Waterloo region hate crimes likely higher than reported, anti-racism advocate says

Sarah Shafiq of Waterloo region's Hate Crime Initiative says the number of cases are on the rise and the rate is higher than reported by Statistics Canada this week. Many hate interactions aren't reported to police for a number of reasons, she says.

Cases range from verbal abuse to assault says Sarah Shafiq of region's Hate Crime Initiative

The SUV parked out front of a house in Calgary was covered in green spray paint. Hate crime is on the rise across Canada, new statistics show. Sarah Shafiq of the Hate Crime Initiative in Waterloo Region and the Coalition of Muslim Women said the numbers here are higher than reported because many victims never go to police. (Calgary Police Service)

The cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge ranked third in the country for its high rate of reported hate crimes, but one local anti-racism advocate says the numbers are likely much higher.

Sarah Shafiq is a member of the Hate Crime Initiative in Waterloo Region and the Coalition of Muslim Women. She said over the past three years, these groups have heard more and more cases of Muslims being targeted in Waterloo region.

"We will probably see an increase in 2016 and this is before [the election of U.S. President Donald] Trump," Shafiq said in an interview.

And, she said, the Statistics Canada numbers only take into account reported crimes. Many more incidents are never brought to police attention.

"These are just reported hate crimes. We feel the actual hate crimes are at a much higher rate and then the hate incidents, that are not categorized as hate crimes, are prevalent as well."

Local cities ranked third

The data released Tuesday by Statistics Canada found hate crimes rose 5 per cent in Canada in 2015. In total, there were 1,362 criminal incidents motivated by hate in Canada, 67 more than in 2014.

In particular, attacks against Muslims, Arabs or West Asians were up.

The report ranked 34 census metropolitan areas. Thunder Bay ranked number one with a rate 22.3 reported hate crimes per 100,000 people.

Hamilton came in second with 9.9 per 100,000, although that excluded the area of Hamilton covered by Halton Regional Police.

Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge had a rate of 9.4 per 100,000.

Guelph and Barrie ranked the lowest with 0 cases per 100,000.

High number means people reporting: police

The high number is cause for concern, agrees Staff Sgt. Donna Mancuso of Waterloo Regional Police, but she said it's also a sign people are reporting these crimes to police. In other areas where the numbers are lower, it may be that people just aren't reporting hate crimes.

"A big part of our strategy is that we have dedicated resources specifically geared toward hate crime and I think that as well is something that leads to the higher reporting," Mancuso said.

To help encourage more people to report these kinds of hate crimes or hate interactions, she said they are often invited to speak with community groups, or if they aren't asked, police will ask if they can speak with them.

"We believe that this is historically -— and I think it continues to be — a crime that is under reported and that's why we do the initiatives that we do, is to try and encourage people to report," Mancuso said. 

On March 21, police ran an initative in high schools where officers spoke to them about racism and the importance of reporting hate crimes. 

Cases range from verbal abuse to assault

The cases Shafiq has heard about range from verbal abuse to assault.

In one recent case, she said, a mother was putting her child in the car when she was berated by another woman for about 10 minutes. At one point, the aggressor "tried to snatch the child" from the mother said Shafiq.

This was not reported to police.

"There is a big gap in reporting such assault cases," Shafiq said.

"This is just a snippet of what the reality is for the Muslim community or those who are perceived to be Muslims, for example, Sikhs as well."

As for why these cases aren't reported, that can vary, she said. In some cases, new Canadians come from a place where interaction with police is different than here.

Shafiq said the word Islamophobia is often one people shy away from using, but it needs to start being used regularly to call out the problem here in Waterloo region.

"If you don't name the problem, then that means you're not acknowledging it exists," she said.