A Canadian Muslim advocacy group has launched a website to track Islamophobic vandalism, hijab pulling and similar forms of bigotry, as recent statistics show an uptick in hate crimes against Muslims between 2012 and 2013.
Released Tuesday by Statistics Canada, the data revealed a 17 percent overall plunge in hate crimes reported to police during the one year period. But concerns remain for a number of groups who are still disproportionately targeted, including Muslims, blacks, and Jews, and for sexual minorities, who are more likely to face violence.
The total number of reported hate crimes in Canada was 1,167 in 2013, down from 1,414 in 2012. About half of those were motivated by racial prejudice, while 28 percent stemmed from bias against a religion, followed by 16 percent based on sexual orientation.
Overall, both religiously motivated and racial crimes were down. At 181 crimes, Jews still made up more than half of victims targeted for their religion, while black people made up the bulk of the race category with 255 incidents.
Muslims, however, saw an increase from 45 incidents in 2012 to 65 in 2013.
Canada's hate crime rate is far lower than some other countries. UK statistics show over 44,000 hate crimes for England and Wales alone. Given the population differences, that's about six and a half times the Canadian rate, though Statistics Canada only includes cases "substantiated by police" while the UK data cover those "recorded by police." A US survey published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found 293,000 cases, though the number proven by police is far lower.
These differences highlight an obvious problem with the Canadian data. Statistics Canada notes that hate crimes are notoriously underreported, and estimates that just over one third of victims come forward, based on a past study.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims is looking to close that gap by giving victims a platform for reporting incidents online, even when they're afraid to go to police. When confronted with hate, users are asked to submit an account with as much detail as possible, including the time, date, photos, and a description of what happened, all of which is plotted on an interactive map.
Amira Elghawaby, the group's human rights coordinator, told VICE News that their data shows a further doubling of anti-Muslim incidents between 2013 to 2014, suggesting the trend is continuing. She said that vandalism is the most common problem, but that assault and harassment are frequent enough, especially for women wearing headscarves.
"The majority of individual assaults target women who are visibly Muslim," she said. "Women who are wearing the hijab are, by far, most frequently the victims of hate crimes."
Elghawaby says she saw spikes in hate crimes immediately after the Charlie Hebdo killings and the Parliament Hill shooting.
Stigmatization and a sense of futility often discourage people from reporting hate to police, she said, telling the story of two Muslim girls who had their hijabs pulled off by a substitute teacher during class, but were reticent to speak up and report the incident to police.
"They didn't want to go public or press charges because they didn't want to bring negative attention to themselves, or to the school," she said. "It was difficult for the two girls. They're young, and they didn't want to testify in a courtroom."
For this reason, the site will allow users to remain anonymous in their posts, though the group will keep their name on file so they can verify the incident. Elghawaby said that the posts will not reveal the identity of perpetrators, however, for fear of endangering people with unproven allegations, although they may link to media reports.
"Our aim in launching a national hate crime awareness project is to urge Canadian Muslims, as well as fellow Canadians, to report hate wherever and whenever it happens so that we can find ways to combat it," she said.
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Apart from anti-Muslim hate, the Statistics Canada data weren't all rosy of course. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation stayed pretty stable between 2012 and 2013, and were particularly likely to include acts of violence. While about half of the abuse directed against other groups were acts of "mischief," like graffiti or property damage, two thirds of crimes against sexual minorities were violent in nature, with threats and assault remaining quite frequent.
Though the anti-hate website will not specifically address homophobic or transphobic incidents, a spokesperson for an LGBTQ rights organization joined Elghawaby at a press conference to support the initiative.
"Unless we address the root of the problem — the hateful idea that one group of people can be set above the rest; that one set of characteristics is 'normal' and therefore superior to all others—we will never be successful in addressing any one of its symptoms," said Ryan Dyck of Egale Canada.
The statistics showed that Thunder Bay and Hamilton had the highest rates of reported hate crime across the country, with both surpassing five times the national average. Urban areas were the site of almost three quarters of reported hate crimes, with half in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver alone, although the National Council of Canadian Muslims noted that victims might be even less likely to go to police in rural areas.
Follow Arthur White on Twitter: @jjjarthur