Hate crimes surge in southwestern Ontario, Statistics Canada says

Hate crimes surged to an all-time high in 2017 across the Canada, including a spike in southwestern Ontario, new Statistics Canada numbers show.

There were 28 hate crimes reported to police in the London area, including St. Thomas

Police forces across the country dealt with a record number of hate crimes in 2017, Statistics Canada data found. Here, anti-Semitic graffiti that was spray painted on the door of The Glebe Minyan in Ottawa in 2016 is cleaned up. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Hate crimes surged to an all-time high in 2017 across the country, including a spike in southwestern Ontario, new Statistics Canada numbers show. 

Ontario and Québec had the largest increase in the number of hate crimes reported to police, according to the latest data. 

The federal agency said hate crimes have been steadily climbing nationally since 2014, but shot up by some 47 per cent 2017, the last year for which data was collected. In total, Canadian police forces reported 2,073 hate crimes – the most since 2009, when data became available.

In southwestern Ontario, hate crimes jumped in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, with 53 reported in 2017. That's up from 19 reported in 2016. 

In the London census metropolitan area, which includes St. Thomas, there were 26 hate crimes reported to police in 2017, up from 17 the year before. 

And in Windsor, the number of reported hate crimes in 2017 was 19, up from 10 the year before. 

Hate crime experts put the blame squarely at the feet of right-wing politicians who make anti-immigration part of their platform and normalize racism. 

"Right-wing politicians have created this atmosphere, where if you're a right-wing politician, anti-immigration is one of your staples. It's how you become popular in politics. But let's call anti-immigration what it is: it's anti-non-white immigration. It's 'We don't want people of colour showing up in our country,'" said Terry Wilson, a former London Police officer who investigated hate crimes and now consults and lectures about the subject around the world. 

"These politicians in the United States, in France, in Germany, in Hungary, in Italy, they base themselves on anti-immigrant, nationalist policies. And most of the time, it's white nationalism. White supremacists don't think they're doing anything wrong because they're being supported."

Religion most common target

The increase across the country is largely driven by hate-related property crimes, such as graffiti and vandalism. 

"Canada's population has become more diverse as the proportion of Canadians who report being foreign-born, non-Christian, or gay, lesbian, bisexual or in a same-sex relationship continues to grow," Statistics Canada wrote in its report. 

But hate-related property crimes shouldn't be dismissed as having less impact than violent hate crimes, said Barbara Perry, a University of Ontario Institute of Technology professor and hate-crimes expert. 

"Vandalism, graffiti, you might want to dismiss it, but you have to keep in mind the frequency of the incidents," Perry said.

"For some people, these are daily experiences. When you have your mosque or your temple or your gay club vandalized, it strikes at the core. It's visible to more people. It has a heightened impact."

Call out racist politicians, expert says

About one-fifth of Canada's population was born outside the country in 2016. That could jump to 25 per cent to 30 per cent by 2036, the federal agency predicts. 

And that means people must call out politicians who make anti-immigration part of their platforms, said Wilson. 

Hate crimes targeting religion was up by more than 80 per cent across the country, accounting for 41 per cent of all hate crimes in Canada in 2017.

Crimes against Muslims had the sharpest increase, accounting for 17 per cent of all hate crimes in the country, with 18 per cent of all hate crimes targeting the Jewish population. Incidents targeting sexual orientation accounted for 10 per cent of all reported hate crimes. 

Perry said politicians have to take stands against rallies held by racists. 

"Local mayors of cities that have been the site of rallies have spoken very loudly against organized hate and these more banal forms of hate crimes. The mayor of London has stood beside the anti-racists at those rallies," she said. 

"But our provincial and federal leaders haven't spoken out and haven't acted significantly against them and have relied on private groups to do that."