The Georgia Straight

Criminal harassment victims can ask police to investigat­e

- By Sarah Leamon

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.”

 ?? Photo by Marlo 74/Getty. ?? Criminal harassers are usually men and victims are usually women.
Photo by Marlo 74/Getty. Criminal harassers are usually men and victims are usually women.
 ??  ?? Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg both came under criticism in India after tweeting messages expressing sympathy for protesting farmers—Thunberg was even burned in effigy.
Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg both came under criticism in India after tweeting messages expressing sympathy for protesting farmers—Thunberg was even burned in effigy.

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