A Statistics Canada report puts Thunder Bay near the top for rates of reported hate crimes in Canada, but community leaders say the city is on the right track to improving those numbers.
Thunder Bay is second-highest in the country for the rate of reported hate crimes, or four times the national average.
Anti-racism committee chair Amina Abu-Bakare said a lot has been done in the past two years to improve support for people reporting hate crimes.
“I think we are addressing a lot of the issues and, hopefully, it's going to get better. But it's not going to go away overnight,” she said.
"I remember a few years ago when everybody was, y'know, 'racism in Thunder Bay, oh no, there's no such thing.' But now, we're not only saying there's racism, we're saying, 'OK, how can we address it?'"
Hate crime programs can drive up reporting
StatsCan also reported Thunder Bay Police improved its tracking and reporting of hate crimes starting in 2012. The number of reported hate crimes in Thunder Bay jumped from one in 2011 to 20 the following year.
According to its report, the rise in hate crime reports “can also be influenced by the presence of a dedicated hate crime unit or hate crime programs within a police service, as well as by community outreach programs and public awareness campaigns. The increase in hate crime incidents reported by police in Thunder Bay is an example of this, where awareness and reporting of hate crimes increased in 2012 leading up to the formal establishment of the Thunder Bay Hate Crime Awareness Committee's ‘Hate Divides a Community Campaign’ in 2013."
Police spokesperson Chris Adams said the spike is likely because they started taking a closer look at “hate” in certain incidents, ranging from graffiti to assault.
“So it's a combination of improvements to how we record and categorize them, as well as to how we follow up on them.”
Abu-Bakare said it's better “to know these numbers than to be living in a bubble … so we are aware this thing is happening, and then we can address them.”
Mayor Keith Hobbs said he believes the numbers “reinforces the need for [the] anti-racism committee ... and all the good things the City of Thunder Bay is doing.
“It shows that we have some work to do, obviously,” Hobbs said, adding that education is the key to getting that work done.
Abu-Bakare said the city is working on a racism hotline, through which people can call when faced with racism.
The city is working with First Nations and the Multicultural Centre to address the problem, she added.