Hate crimes have gone up 47% in Canada. Why? Now what?
During my morning drive, I heard a very short news report on CBC Radio 1 about increases in hate crimes in Canada. Based on information gathered by Statistics Canada, there has been a 47% increase in hate crimes, with large concentrations of these crimes taking place in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. When I got into the office, I did a bit of sleuthing to find more details from the report I had just heard. After doing a quick Google search, I came across an article in the Globe and Mail about this problematic phenomenon taking place in Canada. The article shared a startling fact that in the last 4 years, hate crimes have increased with a significant addition of 600 hate crimes in 2017.
Going to the StatsCan website, the source of these troubling findings, yields other startling facts. First, the increase in 2017 were caused by increases in non-violent hate crimes which includes public incitement of hatred and misdemeanours such as targeted vandalism and racist and offensive graffiti. Second, 43% of hate crimes reported to police was motivated by hatred of a race or ethnicity, an increase of 32% from the previous year, with an additional 107 incidents against the Black population and an additional 30 incidents targeting Arab or West Asian populations. I was very interested in learning that attacks against the Black population of Canada accounted for 16% of hate crimes, which is “the most common type of race or ethnicity related to hate crime” (for my thoughts on why this may be happening, please take a read of my blog post “Thoughts on “Discourses of Race: The United States, Canada, and Transnational Anti-Blackness ” panel @ McGill“). Third, there has been an 80% increase of hate crimes targeting minority religious groups in Canada, with those against Muslim populations seeing the greatest rise. This is startling when one reads that in 2016, there was a decrease in hate crimes that targeted Muslims and an unprecedented 151% increase of hate crimes in 2017 that specifically targeted Muslims. Lastly, there has also been an increase of hate crimes targeting sexual minority individuals which marks a second consecutive year of increases of hate crimes against this marginalized population.
My Take Aways
There are a couple of things that I’m taking away from this startling report. First, these statistics are based on hate crimes that are reported to the police which begs the question, what would the real number be based on all other hate crimes that are not reported to the police. We know that minority groups and new comers may not necessarily know that they have access to the police to report these crimes, especially if these crimes are non-violent. There may be this feeling that reporting these crimes will not lead to any results so therefore there is no incentive to report these incidents. There is also a large distrust of the police, especially in these targeted communities. Take for example the fact that 1/3 of deadly police shootings in Toronto target Black individuals and extrapolate from that the potential (and well placed) disregard and distrust that this community may have in reporting hate crimes to the police. 16% of hate crimes target Black communities; how much larger would that number be if all crimes were in fact reported?
Second, there is no denying the correlation between the increases of hate crimes with the political shifts that occurred since 2016, most notably with the election of Donald Trump in the United States. While correlation does not imply causation, it is hard to turn one’s back to the reality that the change in political discourse, one that is more divisive than ever before, has had an impact not only on the perception that some might have of minority groups but also that this political shift has perhaps stoked individuals who were more covert about their racism and ignorance into being much more open (and violent) towards groups they dislike. Let’s also not forget our own political swing in Canada where increasingly isolationist and protectivist governments have come into power in Ontario and Quebec. The election of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), a right-of-centre party is extremely problematic. Two of the most head-scratching promises that the CAQ made was the limit on immigration and to force a “values test” and French competency exam on all immigrants to make sure that they “conform” to certain norms as determined by the party. Second was the CAQ’s promise to reintroduce the debate around a secular values charter which would ban the wearing of religious symbols such as a kirpan, yamaka, or hijab from those serving in the public service. It seems to me that the increases in hate crimes in Canada, especially in these two particular provinces, does correlate with a change in political power that is more right-wing, isolationist, and, I’ll say it, xenophobic. That being said, the rise of these political parties can also be attributed to changing perceptions of these groups by the populous. Let’s face it, none of these parties or individuals would have been elected if they didn’t somehow represent the zeitgeist of the people who elected them.
Lastly, these statistics bring to light the increasing importance of two very important ideals that I hold to and advocate for: pluralism and religious literacy. The rise in these hate crimes we can all agree is worrisome. In a country that prides itself on multiculturalism, the rule of law, and the importance of civil harmony, such startling statistics should make all of us pause and consider what are the root causes of this intolerance. I would suggest that ignorance place a large part in creating this culture of hatred. I think it will become increasingly important for us as Canadians to push for a greater understanding of the differences within our communities and to position this difference not as a burden to our communities but an immense opportunity for our nation to learn and grow together. The work that I am involved with at the Centre for Civic and Religious Literacy for example will hopefully provide one tool to help combat the escalation of hatred in Canada and professional development courses that I took on historical thinking at UBC or the religious literacy course I attended at Harvard will hopefully provide me with the tools to adequately combat these issues as I speak to them and address them with my own students.