Hate crimes in Canada rise sharply during pandemic

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We’ve seen the signs – and done nothing – for far too long. Jason Leung RbsmM191eVY via Unsplash

Violent country does violence

There is a disturbing trend in Canada that goes against everything people typically associate with Canadians. According to a recent report from Statistics Canada, police-reported hate crimes have been on the rise, and in the first year of the pandemic, they went up by 37 per cent. The main offence has been an increase in race-related hate crimes which rose by 80 per cent from 2019 to 2020. According to the report, crimes against East and Southeast Asian people went up 301 per cent, crimes against Black people went up 92 per cent, crimes against Indigenous people went up 152 per cent, and crimes against South Asian people went up 47 per cent. The report says the highest increases in police-reported hate crimes were seen in Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Ontario.

“There has been a long history of systemic racism within Canada, and there’s lots of different examples of it that have not been addressed for years. And what that does is then give an opportunity for people who want to protect their privilege to continue down that path, but do it in more extreme ways. And the results of that might be more serious hate crimes against people based on their gender, or gender orientation, or ethnicity, or country of origin, or color,” said Gord Barnes, a field officer for Amnesty International Saskatchewan, which is an organization that promotes human rights for all.

After the release of the report, Canada organized a cross-country police task force aimed at targeting hate crimes in Canada. The task force was started by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and the Chiefs of Police national roundtable, and will be co-chaired by the CRRF and the RCMP. The announcement was made at a national conference in Toronto. According to the press release for the announcement, the task force will focus on raising awareness of what constitutes a hate crime and the impact these crimes have on communities. The released statement also acknowledges that a lot of communities have little confidence in reporting hate crimes to police, and the hope is that this task force can help change that attitude.

People of Asian descent have been particularly targeted since the beginning of the pandemic. Anti-Asian rhetoric and misinformation spread about COVID-19 have compounded the problem of hate crimes against Asian people as some racists began to blame Chinese people for the virus. The abuse hasn’t been specifically targeted towards Chinese people as there is a tendency for people in the West to lump Asian people together into one group, and people were targeted if they had East Asian characteristics.

March 16, 2022 was the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings where a gunman killed eight innocent people, six of which were Asian. The shooting came at a heightened time of violence where major cities were reporting hate crimes towards Asian people at six to seven hundred percent higher than the previous year. The sudden increase in violence towards people of Asian descent in the Americas may come as a surprise to some, but Canada and the United States have a long history of racism towards Asian people that is rooted in government policies and legislation. Prime examples would be the exploitation of Chinese labourers during the construction of the railroad and the Chinse head tax of 1923.

Barnes continued “I think it is really important to create safe places for people to have frank and honest discussions about our history, and include issues around systemic racism in Canada. Many people have grown up not being aware of the history of residential schools in Canada and the consequences of the abuse that happened, and people are becoming more aware of that. It is important to have frank and honest discussions about the history and what it means, and another example would be the Chinese people who came to Canada to build their railway and how they were treated and, and then issues around the head tax. When we look at it now and see the extent hate crimes that are happening against Asian people it’s really a concern. So we need to have these conversations about that history and have safe places for it to happen.”

While race and ethnicity are the worst-case numbers for hate crimes, there is also a high number of hate crimes related to religion, gender, and sexual identity. Jewish and Muslim people are still the most targeted people when it comes to crimes against people due to their religion. Crimes against Jewish people are one of the top reported hate crimes in the country, and anti-Semitism also spiked during pandemic months with anti-vaxxers co-opting the Star of David as their own political symbol. The incidents of reported hate crimes against sexual orientation actually dropped two per cent according to the latest report, but it was still the second-highest number since this data became available in 2009.

The staggering increase in hate crimes is shameful for a country that claims to pride itself on inclusion and diversity. Even more shocking is that these numbers are probably much higher, since hate crimes often go unreported due to a lack of faith in the police, lack of faith charges will actually place, and because some hate crimes get reported as misdemeanors because they are easier to charge. In order to reach a state in a society where crimes like this are no longer an issue, it will require a lot of work on the part of governments, police services, organizations, and everyday people standing up for a just and equal world.

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