Alberta proposes new tactic in battle against hate-motivated attacks: pepper spray

Alberta proposes new tactic in battle against hate-motivated attacks: pepper spray
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Alberta’s justice minister is calling on the federal government to legalize pepper spray following months of what are believed to be hate-motivated attacks around the province.

In a letter to his counterparts in Ottawa, Kaycee Madu said the little canisters — currently prohibited under federal law — could be a good “self-defence” option when someone is being attacked by potential racists.

Madu also asked that the federal government establish “strong minimum sentences for those convicted of a racist, hate, and bias-motivated assault.”

“It is sadly ironic that a vulnerable person carrying pepper spray for self-defence could quite possibly receive a longer sentence than her attacker,” wrote Madu.

“Alberta, like other province (sic), has also seen an increase of drug-fuelled attacks,” he continued. “Pepper spray would again be helpful in allowing personal defence when absolutely needed.”

Muslim women, in particular, have faced increasing attacks recently around Alberta that police say appear to be hate-motivated. Since December, Edmonton has seen at least nine such attacks reported against Muslim women, most of whom were Black and wearing a hijab. Those attacks involved assailants wielding knives, firing guns and throwing fists.

But Irfan Chaudhry, a hate-crime researcher at MacEwan University in Edmonton, says the province can’t just spray away hate, calling the request from Madu to legalize pepper spray “a terrible idea.”

“It came out of left field,” he said. “It just seems really disconnected to what is the long-term approach that a lot of groups and organizations impacted by hate are looking for.”

Chaudhry said he hasn’t heard of anyone in those groups looking to be better armed with weapons, including pepper spray.

There are other things the justice minister could do, he said, noting the ask for mandatory minimum sentencing was a “good starting point.”

But Madu could have focused on other things advocates have been calling for, such as a more “consistent definition of a hate crime” and stronger enforcement measures for when hate groups publicly demonstrate.

Chaudhry pointed to provincial legislation that put parameters around protests happening near critical infrastructure in the wake of environmental demonstrations in 2020 that blocked railways.

“I would love to see something similar for when you have active hate groups in our province, you know, marching or rallying at ... the legislature grounds or other areas,” he said.

“There’s a lot more educated approaches to this issue than, you know, (pepper) spray.”
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