Sharp uptick in hate crimes in recent years, Statistics Canada says

March 23, 2019

By Vancouver Sun |

The recent terror attack in New Zealand has left some taking a temperature reading on hate in B.C. and questioning what can be done to help prevent its rise.

Recent data from polling firm Angus Reid has shown that Canadians are “alive to” the threat of white supremacy in this country, and figures from Statistics Canada found a sharp uptick in hate crimes in recent years. Experts say facing systemic racism head-on can help stop it.

The Baitur Rahman Mosque in Delta was among several across the country to join a “Visit a Mosque” campaign this week. The idea, according to Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama`at Canada, was to create a chance for people to meet and interact with their Muslim neighbours.

“Many misconceptions have crept into the minds of people due to the rise of Islamophobia. This initiative allows Canadians to meet and interact with Muslims on a personal level,” according to the group. Mosque members couldn’t be reached by phone.

The open-door event at the Delta mosque followed a Friday vigil at the Al Masjid Al Jamia Mosque in Vancouver, held in solidarity with mosques in New Zealand. Among those who attended the vigil was Rima Wilkes, a sociology professor at the University of B.C. who studies issues around radicalization and political resistance.

In the days after the attack, a recurring sentiment started to catch Wilkes’s eye — that what happened “is not New Zealand.” It’s a similar idea that has been expressed in this country after an attack — that what happened is “not who we are as Canadians” or that it is the work of “bad apples” and has nothing to do with systemic racism. But Wilkes questioned that concept.

“We’ve had a state that has systematically excluded groups of people,” she said, listing as examples the Komagata Maru incident, the Chinese head tax, the internment of Japanese Canadians and attempts to forcibly assimilate Indigenous people. It’s important to interrogate the narrative that “we’re basically just good people,” she said.

At the heart of attacks like that carried out in New Zealand “is a sense of people’s entitlement about their place in society,” and about who are deserving and real citizens, be they “the true Canadians,” “the true Americans” or “the true Australians,” she said. It’s a narrative that overlooks Indigenous people and holds that “we got here first, and then people of colour are newcomers,” she said.

What may be needed is “a huge overhauling of how we think about our society,” Wilkes said.

Police-reported hate crime in Canada had been on the rise for a few years before taking a sharp upswing in 2017, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. There were 2,073 reported incidents that year, up from 1,295 in 2014, 1,362 in 2015 and 1,409 in 2016. The biggest increases in 2017 were in crimes related to race, ethnicity and religion. Most hate crimes in B.C. related to religion were aimed at believers in Judaism, followed by adherents of Islam.

A 2018 opinion poll by Angus Reid showed 88 per cent of Canadian respondents found prejudice between people of different races and nationalities to be a cause for concern. Racism toward Indigenous peoples concerned 79 per cent of respondents, and 70 per cent were concerned about anti-Semitism. In B.C., more respondents found white-supremacist attitudes to be cause for “a great deal of concern” (at 56 per cent) than radical-Islamic attitudes (51 per cent). Across Canada, 44 per cent of respondents said the former attitudes were cause for great concern.

Shachi Kurl, executive director of Angus Reid, said the poll suggested “Canadians are alive to the phenomenon of homegrown, white-supremacist or white nationalist terrorism.”

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