Statistics Canada report found hate crimes against Muslims in Canada rose 60% in 2015
A report by Statistics Canada released Tuesday paints a disturbing picture of hate crimes in Toronto and across the country, especially when it comes to police-reported hate crimes against Muslims, which increased by 60 per cent in 2015 over the previous year.
In early May, a student found a toy pig on the grounds of an Islamic school in Scarborough. The toy had been defaced. Someone had drawn the figure of a man on the pig's behind and had written the words "Muhammad the Prophet" on the toy.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims, a non-profit organization based in Ottawa, reported the discovery of the defaced toy pig to Toronto police as a possible hate crime.
Amira Elghawaby, communications director for the council in Ottawa, said the toy pig was seen as an "expression of hatred" and its discovery sent a "hurtful" message because it negatively targeted Muslims in the area. It was found near Progress Avenue and McCowan Road.
"It speaks to Islamophobia, of course, because of the way that a religious figure was denigrated in this case," she said. "This creates a sense of alienation and fear."
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Elghawaby said the finding shows that there is a need for continued vigilance against hatred directed at Muslims in Toronto. While the toy pig may not be a hate crime, she said it appears to be vandalism. Toronto police said the toy pig was seized and an investigation is continuing.
According to the Statistics Canada report, hate crimes targeting Muslims rose from 99 incidents in 2014 to 159 incidents in 2015, the agency said. The total number of criminal incidents motivated by hate was 1,362, 67 more than the year before.
Of the hate crimes reported to police, 48 per cent were motivated by hatred of a race or ethnicity, 35 per cent were motivated by hatred of a religion, and 11 per cent were hate crimes targeting sexual orientation.
Statistics Canada said Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver accounted for 43 per cent of police-reported incidents in 2015.
Thunder Bay had the highest rate of reported hate crimes in the country in 2015. (http://www.statcan.gc.ca)
The agency says eight of 10 provinces reported an increase in the number of police-reported hate crimes from 2014 to 2015. The increase was most pronounced in Alberta, where police reported 193 hate crimes compared with 139 the year before.
In Ontario, however, the overall rate declined by five per cent from 2014.
In Toronto, the picture is not clear cut. Statistics Canada said in the report that Toronto saw fewer incidents reported to police, from 318 in 2014 to 295 in 2015.
However, according to the Toronto Police Service's 2016 Annual Hate/Bias Crime Statistical Report, which looked at the following year, the number of hate crimes reported to the police actually rose by eight per cent from 2015 to 2016.
Elghawaby said the statistics are clearly fluctuating from year to year but indicate the problem of hate crimes is not going away.
"We have to keep in mind that overall hate crimes are underreported. Up to two-thirds do not get reported, according to Statistics Canada. Whatever we are looking at, it doesn't necessarily tell the whole picture," she said.
Congregation members clean up debris, on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, after the only mosque in Peterborough, Ont., was deliberately set alight. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)
Hate crime awareness campaigns, as well, lead to spikes in the number of reported incidents, she said. There may be more people coming forward. The numbers provide a "snapshot" but not an analysis of the root causes behind the crimes, she added.
"If the numbers are going down or up in any given year, we have to understand that it's still the tip of the iceberg and there are many factors that may lead people to report or not to report. We really need more research around these issues."
Hate crimes do not only affect individuals, but they have a "far deeper" impact on the wider community, she said.
"If people are not feeling included in society, if they are being marginalized, attacked or fearful, then that will impact their ability to contribute positively to the overall prosperity of our country," she said.
"It's very critical that governments really put more of a priority on addressing this issue."
She said a "multi-pronged" approach to the problem is needed, which includes educational campaigns about diversity and inclusion, efforts to empower communities, improved police documentation of hate crimes and adequate government funding to ensure crimes are prosecuted.
Det. Scott Purches, of the Toronto Police Service intelligence services hate crime unit, said hate crimes are crimes against a person's identity. He said victims may be reluctant to report them out of embarrassment.
Purches said the police do outreach to communities to teach them about the importance of reporting hate crimes.
Sarah Park, manager of strategic communications for Ontario's Anti-Racism Directorate, an organization formed in 2016 to examine systemic racism, said the directorate is working with the Ontario ministry of community safety and correctional services to support its work, including the collection and publication of data from police on reported hate crimes.
"We've heard through consultations from across Ontario that in recent years, people are increasingly experiencing anti-Semitic and Islamophobic-related hate crimes," Park said.
She said part of the directorate's work includes measures to increase public awareness and educate people about systemic racism and how it impacts people's lives.