Police investigating threats connected to pandemic
The uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic has left many people concerned about their health and welfare. The added concern means that threats connected to the pandemic have an even greater impact on victims because they further undermine a victim’s already fragile sense of safety.
We continue to take seriously threats that target people because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, sexuality or other similar characteristic. Recently, we have seen two cases of threats directly connected to COVID-19.
A local Chinese restaurant received an anonymous threat the evening of Saturday, March 14 ,2020, that is believed to have been motivated by current events. We identified a suspect, but no charges have been laid. The investigation is ongoing.
In another case, it is alleged a man commented on an Indigenous social media group threatening to try intentionally spread COVID-19 to Indigenous people. The post was reported to us by Indigenous Elders on Sunday, March 22, 2020, and we have now laid charges for uttering threats after working closely with both the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service and Blood Tribe Police Service.
“This is a time when we should all be coming together to encourage one another and keep everyone safe,” said Constable Craig Collins, Hate Crimes Coordinator with the Calgary Police Service. “It is unacceptable that some members of our community are weaponizing this pandemic to make others feel even more vulnerable than everyone already does. We won’t ignore it.”
In Canada, a person can face charges if they threaten to cause death or bodily harm to someone else, threaten to damage someone’s property, or threaten to harm someone’s animal. The person can still be charged even if there was no plan to carry the threat out, as long as it was intended to intimidate or be taken seriously by the person receiving it.
If the threat is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on one of nine personal characteristics of the victim, it can also be prosecuted as a hate-motivated crime.
The hate motivation is considered by the courts after a person is found guilty of the charges. If the judge decides during sentencing that hate was a motivation for the crime, it is an aggravating factor that adds to the convicted person’s sentence.
“While making a threat towards a stranger may not seem like a big deal to some, it leaves victims shaken and worried that someone is actually out to get them,” adds Const. Collins. “When people are already dealing with the stress of COVID-19, adding more fears and stress can do very real damage to their mental and emotional health. It’s unacceptable.”