Ottawa

Muslim group unsurprised by sharp rise in hate crimes

The head of a national Muslim group based in Ottawa says he's not surprised to learn the number of hate crimes reported to police in Ontario and Quebec jumped dramatically last year.

Ontario saw greatest spike in hate crimes reported to police in 2017, data shows

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said there are gaps in how Statistics Canada captures hate crime data. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

The head of a national Muslim group based in Ottawa says he's not surprised to learn the number of hate crimes reported to police in Ontario and Quebec jumped dramatically last year.

According to Statistics Canada, there was a 47 per cent jump in incidents — mostly hate-related property crimes such as graffiti and other vandalism — reported to police across Canada in 2017 compared to the previous year.

The sharp rise follows "steady but relatively small increases" since 2014, Statistics Canada noted Thursday.

By far the greatest increase in police-reported hate crimes in 2017 occurred in Ontario, where the number of incidents shot from 612 in 2016 to 1,023 last year, a leap of 67 per cent.

Graffiti is scrubbed from the wall of the Ahlul-Bayt Islamic Education Centre in Ottawa in 2016. Ottawa police launched a hate crime investigation into the vandalism. (CBC)

Anti-Muslim hate

Quebec reported a 50 per cent jump over the same period, with hate crimes rising from 327 in 2016 to 489 in 2017. That increase in attributed largely to crimes against the province's Muslim population, peaking in February 2017, the month following the mass shooting that killed six people at a Quebec City mosque.

That trend was mirrored in Ontario, where hate crimes against Muslims saw a 207 per cent increase.  

"We were obviously surprised by the data, and not really surprised," said Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), which launched an online hate crime reporting tool in 2013.

Gardee said his group decided to create its own tracking system because until this year, Statistics Canada only released its hate crime data every two years.

NCCM has also visited 90 schools across Ontario, including in Ottawa, to talk to teachers about how to stem Islamophobia.

Andrea Freedman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, said she's alarmed by the rise in reported hate crimes, but believes the vast majority of Canadians are tolerant. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Unreported crimes

Statistics Canada notes up to two-thirds of hate crimes go unreported, so the numbers don't necessarily paint a complete picture. 

Gardee said there are other gaps in the way hate crime statistics are gathered.

"It doesn't track crimes based on their perceived identities," he said. "Islamophobia doesn't just target Muslims. It targets people perceived to be Muslim, like Sikhs, Christian Arabs and those from Southeast Asian communities."

"It's obviously disturbing and alarming," agreed Andrea Freedman, president of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. "But we have to remember the vast majority of Canadians are exceptionally tolerant and welcoming and accepting to minorities of all kinds." 

Both Freedman and Gardee are calling for a national strategy on hate crimes, especially targeting online hate.  

"It's tricky," she said. "But when people are engaged in really vociferous rhetoric online, that can also fuel and foreshadow violence off line, so we have to curb it"