TORONTO – Reported hate crimes in Canada skyrocketed 47 percent last year, the highest number since comparable data first become available in 2009, according to recently released figures from Statistics Canada.
Law enforcement agencies reported that 2,073 hate crimes occurred in 2017, up from 1,409 in 2016, an increase fueled by incidents primarily taking place in Ontario and Quebec targeting Canada’s Jewish, Muslim and black populations.
Although it marked the fourth consecutive year that hate crimes have increased in the country, this uptick represented the largest year-on-year jump during that period.
“Ordinarily, I would give the caveat that any increase in crime statistics could be the result of better police recording and public reporting,” said Barbara Perry, a criminology professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. “But this kind of leap means more is going on than just changes in recording behavior.”
She added that the rise is also reflected in an increase in media coverage spotlighting hate crimes as well as in figures kept by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and B’nai Brith Canada, which track anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents.
Hate crimes targeting religious groups accounted for 41 percent of all hate crimes in Canada in 2017 and were up 83 percent from 2016, data said.
In Quebec, reported hate crimes against Muslims peaked in February 2017, the month after a 28-year-old man, allegedly animated by far-right extremist figures online, opened fire on a Quebec City mosque, killing six people and injuring 19 others.
“The shooting set the tone for the rest of the year,” said Leila Nasr, a spokeswoman for the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “It was a year in which the Muslim community felt like it was increasingly targeted and like it was always watching its back.”
According to the Statistics Canada data, there were increases in both violent and nonviolent hate crimes in 2017, most of the upsurge was in the latter, including crimes such as public mischief, vandalism and public incitement of hatred.
Experts say that those types of hate crimes should not be dismissed. “There’s a tendency to think that they are very minor because no one is physically hurt,” Perry said. “But because they are targeted at entire communities their audience is broader, and this can have serious impacts.”
Nasr said that the effects of nonviolent incidents are particularly pronounced on children, for whom they may be their first encounter with Islamophobia. “When someone spray-paints a mosque, it sends a message to the community that though no one was beaten up, the community is the other and is not wanted,” she said.
Hate crimes targeting sexual orientation increased for the second consecutive year, representing 10 percent of all hate crimes in 2017, the data said. The majority of those incidents were violent crimes.
Statistics Canada noted in its report that although its figures could be “influenced by changes in local police service practices” and “the willingness of victims to report incidents to police,” its numbers “likely undercount the true extent of hate crime in Canada.”
Perry said that “a whole constellation of factors coming together at the same time” is responsible for this increase, including the growth of new and once-dormant far-right groups in Canada.
“In recent years, there’s been an increased polarization of our society and our political spectrum, not only in Canada but around the world,” said Nasr, who called on the government to institute a federal strategy against hate crimes. “Hate and intolerance do not respect political boundaries and physical borders.”
Michael Mostyn, the chief executive of B’nai Brith Canada, said the report is “too stark to ignore.” He noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently apologized for Canada’s turning away of the MS St. Louis in 1939 — an ocean liner carrying more than 900 German Jews fleeing Europe — and promised a plan to combat anti-Semitism. “There can be no delay in fulfilling these commitments,” he said.
FBI data released last month showed that hate crimes in the United States increased by about 17 percent in 2017.