The Ottawa Police Service has announced it's bringing back a dedicated hate crime unit, less than a year after confusion sprung up around whether one ever existed in the first place.
In May 2019, after racist graffiti was scrawled on a black Ottawa family's home, the force somewhat confusingly said it never had a dedicated unit to fighting hate crimes.
It was a perplexing statement, given that there were multiple reports billing the hate crime unit as the first of its kind in Canada when it was created in 1993. On its 15th anniversary, former mayor Larry O'Brien heaped praise upon it — even declaring Jan.15 "hate crime awareness day" in the capital.
That confusion led former interim chief Steve Bell to tell CBC News the unit was "renamed or moved over to the security and intelligence" section in January 2017.
'We take such incidents seriously'
The force is now rebranding that section as its new dedicated hate crime section, with two new investigators eventually joining what will be a five-person unit, said deputy Chief Uday Jaswal.
The officers in the new section will "focus on the prevention of hate-motivated incidents through public education, outreach, and the development of intelligence to address extremism," the force said in a statement.
Jaswal said the restructuring will offer a more "centralized" approach to tackling reports of hate crimes, which have been on the rise in recent years.
The previous approach involved investigators spread out among the force's west, central, and east detachments, Jaswal said — and that occasionally led to crime trends being missed.
"We're still going to have access to investigators across the city, but they'll be coordinated through the hate crimes section. [And the new section] will have its own investigative capacity to follow up."
There were 110 reports of hate crimes in Ottawa last year, the police service said, up from 104 in 2018 and 95 in 2017.
"We know that hate crime is quite traditionally quite underreported, and we do hope to see an increase in reporting," Jaswal said.