This issue has been brought up again and again in Canada and the U.S. Just yesterday, Senate Bill 4 in Colorado brought the issue to the forefront once again, proposing that “homeless” should be added to the definition of an “identifiable group”, making those charged with a bias-motivated hate crime against the homeless receive an enhanced punishment .
Canadian hate crime legislation can be found in Section 718.2(a)(i) which states that the Court should consider the following principles in sentencing:
“evidence that the was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor,”.
If the Criminal Code can be amended to include the homeless, a large proportion of bias-based crimes could be addressed. More homeless people are murdered or assaulted due to a bias-based selection than any other of the groups identified in current legislation combined. The recent increase of videos depicting teens and young adults assaulting the homeless are just further proof that this is an issue that needs to be addressed by our government.
It’s easy to see the benefit in amending the definition to include the homeless. Advocates argue that due to their increased vulnerability (such as children or the mentally disabled) they are entitled to special protection. I believe such legislation may act as a deterrent to prevent future crimes against this vulnerable group as well as serve as proof that the government is serious about protecting and helping the homeless community. But what are the arguments against these changes? Some argue that the current laws are adequate and by changing legislation to include the homeless, we would thereby be forcing prosecutors to prove that not only was the victim actually homeless but also that the accused knew the victim was homeless and committed the crime because of it. To me, this argument seems flawed since we’re already doing this with other groups identified in the current legislation including religion, mental or physical disability and sexual orientation. Moreover, legislation stipulates that the crime must be committed against someone due to a “real or perceived grouping or circumstance”. As long as the perpetrator believed the victim was homeless (or Jewish, or gay) when they committed the crime, then there should be no need to prove that they are actually a part of the targeted group.
Hard data on crimes against the homeless is difficult to obtain. The majority of crimes go unreported by the homeless community and authorities are generally reluctant to collect the data, often blaming the homeless for the crimes committed against them. In fact, data including crimes against the homeless didn’t begin to be collected until 1998, and in most places, closer to 2005.
So what do you do when you can’t close and lock your door to keep the bad guys out? To lock your door and know you are safe from physical harm? Hopefully, you’ll be able to push the government to include you as a protected class so that those who commit bias-motivated crimes against you receive enhanced punishments.