Fri, Apr 10, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Look to US, Canada for hate crime legislation

By Tsai Chien-lin 蔡虔霖

The recent furor surrounding former Government Information Office official Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) and his anti-Taiwanese Internet postings seems to have been put to rest with his dismissal. However, the specter of racism lingers and may reawaken at any time.

During the early days of Taiwan’s colonization, struggles between Chinese immigrants from Fujian and Guangdong provinces were common, as were fights between people from the Zhangzhou and Quanzhou areas of Fujian Province. Taiwan is an immigrant society made up of many different ethnic groups, which makes it important to construct an integral defense against prejudice and to promote ethnic integration and harmony. There should be zero tolerance of any challenges to this approach and we should emulate the US and Canada in establishing hate crime legislation.

Hate crime legislation in the US and Canada is used to promote ethnic equality by seeking to eliminate prejudice based on race, gender or sexual orientation in verbal or written form. In Canada, a country that stresses multiculturalism, 3 million of its 32 million citizens are armed, and the US, which is often seen as an ethnic melting pot, has a serious problem with its excessive abundance of firearms.

Accusing either officials or private citizens of racism is a very serious action. The Canadian Criminal Code, section 718.2, stipulates that “evidence that the offense was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, color, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor … shall be deemed to be aggravating circumstances.”

The Canadian parliament is currently reviewing a draft amendment — Bill C-384 — which states that anyone who is “motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on religion, race, color, national or ethnic origin or sexual orientation” in relation to certain kinds of property is “guilty of an indictable offense.”

In fact, the US’ Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act from 1994 includes a section with directions to the US Sentencing Commission — which supervises sentencing in US federal courts — regarding sentencing for hate crimes. Based on this section, the commission stipulated a Hate Crime Sentencing Standard and the US Sentencing Guidelines Manual, section 3A1.1, stipulates that if “the defendant intentionally selected any victim or any property as the object of the offense of conviction because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person, increase [the sentence] by 3 levels.”

There are efforts underway to further expand federal hate crime legislation. In 2007, the Matthew Shepard Act, named after a murdered gay man, sought to add a new crime to the current Civil Rights Act so that hate crimes could be brought before a federal court. The act applies to intentional or attempted harm to any person because of actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation.

Ethnic issues are extraordinarily sensitive and if we are not careful, they could lead to individual, social or national disaster. The US, Canada and other countries with large immigrant populations have ethnic problems. That is why their laws are so strict and why there is criminalization and enhanced sentencing for hate crime. We can only hope that the Kuo affair will help Taiwan see the need to control issues of ethnicity and to use the experience of other countries in promptly introducing hate crime legislation to prevent it from gaining a foothold in Taiwan.

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