Why hate crimes are on the rise across Ontario

New Statistics Canada numbers shows a substantial increase in reported hate crimes. We talk to UOIT professor Barbara Perry about right-wing populism, the reliability of data, and how police can do more
By Mary Baxter - Published on January 3, 2019
a man walking through a mosque
Peterborough’s Masjid Al-Salaam mosque was set on fire in 2015 in what local police deemed a hate crime. (Christopher Katsarov/CP)

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Reported hate crimes were up 47 per cent between 2016 and 2017, according to recent Statistics Canada figures, from 1,409 to 2,073. In Ontario, the increase was 67 per cent, from 612 incidents in 2016 to 1,409 in 2017. Barbara Perry, a criminology professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, isn’t surprised by the upward trend — what she calls “shocking” is the size of the spike.

“For this particular category of crime to have increased so dramatically, I think it says an awful lot about the current climate,” she says. “And not in a good way.”

StatsCan attributed the rise to increased rates of property crime — such as graffiti and vandalism — most often targeting Muslim, Jewish, and Black communities.

But do the numbers tell the whole story? Perry has made a career out of studying hate crime and hate groups in Canada. She talks to TVO.org about how Canadians should approach the data.

What’s driving the upward trend in hate-crimes reporting in Ontario?

In Ontario, we're seeing over the last year and a half a shift toward right-wing populism and rhetoric associated with that around anti-immigrant sentiment. With the rise of the extreme right and their being so visible on the streets and online, all of this has created a really hostile and toxic environment.

What are some of the issues that arise when it comes to reporting hate-crime data in Canada?

One of the caveats when we're talking about hate-crime data is both under-reporting and under-recording. Fluctuations may have as much to do with the likelihood of communities to report and the likelihood of law enforcement to take it seriously enough to record as such.

Generally, police reporting is really erratic. Some of the police services will record all incidents, and some of them record only incidents that rise to the level of criminal behaviour. Some of them have done follow-up, and they will include disposition as far as they know. Probably, Toronto is the most detailed of the reports.

But when you see a leap like this, that's more than just the fluctuations associated with those sorts of practical considerations. It really suggests that there are some serious changes on the ground.

Why would incidents of hate or bias be under-reported or under-recorded, and why is that concerning?

There can be a tendency by victims, police, the public — pretty much everyone — to dismiss mischief-related offences: vandalism, graffiti, even uttering threats. They can be interpreted as, “Oh, they're minor,” ‘These are petty crimes.” 

From my own work with affected communities, these sorts of low-level things are so common — daily, weekly, or monthly experiences — for individuals and communities that the very ubiquity of the problem is daunting and has a terrorizing effect.

We've seen several cases recently where mosques and synagogues, specifically, have been targeted. And we've heard from the members of those communities how it's affected them because it’s so visible, and it's a reminder that, as a community, they're not welcomed — not just as individuals.

Do local police services release their own reports about hate-crimes data?

It's not mandatory, and there aren't that many that do it. Most — not all — of the 15 police services in the provincial hate-crime and extremism investigative team do public reports. But it's relatively rare outside of that coalition.

Why are rates in western Ontario communities so high?

Western Ontario, historically, has really been a hotbed for the far right. It's not that it's an urban issue, necessarily. There's still a lot of that part of the province that is very rural, and these groups are drawing from the rural areas as well.

But communities in western Ontario have seen quite significant demographic change in the last half decade — really rapid changes in that respect. For example, one city that has long been host to right-wing extremist activity, London, saw growth in visible minorities from 8 per cent to over 15 per cent in just over a decade; it was home to approximately 15,000 newly arrived Latin Americans by 2011 and about the same number of Muslims.

I would anticipate that we're going to see the same thing in Oshawa in coming years — especially now with the closure of the GM plant — because of the combination of the shift from manufacturing with quantitative and qualitative demographic shifts. Durham Region is one of the fastest-growing and fastest-changing communities in Ontario right now. It's sort of exacerbating anxieties and looking for scapegoats.

Do you think local reporting of hate-crime activity should be mandatory across the province?

I absolutely do. Services think that it takes a lot of energy, a lot of resources. I wouldn't ask that they do something as extensive as what Toronto does, for example — just a press release, data, a couple of tables. It's not that difficult. It's the same data that they have to report to Statistics Canada anyway. So why not release it publicly at the same time? That would then mobilize the community allies, as well as affected communities.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting southwestern Ontario. It's brought to you with the assistance of faculty and students from Western University’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies.

Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.

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