By Francois Gloutnay
MONTREAL — In 2021, Canadian police services received 3,360 statements related to hate crimes, a 27% increase compared to 2020, with a 260% growth against Catholics, according to a new study by Statistics Canada. In 2020, 2,646 hate crimes had been reported to police.
According to the federal agency, this spike in hate crimes is largely due to more incidents “targeting religion, sexual orientation and race or ethnicity.”
The number of hate crimes aimed at religion or the faithful of a given religious group reached an all-time high in 2021, after decreasing for a few years.
In 2021, 884 hate crimes targeting a religion were reported. According to analyst Warren Silver, of Statistics Canada, this is an increase of 67% compared to 2020 figures.
The majority of offenses in 2021 were nonviolent ones such as mischief against religious property or places of worship. These represented 707 reports while 177 other crimes were violent offenses, notably assaults (52) and threats (74).
Statistics Canada’s report doesn’t specify what 2021 events were considered to be motivated by hate aimed at religion. However, the report recalls that following the discovery in May 2021 of the remains of 215 children in Kamloops, on the site of a former Indian residential school once run by the Catholic Church, media reported churches being vandalized and even burned down. If complaints were filed with police services following these events, they would have been considered hate crimes.
“We can’t make direct connections,” Silver told Présence. But it is probable that such events may have contributed to an increase in mischief aimed at places of worship.
The various religious groups in Canada are all likely to be targets of hate crimes, but Statistics Canada closely examined mischief committed against three groups: Catholics (not Christians), Jews and Muslims. In 2021, there was an increase of 47% of hate crimes targeting Jews, 71% against Muslims and 260% aimed at Catholics. However, in considering numbers rather than percentages, out of 3,360 hate crimes in Canada, there were actually 487 hate crimes against Jews, 144 against Muslims and 155 against Catholics.
Stephen Brown, president and CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), was not surprised to learn of the 144 hate crimes reported against Muslims in 2021. “We, too, are seeing a big rise in hate crimes. And, I don’t hesitate to say that Statistics Canada’s numbers are under the mark,” he told Présence.
The NCCM leader believes that many members of the Muslim community, especially those who recently immigrated or are from authoritarian countries, are reluctant to contact the police when they are victims of intimidation or harassment. Some even contact NCCM to inquire about possible consequences of their complaints, according to Brown.
Regarding crimes against Muslims in 2021, the NCCM can’t “point to any one event” to explain a 71% increase. But Brown laments “the increasingly harsh media discourse when it comes to Muslims.” For example, since the adoption of Quebec’s Bill 21, secularism law, which contains statements of principle declaring the province’s commitment to secularism, or “laïcité,” Brown notes that some of the debates, especially in the media, are prejudicial to members of his community.
What is worse, he said, “the majority of people who contact us about hateful acts are women and children. And it is often as a result of media reports that these people call us.”
Brown also explained that, as a result of events on the international scene, Canadian Muslims are sometimes impacted even if they have nothing to do with a situation far away from Canada.
For example, after the death of Mahsa Amini Sept. 16, 2022, a few days after she was arrested by the vice police in Iran, “Shiite mosques here were vandalized while others were forced to close their doors because of fairly aggressive demonstrations in front of their entrance,” he said.
Brown added, “I myself have been to a mosque in Toronto. I saw women being insulted as they entered and worshippers being photographed as they left.”
So it will come as no surprise to Brown if, this time next year, a new Statistics Canada report confirms a further increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes.