London

Hate crimes are rising in London, Ont., and have been for years

After a deadly hit-and-run attack against a Muslim family who police say were targeted because of their faith, some are calling for new urgency in the effort to stop the rising tide of hate crimes in the city.

Data shows steady growth in the number of police reported hate crimes in the community

A woman waves a placard covered in anti-hate slogans on Hyde Park Road in London, Ont., not far from the site of a deliberate hit-and-run attack that killed four family members and left a nine-year-old boy recovering in hospital. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Ever since Sunday's deadly truck attack against a London, Ont., Muslim family, Hanaa Taha is nervous about her 20-year-old daughter Yasmein going out after dark.

"I feel fear for my daughter because my daughter she wears a hijab," Taha said. 

Taha, like many people in the city and around the country, is still reeling with the aftershocks of a deliberate attack against a family of five who police said were targeted in a deadly hit-and-run because of their faith. 

A grandmother, father, mother and daughter were killed when a pickup truck deliberately careened off the road and mounted the curb. Only their nine-year-old son survived, but was left with serious injuries. 

The women who were killed in the attack were wearing hijabs just like the one Taha's daughter Yasmein wears each day.

"I understand my mother's concern," the 20-year-old Brescia student said. "I'm a visible Muslim."

London hate crimes have been rising for years

For years, hate crimes in the city have been on the rise, according to data from Statistics Canada. 

From 2015 to 2019, police-reported hate crimes in London, Ont., rose by more than a third:

  • There were 20 incidents in 2015
  • 17 in 2016
  • 26 in 2017 
  • 34 in 2018
  • 34 in 2019

Per capita, that's 6.2 incidents per 100,000 people in 2019, which is higher than the national average of 5.1. 

Between 2015 and 2019, more than half of the police reported-hate crimes were motivated by race or ethnicity, making it the most common type of hate crime in Canada, according to Statistics Canada

Hate crimes stoke fear among visible minorities

Another StatsCan study suggests one in five visible minorities in Canada is either harassed or attacked based on their ethnicity or skin colour, with one in 10 reporting that it happened in their own neighbourhood. 

A woman holds two children next to a makeshift shrine in London, Ont., dedicated to the victims of a deadly hit-and-run attack that police say was a deliberate act of hate against a Muslim family. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Of the victims, StatsCan said people who identify as Black, Korean, Chinese, West Asian, Filipino and Arab are among the most likely to perceive harassment or attacks based on their ethnicity or skin colour. 

Since the pandemic began, approximately one in three people who identify as visible minorities reported feeling "very or somewhat unsafe from crime" walking alone in their own neighbourhood after dark, compared with approximately one in six of the rest of the population. 

More than one-third of women felt unsafe while walking alone after dark, compared to one-fifth of men. 

Despite being home to one of Canada's oldest and most vibrant Muslim communities — it erected the first mosque in Ontario and the second mosque in Canada in 1964 — London isn't immune to anti-Islamic bigotry. 

Hanaa Taha recalls feeling pressure to take off her hijab at work because of the negative conversations it stoked about religion and culture among her fellow employees. 

"I decided to take off my hijab because I didn't want any problems. It was really painful."

Since Sunday's deadly attack, Taha has started wearing it again to show solidarity with the family that was killed, but she and her daughter believe more needs to be done in order to make Muslims feel safe in their own neighbourhoods and encourage people to speak up when they're the victims of racial or ethnic harassment. 

"There is a concern and it needs to be addressed. Our leaders need to take a stance," said Yasmein Taha. 

In the meantime, the 20-year-old university student said she will continue to wear her headscarf.

"Our religion teaches us to be strong and to face adversity as a challenge so I will continue to wear my hijab."

"My hijab is my crown. It's my strength."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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