Only a small percentage of hate incidents are reported to law enforcement. It’s incomplete data, but it helps us spot trends. We’ll have better data when the General Social Survey is released.
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
A new report released on Tuesday shows the number of hate crimes reported by police has jumped up 37 per cent during the pandemic, further confirming the stories and surveys that have been shared by communities experiencing hate.
Revealed in Statistics Canada’s annual ”Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2020,” the data is drawn from a census of all crimes reported forward to StatCan by police services. The picture it paints is an incomplete one -- at best it provides useful, though limited, trend analysis. It is also a window into law enforcement priorities.
The data should and must be used to hold police accountable for solving the hate crimes reported to them, as well as underscore that victims of hate are hesitant to seek police intervention or remedy - and the hesitancy goes both ways. Two years of data collected by Dr. Barbara Perry demonstrates that officers are reluctant to pursue hate crimes, or gather evidence that regular crimes (eg. assault) are motivated by hate.
This includes reluctance by police to pursue charges under sections 318 (advocating genocide of an identifiable group) and 319 (public incitement and wilful promotion of hatred) of the Criminal Code.
Surveys and interviews of police forces in Ontario conducted by Dr. Perry suggest this is because many officers view hate motivation as irrelevant to the crime. They are further disincentivized due to the additional work involved with collecting evidence not only of the crime, but of the motivation behind it.
We know from research we did with Drs. Perry and Sabreena Ghaffar-Siddiqui, and based on other StatCan data, that the police reported numbers likely only account for one to five per cent of hate incidents in Canada.
We need to stop and underscore this. The real rate of hate incidents in Canada may be 20 times higher than the police report every year.
Members of many communities don’t go to the police. Even if they do, the police treat many reports as unfounded – they either don’t believe the victim, don't see the point in pursuing the report, or are unsuccessful in their investigations. They only report forward a small subset that they have at least partially successfully investigated.
If the goal is to have a barometer of hate incidents in Canada, the far superior way to measure this is with surveys of the general population. Statistics Canada’s “General Social Survey,” which doesn’t rely on police-reported numbers, provides a more accurate picture of the reality. A comparison of the 2014 GSS to police-reported hate crime data from the same year suggested there were approximately 20 times more hate incidents in Canada than the police reported to StatCanada.
The “General Social Survey” portion on Victimization is repeated every five years. The 2019 data will come out later this year, and will show whether this continues to be the case.
(Police-Reported) Hate Crime By Numbers
Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has been a major factor in policing.
“Policies enacted to contain the spread of the virus have resulted in unprecedented disruptions in the social and economic lives of Canadians,” the report notes, “changing how we interact, socialize, learn, work and consume.”
The impacts of the pandemic have also “exposed and exacerbated” Canada’s issues related to safety and discrimination, including hate crimes. Crowdsourced numbers cited by StatCan indicated that those belonging to visible minority groups were three times more likely to have perceived an increase in race-based harassment or attacks (18%) compared with the rest of the population (6%).
There was a 37% jump in police-reported hate crimes during the first year of the pandemic. That’s an increase from 1,951 reported incidents in 2019 to 2,669 in 2020, and captures a 42% rise in non-violent hate crimes and a 30% rise in violent hate crimes.
“This marks the largest number of police-reported hate crimes since comparable data became available in 2009,” the report says. “Police-reported hate crimes targeting race or ethnicity almost doubled (+80%) compared with the previous year, accounting for the vast majority of the national increase in hate crimes. Ontario (+321 incidents targeting race or ethnicity), British Columbia (+196 incidents) and Alberta (+105 incidents) reported the largest increases.”
This rise in reported crimes targeting race or ethnicity impacted the Black community the most with an increase of 318 incidents or 92%. The East or Southeast Asian community suffered 202 reported incidents accounting for a 301% increase, according to StatCan. The Indigenous community saw 44 more incidents over the year before, a 152% rise, while the South Asian community reported an additional 38 incidents or 47% in 2020.
A hate crime is defined in the report as an act that “targets the integral and visible parts of a person's identity” that “may disproportionately affect” the community at large.
“A hate crime incident may be carried out against a person or property and may target race, colour, national or ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, language, sex, age, mental or physical disability, or any other similar factor,” the report says. “In addition, four specific offences are listed as hate propaganda or hate crimes in the Criminal Code of Canada: advocating genocide, public incitement of hatred, willful promotion of hatred and mischief motivated by hate in relation to property used by an identifiable group.”
The increase in reporting could reflect a “true change in the volume of hate crimes,” according to Statistics Canada, but the agency does note that increased community outreach by police as well as heightened sensitivity after high-profile events could also contribute to the rise in numbers.
The statistics also show that reported crimes targeting religion were down slightly in 2020, “as a result of fewer incidents targeting the Muslim community (-100 incidents), while incidents targeting the Jewish community rose slightly (+15 incidents).”
However, we have to be cautious in making comparisons between groups. There’s an issue with the data, which confuses categories like “Muslim.” If a Black, Muslim woman has her hijab pulled and is pushed to the ground while the perpetrator is yelling all kinds of racial slurs, will police code the crime as motivated by a hatred of Black people, Muslim people, women, or all three? In short, the more intersecting identities a person has, the more likely any one of their identities will be undercounted in the data.
Further, some communities have more institutional supports and are more comfortable with reporting incidents to law enforcement, so their numbers are higher as a result.
These issues are largely resolved with the General Social Survey, and will give us a much better snapshot of how each community is faring.