UPDATED: Police investigating hate crime

Disturbing downtown incident has Nelson Police Department looking for leads.

The Nelson Police Department is asking for the public’s help after what they describe as a hate crime against a group of Korean exchange students.

Police say at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, the three students were victims of an unprovoked attack in the 200 block of Baker Street.

“The attack began with the group being approached by the suspects,” Sgt. Steve Bank says. “They started to make racial slurs toward them. One of the Korean students then got pushed, punched, and kicked by one of the men in this group.”

Although there were no injuries, Bank says the victims were very shaken and traumatized.

However, due to language and cultural barriers, police couldn’t get much information from the victims about the suspects except that they were two white men.

“We have arranged to do a more in-depth interview using an interpreter,” Bank says. “We really have very little to go on.”

Police are looking for more information from anybody who may have witnessed or heard about the attack as they attempt to track down the suspects.

However, they say the incident does not appear to be related to another random attack that occurred the next morning, which you can read about here. Bank says the descriptions of the suspects in the two incidents doesn’t match.

The students, all 18, are attending L.V. Rogers.

Bank says such incidents are rare in Nelson, although they have happened before. “By and large the community’s pretty tolerant. When it does happen, usually it’s fueled by drugs or alcohol.”

He says hate crimes are viewed differently by the courts, and can result in more severe sentences.

School district superintendent Jeff Jones says the attack was “an unexpected occurrence in our community, a vile occurrence in any community,” and is offering the students support.

“We recognize they are here without their families and we have support mechanisms in place for them,” Jones says.

He declined to comment on whether the students are considering returning home — “I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to talk about their feelings and what they want” — but said there is no doubt the experience will taint their image of Nelson and of Canada.

Jones says the crime isn’t so much about international students or relationships with other countries as it is “people of Nelson standing up and saying this is unacceptable. No matter what induced the attack, it’s unacceptable for any of our students, no matter where they’re from, to live in the kind of fear this will bring about.”

He says schools have worked for years to teach students to accept each other and tolerate differences, and believes the vast majority take that message to heart.

Mayor John Dooley says it’s his “sincere hope” the attack was an isolated incident, and that it won’t damage Nelson’s reputation as a safe place.

“We simply won’t tolerate that type of abuse for any group living in or visiting our community,” he says.

“Some people have absolutely no understanding of an inclusive society and can ruin it for many others, but that’s not the community we see as residents.”