Saskatchewan's shrinking hate crime stats may be deceiving: experts

A Statistics Canada report says the country saw a 47 per cent jump of police-reported hate crimes in 2017 over the previous year, but Saskatchewan's numbers showed a different trend.

Reported hate crimes surged nationally, but dropped in Saskatchewan from 2016 to 2017

Nafisa Chalchal encourages people to file complaints if they experience harassment with the hopes of having incidents on record. She and her husband are first-generation immigrants to Canada. (CBC)

Nafisa Chalchal was waiting patiently alongside other holiday shoppers in the growing line at a Regina grocery store when she heard it.

"These people are going to destroy our society," an elderly woman grumbled.

Chalchal, a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, said she felt threatened. She called the police as the woman continued to verbally abuse her. 

"I was advised that I should simply ignore her," she said. "[A bystander] told her to stop, and then there was another young man and he was telling her 'you should stop this bigotry.' "

Chalchal said this incident is one of many that illustrate how recent statistics showing a drop in reported hate crime in Saskatchewan don't tell the whole story.

This headline does not reflect the reality. These incidents are happening to people who are visible minorities.-  Nafisa   Chalchal

Reported hate crime numbers down in Sask.

A Statistics Canada report says the country saw a 47 per cent jump of police-reported hate crimes in 2017 over the previous year, but Saskatchewan's numbers showed a different trend.

Saskathchewan had 20 police-reported hate crimes in 2017, according to the report. There were 29 in 2016 and 16 in 2015.  

"This headline does not reflect the reality. These incidents are happening to people who are visible minorities," Chalchal said.

The low numbers could indicate fewer hate crimes are happening, fewer people are reporting them or fewer cases are deemed hate crimes by police, according to Warren Silver, an analyst with Statistics Canada Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

Silver said Statistics Canada's General Social Survey on Victimization says that about two-thirds of hate crimes are not reported.

'It's scary for our kids'

Chalchal said she's been harassed countless times during her nearly 20 years in Regina. 

She said she once took her daughter, who has autism, to a social event at a movie theatre and had to pull her daughter close to her in fear as a fast-moving vehicle seemed to head straight for them in the parking lot.

"I went to him and asked him, you know, why did you do that? I wanted to know the intent and he said 'Canadian English please,' " she said. "I was talking to him in English."

Chalchal said she thinks he was motivated by her appearance. She reported the incident to police as a hate crime. 

She said an officer took the information but said it would be too hard to prove the intent of the driver. No further action was taken, she said.  

Chalchal said incidents of hatred and discrimination are frequently directed toward herself and her community.

She said she fears for her daughters.

"Being a visible minority you know, it's a burden that we have and in an ideal society these incidents should not happen," she said. 

"It's scary for our kids, because if they are not able to live peacefully here than where are they going to go?"

Hate crimes went up nationally, but in Saskatchewan less were reported in 2017 than in 2016. (CBC)

Laywer says 'the bar is high'

Statistics Canada defines hate crimes as "criminal incidents that, upon investigation by police, are found to have been motivated by hatred toward an identifiable group."

"The bar is high," said Eleanore Sunchild, who is a Cree lawyer from North Battleford. She agreed it's difficult to prove intent considering the criminal code definition.

"It would have to be a communication in a public place and it would have to be the willful — and I think the keyword is the willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group."

Sunchild said historically there hasn't been many hate crimes as defined by the criminal code in Saskatchewan, but that she believes that doesn't reflect the reality.

Four police-reported hate crimes in Saskatchewan listed "Aboriginal" as motivation in 2017 and three motivated by Aboriginal race were reported in 2016. Five of the 16 police-reported hate crimes listed Aboriginal race as motivation in 2015.

"I think the incidents of hate, of racism and hatred, has gone up," she said. "After the Gerald Stanley trial, I think people were more comfortable in actually voicing their racism, online especially."

Lawyer Eleanore Sunchild said teaching the history of colonialism will help dismantle racism and hatred in young people. She said discrimination comes from 'one side of a story being presented when the actual truth remains unspoken.' (Laurel Sapp)

'Underground' discrimination in LGBT community 

Sexual orientation is also listed as a motivation for hate crimes. Four police-reported hate crimes in Saskatchewan were motivated by sexual orientation in 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

"I would warn against taking numbers like that at a face value right, because it doesn't indicate that the hostility has gone away," said Rachel Loewen Walker, who is the Executive Director of OutSaskatoon.

Loewen Walker said there are "underground forms of discrimination that take place in our community."

Rachel Loewen-Walker said its important to consider intersectionality when looking at issues like hate crimes. (Submitted by OUTSaskatoon. )

Loewen Walker said that there is intersectionality and overlap between communities that face discrimination.

For example, she said two-spirit people face increased discrimination because of gender and race.

She said she's seen improvements in Saskatoon in terms of the relationship between the LGBT community and the rest of the public, but she still hears troubling stories hinged on micro-aggressions directed toward people in the LGBT community. 

"It's little things that you can't always point a finger at — you can't always call them out in the way that you can when someone is overtly violent or discriminatory," she said.