After five years of increases, 2020 showed a decline in police-reported crime in Canada. Hate crimes were a different story.
Data compiled in the latest Statistics Canada report found that police-reported crime decreased by eight per cent last year, falling to 73.4 incidents from 79.8 in 2019. In contrast, “the number of police-reported hate crimes in Canada increased by 37 per cent during the first year of the pandemic.”
Researchers said police-reported hate crimes “sharply” rose to 2,669 in 2020 from 1,951 incidents in 2019, with those targeting race or ethnicity nearly doubling from one year to the next.
The data represents the highest number of police-reported hate crimes since Statistics Canada began tracking data in 2009.
Researchers said public health measures enforced during the COVID-19 pandemic like stay-at-home orders and quarantines reduced the number of opportunities for people to commit crimes.
However, Statistics Canada also said these public health restrictions pushed Canadians to turn to the internet for many aspects of their lives. This, according to the researchers, resulted in a rise in internet-related crimes, while also perpetuating family and domestic violence.
Experts like Mohammed Hashim, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, say more needs to be done to combat hate online before it snakes its way into the real world — and the pandemic only emphasized this.
“Hate is actually fear turned into extreme violence,” Hashim said in a previous interview with Global News. “And what we’re seeing is that fear is being fuelled dramatically, especially online.”
Breaking down the data
The data for 2020 shows Ontario saw the largest increase in hate crimes at 321 incidents. British Columbia followed at 196 hate crime-related incidents and Alberta saw an additional 105.
Police-reported hate crimes against Black people rose by 92 per cent with 318 incidents, while hate crimes targeting East or Southeast Asian people rose by 301 per cent at 202 incidents. Indigenous hate crimes increased by 152 per cent with 44 incidents while Canada’s South Asian population saw an additional 38 incidents, rising by 47 per cent.
“According to a crowdsourcing initiative conducted early in the pandemic, those belonging to visible minority groups were three times more likely to have perceived an increase in race-based harassment or attacks compared with the rest of the population,” the report said.
This occurred most in Canadians who were visibly Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian.
Dr. Carmen Celestini, an adjunct professor at the University of Waterloo, said racism was heavily entrenched in the pandemic, due to misinformation and conspiracy theories (mainly online) about the origins of the COVID-19 virus and its spread into society.
“People, when they’re afraid or they have a sense of injustice or, a sense of loss of freedom, they tend to turn to conspiracy theories or ideas of something outside of themselves being in control,” said Celestini, who is also a post-doctoral fellow at The Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism.
“When there’s a continuous sense of disaster or a bad thing is happening, they’ll try to find someone to blame for that when their own sort of mechanisms of controlling fear does not work.”
Celestini said it was unsurprising that the idea of a scapegoat proliferated online, as many Canadians were forced to prioritize social media as a social setting while in isolation.
He said social media platforms such as Parlour and Telegram that are not being largely moderated to a great extent encouraged users to begin spewing unfiltered hatred.
“If we looked at things that were happening in society with Antifa and ideas like that, it was easy to hide these things under political memes and then push that envelope continuously to engage with more hate rhetoric and more extremism.”
Homicide rate up for second year in a row
Statistics Canada also zeroed in on homicides in this year’s report.
Researchers said non-violent crimes such as breaking and entering, theft under $5,000, and robbery and shoplifting of $5,000 or under were down in 2020, but homicides rose for the second consecutive year.
Homicides increased by 56 last year at a rate of seven per cent, for a total of 743 killings.
The Crime and Severity Index declined in most provinces and Nunavut, excluding the Northwest Territories, New Brunswick, the Yukon and Nova Scotia, where crime went up.
Nova Scotia scored highest on the Crime Severity Index at an additional six per cent, due to the mass shooting in April of last year that left 22 dead and three injured. The shooting marks the deadliest in Canadian history and is widely regarded as an example of gender-based violence against women.