Hate crimes targeting Muslims doubled in 2017, says Quebec City police chief

The number of police-reported hate crimes or hateful incidents targeting Muslim people or institutions doubled in the last year, according to Quebec City's chief of police.

Number of crimes and incidents aimed at Muslims jumped from 21 in 2016 to 42 so far this year

The number of hate crimes targeting Muslim people and groups in Quebec City has doubled since last year, according to Quebec City Police Chief Robert Pigeon. (Radio-Canada)

The number of police-reported hate crimes or hateful incidents targeting Muslim people or institutions doubled in the last year, according to Quebec City Police Chief Robert Pigeon.

Looking back on the first year of his tenure, Pigeon told reporters Tuesday so far this year, there has been a total of 71 hateful incidents in the Quebec City area, of which 42 targeted Muslims. In 2016, there were 57 in all, 21 aimed at Muslims.

He said of those cases targeting Muslims, 14, or 66 per cent, led to an arrest or were resolved in 2016, while only 10 of this year's 42, just 23 per cent, have been closed so far.

Tuesday's news conference is one of the few times Pigeon has spoken with the media about the rise in hate crimes following the Jan. 29 mosque shooting that killed six men.

He suggested the fact that people in the community are reporting these incidents when they occur will help police pick out patterns and figure out where their efforts might be most helpful.

"I want people to let us know what's happening on our territory, so we can help with prevention," he said.

A memorial was created near the Quebec City mosque where six men were shot after evening prayers on Jan. 29, 2017. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

No need for special hate crimes unit

The Quebec City Police Service does not have a dedicated hate crimes unit and the city is one of only three major Canadian municipalities that doesn't track hate crimes under the guidelines laid out by Statistics Canada.

Pigeon told CBC News there's no need for a special unit because the volume of incidents isn't high enough.

"It's not necessary to put a full-time team of eight people on it," he said.

He said the force has been working with Montreal police and the provincial Sûreté du Québec to share information and expertise.

Pigeon admitted his first year on the job got off to a rough start.

"For a police chief, it's never good news when a shooter enters any public place and starts killing people," he said. "So it's an enormous challenge."

He did say, however, that he was proud of how his police force handled the situation in the minutes following the mosque attack.

"Four minutes after the first call, our forces were mobilized," he said. "Despite the tragic nature of the situation, I'm proud of the way police responded."

This pig's head was found on the doorstep of the Quebec City mosque in June 2016, during the holy month of Ramadan. (SPVQ)

Car torching not labelled hate crime

There have been several incidents involving the Islamic Cultural Centre, the site of the shooting, that police have resisted labelling as hate crimes.

In July, a defaced Qur'an and a hateful note were mailed to the mosque. That incident was deemed an "incident" rather than a full-fledged hate crime.

One month later, the car belonging to the head of the mosque was set on fire outside his home. 

The Islamic centre was also the target of xenophobic messages and vandalism prior to the shooting, such as when a gift-wrapped pig's head was left at the mosque's doorstep.

The car belonging to the head of the Islamic Cultural Centre was set on fire outside his home in August. (submitted)

Montreal also sees rise in hate crimes

Montreal police have also reported a significant increase in hate crimes in 2017, compared to last year.

In the first half of 2017 — between Jan. 1 and June 1 — police received 101 reports of hate crimes or hateful incidents.

In 2016, 137 crimes were reported over the course of the entire year.

Of the 101 reported incidents so far this year, more than half of them, 57, were religiously motivated.

Montreal police don't break down which religions were targeted, but the hate crimes unit did see a big bump in reports immediately after the shooting in Quebec City.

Graffiti left on a Montreal mosque was the kind of incident that led to the creation of a specialized hate crimes unit in Montreal in 2016.

With files from Catou Mackinnon