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The crime-fighting machine

Newest sidekick of the law: the Internet

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Though it can't yet do laundry or give back rubs, the Internet has been recruited in the fight against hate crimes.

On Mon., Jan 21, the Web site reporthate.org was launched at the Calgary Science Centre. Developed by Big Blue Planet and youth volunteers, the site was created after Calgary youth identified the need for a forum to discuss discrimination and racism.

"It's about educating kids and their parents about hate crimes, and it gives kids a place to discuss their feelings," said launch emcee Tara McCool of Global News.

Shafryene Sayani, of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, agreed.

"This site is important because it addresses issues like racial and sexual discrimination and the marginalization of certain groups of individuals," she said.

The launch included a multi-media presentation designed to inform youth about the site and a guided tour of the site itself.

Reporthate.org is a place for youth ages 12--24 to learn about different forms of discrimination, what sort of help is available and also to report hate crimes. This reporting involves filling out online forms about the nature of the crime, its location and the age, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation of the victim. These reports, which are optionally anonymous, are forwarded on to the Calgary Police Services Hate/Bias crime department.

"If [the informant] supplies us with [identifying] information, then we would contact them," explained Hate/Biases Crime Coordinator Constable Doug Jones. "If not, we would respect that and know about the victimization and maybe the location, which is valuable to us."

Jones sees the Web site as an important step towards eliminating hate crimes, as the majority of these crimes go unreported.

"We see this as a way to find out why [victims] are not coming to the police and hopefully do things proactively to address their concerns and fears," he said. "We would like to know how much of it is going on, because attention is given to the crimes and if we know we can respond appropriately and give the service that's needed."

Jones also believes the site will prove useful in educating youth on hate crimes and have a therapeutic effect on those who have experienced discrimination.

"There's so much education involved in this site, if someone takes the time to sit down and really look at it, it supplies a lot of information on this subject," he said. "There's definitely something positive in that young people will have a venue to go to, they'll be able to talk about what happened, to type it out, and find out what support is available in the community that they're from."

Sayani concurred and emphasized the example set by Martin Luther King, on whose birthday the site was launched.

"He stood up where nobody else wanted to stand," she explained. "This site allows many people to stand up for what a few don't want to stand up for."

Jones stressed the importance of getting the message out to post-secondary students, noting that there have been occurrences of hate crimes on the University of Calgary campus.

"I think that it is a concern on campus, and I hope for awareness of this site for all the people at the U of C," he said. "If they see or know or are victimized by a hate crime, I hope they'll access the site. It's so much more easy to jump on the computer and report what's happening than to phone the police."

The site can be viewed at www.reporthate.org.

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