Reported hate crimes on rise in Toronto and increase in police awareness may play role

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Reported hate crimes on rise in Toronto and increase in police awareness may play role

The number of reported hate crimes jumped by 28 per cent in 2017 compared to 2016, according the latest report from the Toronto Police Hate Crimes Unit.

In all, 186 "hate-motivated occurrences" were recorded, with mischief-to-property offences like vandalism and graffiti accounting for much of the spike. 

Hate crime statistics have fluctuated slightly over the last decade, averaging out to 147 occurrences per year. The last year with a number this high was 2009, with 174.   

So what accounts for last year's jump? 

In the report, the Hate Crime Unit lists "international events, community educational programs, hate crime training, and increased reporting" as playing a role.

It's the last two that resonate with Shelley Carroll, a former member of the Toronto Police Services Board and city councillor now running as the Liberal candidate in Don Valley North.  

"Training has really ramped up" to help officers understand how the Criminal Code defines hate crimes, Carroll told CBC Toronto.

She says officers armed with a new understanding are better able to tease out which offences fit the definition of a hate crime.  

For example, "just because something happens in a high-crime neighbourhood doesn't mean you're not looking at a hate crime," she said.

Carroll also thinks citizens are more "empowered" to come forward to police knowing it's more likely to be well-received, leading to an uptick in reports.

Hamilton, Ont. also saw a dramatic jump in hate and bias incidents in 2017. 

Religion remains number 1 motivation

Hate crimes motivated by religion continue to account for the majority of occurrences, with 28 per cent in 2017 directed at Jewish people and 18 per cent directed at the city's Muslim community.

For Noah Shack, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the latest stats are "appalling," but need to be placed in an international context.

"Toronto remains one of the greatest cities in the world in which to be Jewish or any other minority," he wrote in a statement, pointing out that Jews in other parts of the world are significantly more likely to be targeted with a hate crime.

The overall rise in reported hate crimes also comes less than a year after troubling news from Statistics Canada. The federal agency reported a 60 per cent spike in hate crimes against Muslims in Canada between 2014 and 2015.

A look at Toronto's statistics paints a less dramatic picture, showing that in 2015, Muslims were victimized 26 times, a number which dropped to 22 in 2016, rising to 33 occurrences in 2017. 

Still, concerns about underreporting persist, something the Hate Crimes Unit acknowledged in their most recent report.

"Under-reporting continues to present a challenge," they wrote, saying victims might be reluctant to come forward out of embarrassment, fear of retaliation, or uncertainty about how they'll be received.  

Hate crimes mapped in Toronto

The report also provides granular detail about the types of offences, locations, and intersecting identities that can lead to hate crimes.  

Most occurrences take place in a street, a laneway, or a vehicle, with schools and businesses following as the most likely locations. The majority of the incidents recorded were in downtown 52 Division and in the city's north-west.

Black Torontonians, targeted in 18 per cent of the occurrences, are most likely to be the victim of a mischief-to-property offence, while Muslims and LGBT community members are more likely to be assaulted.

The number of people arrested in relation to hate-motivated offences also rose slightly, from 19 in 2016 to 23 in 2017.

The results of the Hate Crime Unit's report are set to be discussed at the Police Services Board meeting on Wednesday, April 18.