The Georgia Straight
Criminal harassment victims can ask police to investigate
There has been a disturbing increase in the number of women being followed by menacing strangers in our province. First, the cellphone video captured by a woman in Vancouver’s Chinatown took social media by storm. It depicts a woman walking through the streets in broad daylight, with a man following closely behind her. He’s dressed in black clothing with no identifiable features. At first glance, a viewer might think that it’s a coincidence that the man is walking the same route as her, but the longer the video goes on, the more obvious it becomes. He is following the woman.
After hitting the news, other women came forward, recounting similar stories of being followed by a menacing stranger.
One recalled being terrified after being followed by a man on a trail in Burnaby Lake Park for nearly 30 minutes. Another incident happened in Victoria last week, after a woman called police to report a man aggressively following her and wielding a knife.
Stories like these are not unfamiliar to women. We all know the uneasy feeling of walking alone after dark. Many of us have been taught to keep our phones near, to clutch our keys between our fingers, and to check behind us regularly—without making it too obvious.
These stories are so common that our laws have developed in response to them.
In 1993, our criminal laws were amended to create the offence of criminal harassment as we know it today. This offence was introduced as a specific and purposeful
Criminal harassment differs from most criminal laws…
– Vancouver lawyer Sarah Leamon
response to violence against women. Although domestic violence was a particular concern, the law was crafted to cover a broad variety of behaviours, including what we popularly refer to as “stalking”.
Criminal harassment differs from most criminal laws as it does not prohibit the outcome of the conduct—take, for example, murder—but the psychological harm done by it. It is defined as knowingly engaging in behaviour to harass or cause a person to reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them. Examples of prohibited conduct include repeatedly following a person from place to
place, repeated and unwanted communications with them, and watching their house or workplace on an ongoing basis.
In short, criminal harassment is behaviour that does not necessarily result in any actual physical harm or injury but is troubling enough to warrant legal intervention, as it could be a precursor to violence.
Although most cases of criminal harassment are carried out over a long period of time, shorter bursts of behaviour—like the ones recently making the news—could also amount to harassment. Authorities are required to consider the totality of the circumstances in deciding whether to lay charges and whether to proceed. If it can be established that the person was engaging in conduct that could cause their victim to reasonably fear for their safety, then the foundation for criminal harassment could be established. However, each situation will be somewhat unique.
One thing that is not unique, however, are the types of people who fall victim to criminal harassment. Statistics Canada reports that more than three-quarters of all victims in these cases are women. In comparison, women comprise only about half of the victims of violent crimes like robbery and assault.
And although women are overwhelmingly more likely to be harassed, men are statistically more likely to do the harassing. In 2009, men accounted for 78 percent of those who were accused of criminal harassment. Many of those who were accused were also known to the victim, whether they were an ex-partner or an acquaintance.
Those who are convicted of criminal harassment could face a maximum penalty of not more than 10 years in jail.
But more importantly, perhaps, are the protective conditions that can be ordered by the court. These conditions do not need to wait until there is a finding of guilt, which could take months or even years. They can be imposed upon the arrest of an individual, and they normally include a ban on contacting the victim either directly or indirectly or attending anywhere they are known to live, go to school, work, worship, or otherwise be. In cases of stranger harassment, they may include conditions not to be found in the area where the alleged stalking incident occurred or not to be in possession of weapons.
These conditions can be specifically tailored to suit the alleged offence. They can have an important chilling effect on an accused while simultaneously making the victim and the community feel more at ease.
And although these laws may offer little in the way of comfort to those who have already become stalking victims, it is somewhat reassuring to know that these offences will be investigated and that the perpetrators could be charged and brought to justice once identified.
Sikh because Sikh farmers tend to live much closer to the capital of New Delhi.
“What we were trying to do is make sure any protests happening in the diaspora in support of the farmers were really well equipped with good fact-checked messaging, good-looking assets, easy-to-replicate graphics, all that sort of stuff.”
After Thunberg disseminated the toolkit, Indian media outlets attempted to discredit its authors. That helped shield the government at home from high-profile international criticism. And because Dhaliwal had expressed sympathy on his Facebook page in 2020 for the idea of “Khalistan”—an imaginary Sikh independent state in northwestern India—this received wide attention in the Indian media.
Dhaliwal provided commentators with more ammunition when he delivered his speech on Republic Day in downtown Vancouver. He pointed out that the farmers’ way of life was under threat in India. And he felt it was imperative for those in attendance to open their hearts and minds to understand each other. That’s because many of the younger people were dismissive of the Khalistan movement, not realizing that older Khalistanis in the crowd had been trying to protect that way of life for 50 years or longer.
“That video got picked up, projected, and played in India repeatedly and was referred to as hate speech,” Dhaliwal said.
This was despite him not saying anything critical of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, his Bharatiya Janata Party, or India in the video.
“I’ve never been down to that hateful rhetoric,” Dhaliwal insisted. “I would only want to speak for the change that we want to see.”
He readily joked that if you ever want to see a group of Punjabi people scatter, just say “Khalistan” in any setting. That’s because it has become such a loaded word. He believes that the media referred to the farmers’ protest as a Khalistan initiative to drive a wedge within the movement.
But Dhaliwal argued that Khalistan is not an “inherently negative term”. In fact, he suggested, the first maharajah of the Sikh Empire, Ranjit Singh, was an enlightened ruler who oversaw a “golden period” in the early 19th century. During his 39year reign, Muslim and Hindu centres of worship actually flourished.
“That’s sometimes forgotten,” Dhaliwal said. “Any land that’s operated under these ideals will have to ultimately answer to the Guru Granth Sahib.”
The Guru Granth Sahib, the central religious text of the Sikh faith, is often referred to as the “eternal-living guru”. The founder of the faith, Guru Nanak, was actually hundreds of years ahead of his time by promoting equality in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.
“He was so universally embraced and his revolution was so universally embraced because it’s hard to argue with wanting to be in service to humanity and wanting to be in a remembrance of the oneness that all of creation—not just humans but all of creation—is a part of,” Dhaliwal said.
He described Sikhi (as it’s often called) as a “nonproselytizing religion” with a “baked-in ideology of living in a constant state of revolution and being in service to humanity”.
This is part of the reason why Dhaliwal remains open to the idea of an independent state of Khalistan, founded on these ideals. He thinks it has genuine potential to be far more progressive and open to diversity than India, which is riddled with inequality and increasing intolerance of minorities. That’s witnessed in the so-called cow vigilantism, where Muslims, in particular, are attacked by Hindu extremists.
“They are kind of constantly projecting this soft power in this world as a place of deep and ancient spirituality and all these things, and that’s definitely a part of the India story,” Dhaliwal noted. “But the contemporary, modern story of India is far more complex than that and actually far more violent.”
The Poetic Justice Foundation takes its inspiration from a wide variety of activists and change agents, ranging from Malcolm X to Sufi mystics to Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh to Indian independence leader Bhimrao Ambedkar.
Prior to becoming a centre of controversy on Indian talk shows, the Poetic Justice Foundation focused its efforts on engaging the diaspora in difficult conversations, including about how anti-Black racism is sometimes manifested in Punjabi culture.
Dhaliwal said that he’s never been a vocal proponent of Khalistan, so it’s odd to him that he has been launched to the forefront of this issue in India.
“I’m in some ways appropriating the efforts of so many people who have been working on this for so many decades—and continue both through research and scholarship and in their discourse in the diaspora,” Dhaliwal noted. “Because we know that we can’t have that discourse in India because you’ll be jailed, or worse.”