The number of hate crimes targeting Arabs, South Asians, West Asians, Jews and LGBTQ people increased last year, while police-reported crimes against Muslims dropped, according to data released by Statistics Canada on Tuesday.
The figures come as a surprise to some who expected to see an uptick in anti-Muslim incidents in 2016, coinciding with the election of President Donald Trump.
A total of 1409 hate crimes were reported to police in 2016 in Canada – 47 more than 2015.
But experts say it’s possible that hate crimes against all South Asians and Arabs also include incidents that were meant to target Muslims.
“It is arguable that Muslims have become ‘racialized’ in the west to the extent that Muslim is conflated with brown/Arab/Middle-Eastern,” said Barbara Perry, a hate crime specialist and professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. “So those who are thought to be of Arab or South Asian background are also assumed to be Muslim and often targeted on that basis.”
Police can only record one motivation — race or religion — she explained.
When we see a rise in hate crimes against Arabs and not Muslims, it’s not clear if the Arabs were targeted because they were thought to be Muslims.
“If a racial slur like “sand-n” is used, then it’s likely to be recorded as anti-Arab when it might well have been anti-Muslim,” Perry told VICE News. “If, however, ‘t-head’” is used, then it’s more likely to be identified as anti-Muslim.”
Haroun Bouazzi of the Association of Muslims and Arabs for a Secular Quebec said his group has been demanding more comprehensive hate crimes statistics for years, to account for people who fall into the “intersections of oppression” because they belong to multiple marginalized groups— Muslim women, for example.
“The numbers don’t give us a good idea about the reality,” Bouazzi told VICE News. “When we see a rise in hate crimes against Arabs and not Muslims, it’s not clear if the Arabs were targeted because they were thought to be Muslims.”
Regardless, the statistics likely show only a small portion of hate crimes happening in the country — according to a 2014 survey, which measures eight types of crimes, two thirds of hate-motivated criminal incidents aren’t reported to police.
Police-reported hate crimes are incidents that police deem to have been motivated by hatred towards an identifiable group, well as hate propaganda offences, including advocating genocide, public incitement of hatred, wilful promotion of hatred and mischief.
“Fluctuations in the annual number of incidents can be influenced by changes in local police service practices and community involvement, as well as the willingness of victims to report incidents to police,” Statistics Canada said in a note attached to the report. “The number of hate crimes presented in this release likely undercounts the true extent of hate crime in Canada, as not all crimes are reported to police.”
Canadians from coast to coast have seen the swastikas, they have heard the anti-Jewish hate speech, and now they have access to these statistics as well.
In 2016, almost half of all police-reported hate crimes were race or ethnicity-based, according to the data, totaling 666 — four percent higher than 2015. That increase was driven by 24 more hate crimes targeting South Asians, which took place mostly in British Columbia and Ontario, and 20 more incidents in which Arabs and West Asians were the victims, with Quebec seeing the largest increase.
‘Swastikas from coast to coast’
Hate crimes targeting religious groups made up a third of all incidents, but after a significant rise in anti-Muslim incidents in 2015, police reported a decline in 2016 from 159 to 139, with fewer incidents in Quebec, Alberta, and Ontario.
Crimes against Jews, however, jumped from 178 incidents in 2015 to 221 in 2016.
“Today’s newly-released figures confirm that anti-semitic hate crimes are an increasingly serious problem in Canada,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada in a news release. “Canadians from coast to coast have seen the swastikas, they have heard the anti-Jewish hate speech, and now they have access to these statistics as well.”
There was also a rise in anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, which accounted for 13 percent of all police-reported hate crimes, up from 141 in 2015 to 176 last year.
Meanwhile, hate crimes targeting Black people remained the most common type of crime related to race and ethnicity, making up 15 percent of all incidents. The total number decreased in 2016, however, dropping from 224 incidents in 2015 to 214 in 2016.
The largest increase in police-reported hate crimes this year happened in Quebec, rising from 270 in 2015 to 327.
There was also a 16-percent jump in hate crimes involving violence including assault, threats, criminal harassment and other violent offenses in 2016 compared to previous years, said the StatsCan report. Perry suggests this rise could be linked to increased activity of organized right-wing groups on the streets.
Seventy-one percent of incidents targeting sexual orientation involved some kind of violence, making them the most violent hate crimes. Hate crimes related to religion or ethnicity involved violence in 27 and 45 percent of cases respectively.