The number of hate crimes reported to Canadian police rose 42 per cent in 2009 on top of a 35 per cent increase the previous year, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday.

Fifty-four per cent were motivated by race or ethnicity, 29 per cent by religion, and 13 per cent by sexual orientation.

What are hate crimes?

Police-reported hate crimes refer to criminal incidents that, upon investigation by police, are determined to have been motivated by hate towards an identifiable group. The incident may target race, colour, national or ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, language, sex, age, mental or physical disability, or other factors such as profession or political beliefs.

Police-reported hate crime data have been collected on an annual basis since 2006 and cover 87 per cent of the population of Canada. This … article focuses on 2009 data, the most up-to-date information available on the extent and nature of police-reported hate crime in Canada.

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. Self-reported victimization data from Canadians suggests that about one-third (34 per cent) of incidents perceived by respondents to have been motivated by hate were subsequently reported to police.

— Statistics Canada

The largest increase was in hate crimes motivated by religion, which increased 55 per cent, the agency said, and seven in 10 of those involved hate crimes directed against Jews, who were the target of 283 reported hate crimes.

Hate crimes against the Muslim faith increased to 36 incidents from 26 in 2008. Police reported 33 hate crimes against Catholics, three more than in 2008.

"Violent offences, such as assault, accounted for about 4 in 10 hate crimes reported by police," Statistics Canada said in a release. "Violent offences were particularly more common among hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation."

The number of police-reported hate crimes against all racial groups rose in 2009. The largest increase involved hate crimes against Arabs or West Asians, which doubled to 75 incidents from 37.

Black people continued to be the most commonly targeted racial group, accounting for 272 incidents in 2009, or about 38 per cent of all racially motivated incidents.

More than half (54 per cent) of police-reported hate crimes involved mischief offences, such as graffiti or vandalism.

"Rates of hate crime tended to be highest among youth and young adults for both victims and accused," Statistics Canada said.

Four cities accounted for most of the increase in police-reported hate crimes:  Ottawa, where the number of incidents increased by 83, Toronto (79), Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo (62), and Montreal (61).

The census area of Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, Ont., reported the highest per capita rate of police-reported hate crimes, at just under 18 incidents for every 100,000 population.

With files from The Canadian Press