Racism mapping project launched in Surrey

Surrey’s Local Immigration Partnership developed a tool to report incidents of discrimination

Mariam Bilgrami (left), and Umer Hussain (right).

Mariam Bilgrami (left), and Umer Hussain (right).

The Racism Mapping Project (RAMP) is a community-led research initiative developed by the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) to provide data on racist and other types of hateful behaviour within the City of Surrey.

DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society is the organization responsible for re-convening Surrey LIP. Mariam Bilgrami, the senior manager of innovation, engagement, and advocacy, says the initiative came out of years of conversation. 

Previously there was not a way for community members to report minor incidents of racial discrimination that were “happening on the ground” to law enforcement authorities.

The mapping tool, created in partnership with Peace Geeks, a non-profit which develops digital tools “to strengthen communities in the pursuit of peace,” allows community members to anonymously upload the time, location and type of discriminatory act they have been subjected to.

This can be an incident they have either personally experienced, witnessed, or were told about by someone else.

“If you look for information through B.C. Hate Crimes Unit or Statistics Canada, what you’re getting are only those reports that have been able to meet a certain standard of being a criminal offence,” says Bilgrami.

“I personally myself have experienced racial slurs, for example, at the SkyTrain station here in Metrotown … but it’s not something I reported.”

As an immigrant, Bilgrami says she experienced a lot of discrimination when she first moved to Canada and began looking for work and housing. After being requested to upload pictures of herself and her partner on Airbnb, a potential host responded that they couldn’t provide them with the housing. 

“I got a message from this person saying, ‘Sorry, but we can’t give you the Airbnb because your people have very smelly food,’” Bilgrami says. “That’s just one of the examples.” 

As a settlement worker and later, a project manager, she says that her clients shared many similar afflictions. 

“There are many of us that are newcomers here, or are first, second generations, that have watched and heard our families talk about these awful incidents,” she says.

Umer Hussain, a grad student at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University, and volunteer and project lead with RAMP says that it seems counterintuitive that racism would be as prevalent as it is given how large the BIPOC communities are in Canada. 

“My intuition, also backed by a bit of research, is that [immigration] policies that are enacted at a federal level very often fail unless they are backed by communities,” says Hussain. “Not just provinces like B.C. … [or] the community of Surrey, but the community near Gateway Station, the community near Surrey Central … King George.”

When people experience racism, Bilgrami says it can cause a lot of mental health issues when it comes to feeling a true sense of belonging in the local communities. 

Stakeholders said they wanted to work on an anti-racism, anti-oppression initiative, but wanted “it to be really and truly responsive to what’s happening in our communities,” Bilgrami says. However, at the time, they didn’t have the actual numbers to tell them what they needed to do.

Through her work Bilgrami says she heard stakeholders say that to achieve true systemic change, they needed to know what kind of systemic racism is taking place and where it is occurring.

“There needs to be a community reporting tool so that all of these hate or racist incidents can be recorded and mapped, and then we can make the relevant policies to deal with them,” Hussain says. 

The project launched on Feb. 4, and is currently being tested before expansion for a wider audience in the spring.