”
Bonter said a “silver lining” in the higher hate-crime numbers may be that witnesses are more willing than ever to report an incident, showing people are becoming more vigilant in these cases.
Police data indicated hate-related incidents towards some communities have diminished, such as those relating to East-Asian people falling from 98 in 2020 during the pandemic to 46 last year.
“While this trend is good, I acknowledge that even one incident is one incident too many,” Bonter said.
Vancouver police say officers investigated 265 reports of hate crimes last year, a 31-per-cent jump from the previous year.
Outside of the Israel-Hamas conflict, incidents relating to South Asian and LGBTQ+ community members also remain elevated due to issues such as the Sikh independence movement and education policies on sexual orientation and gender identity, Addison said.
Police said some of the cases relating to the Israel-Hamas war also included assaults against officers and obstructing police.
Insp. Jeff Neuman said the record number of protests also resulted in the department paying $4 million in overtime costs in 2023, including more than $2.5 million for officers covering about 80 events related to the Israel-Hamas war.
He said the police budget was doubled to $2 million last year to cover protests after busy years in 2021 and 2022, but that amount was quickly surpassed after the war began in October.
“The money will eventually get pulled from our larger budget, then our executive will have to approach the city manager and they’ll have to try to resolve where they can to find the future funding if this continues at this pace,” he said, noting police are not asking the City of Vancouver for additional funds at this time.
“Our job will just be to ensure public safety and to deploy officers to where we need to do that, in order to ensure that those protests are done lawfully and the citizens of Vancouver feel safe as they traverse through the city.”
By Chuck Chiang in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2024.