An advocacy organization says it wants to map hatred and discrimination across Canada in a move that is prompting warnings of caution from one civil liberties group.
The Vancouver-based Morgane Oger Foundation has issued a call for volunteers to help build the Canadian Atlas of Populist Extremism, to be known as CAPE.
Founder Morgane Oger said the mapping tool would tie together extremist groups and people regularly associated with them, and also map incidents involving hate across Canada.
The idea is to shed light on how hatred is propagated, she said, while being mindful that allegations can’t be tossed out willy-nilly.
“We can’t say someone is a murderer unless they are in fact a murderer, but maybe it would be interesting to see it’s always the same dozen people who are doing anti-trans advocacy in the (B.C.) Interior or the white supremacy groups are working with each other,” said Oger, a former provincial NDP candidate and a member of the party’s executive.
WATCH: Canada’s unions release report on impact of Islamophobia in workplace
Oger said the project is in its infancy and the foundation has not yet determined exactly what types of actions, groups or individuals would be documented, but it believes the data could be useful to academics, law enforcement and others.
It could include a rating system to categorize incidents by severity, she said, giving hate-motivated murders and discriminatory graffiti as examples that would receive different grades.
Other groups have tackled similar projects. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network, based in Toronto, says its mandate is to monitor, research and counter hate groups by providing education and information on them to the public, media, researchers, courts, law enforcement and community groups.
The Southern Poverty Law Center in the United States has a “hate map,” which lists 1,020 groups. They include 51 Ku Klux Klan chapters, 49 anti-LGBT groups, 11 radical traditional Catholic groups and a combined 412 black and white nationalist groups.
The centre doesn’t list individuals, only organizations, and uses a similar definition to the FBI for them. The law centre defines a hate group as “an organization that – based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities – has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
Micheal Vonn of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said the CAPE project may be helpful, legal and serve as a positive research tool.
But she warned that there could be privacy issues involved in posting individuals’ information online and said it’s important to distinguish between actual hate from differing opinions on certain topics.
“All kinds of things that people think are hateful constitute genuine political speech,” she said, adding that knowing if someone is against an immigration policy isn’t enough information to conclude they are racist, for example.
WATCH: Trudeau says ‘toxic’ hate groups exist in Canada
Until the foundation lands on a specific model, it’s unclear if there would be any issues around rights, she said.
But she said it’s also worth asking if a map would contribute to healthy political discourse and warned against too loose of a definition of “association.” In a healthy democracy, groups with opposing views should be able to attend one another’s events without being painted with the same brush because it could help build dialogue and understanding.
While governments and governing players are expected to be transparent, we have different standards for individual citizens, she said.
“We don’t ask citizens to be transparent because we’re sovereign. It’s the state that is supposed to be transparent to us,” she said.
Oger said the mapping project is still in its infancy and the organization has not yet decided how much information to make public but it does not want to encourage violence in any form.
WATCH: Where does hate stand in Canada?
She pointed to Statistics Canada figures that show a rise in police-reported hate crimes. After steady but relatively small increases since 2014, hate crime reported by police rose sharply in 2017 to 2,073, up 47 per cent over the previous year and largely due to an increase in hate-related property crimes, StatCan says.
Higher numbers were seen across most types of hate crime, with incidents targeting the Muslim, Jewish and black populations accounting for most of the national increase. The increases were seen largely in Ontario and Quebec.
Police-reported hate crimes refer to criminal incidents that police investigations conclude were motivated by hatred toward an identifiable group.
According to a 2014 StatCan survey, Canadians self-reported being the victim of more than 330,000 criminal incidents that they perceived as being motivated by hate but two-thirds were not reported to police.