Hamilton Police (HPS) is reporting a 35-per cent increase in hate incidents, according to a 2021 year-end study presented at a board meeting on Thursday.
The ‘2021 Hate/Bias Statistical Report‘ compiled by the police hate crime unit (HCU) says there were a total of 108 hate/bias incidents last year compared to 80 reported in 2020.
Chief Frank Bergen characterized the the increase as “disturbing” and said it creates “fear within our community.”
“It impacts a sense of belonging, safety and wellbeing for those within our community who are targeted by these hate incidents and crimes,” Bergen remarked.
“As a community, we need to do better.”
Of the 108 reports, 21 were considered hate/bias related crimes with seven encounters classified as assault offences.
Ten of the 21 crimes were tied to race occurrences with three involving an assault.
Hate/bias crimes were up year over year by 13, compared to 2020.
The 87 other incidents had or were believed to have had some type of racial overtone but could not be proven.
In 2021, police say there were 39 incidents allegedly targeting a racial bias, while 33 were aimed at religion and 14 involved sexual orientation.
Ten of the racial/bias incidents became crimes, five were crimes tied to religion, and five were connected to a sexual orientation incident.
HPS hate crime investigator Const. Fabiano Mendes suggested the increases are likely attributed to a multitude of factors, including the pandemic, the Israel-Palestine conflict, alt-right ideologies and the senseless killing of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
“Out of the 21 hate crimes that occurred in 2021, 14 individuals were arrested and victims declined to proceed with charges in three other occurrences,” Mendes told the board.
The most targeted group was the Black population with 35 racial bias experiences reported, while the communities characterized as South Asian were the subject of eight incidents.
Of complaints tied to sexual orientation and gender identity, two claims were made by those who identified with the transgender population while 19 were with the gay community.
The latter represents an 850 per cent increase compared to 2020 numbers targeting individuals self-identifying as gay.
The Jewish community received the bulk of the hate incidents targeting religion with 24. That’s six less cases than in 2021.
There were 14 incidents reported among the Islamic community, an increase of 1,300 per cent compared with just a single incident reported the previous year.
Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, says he’s hopeful the decrease truly represents good will in the community and suggest the decline in incidents with his community could be pandemic-related.
“There was a lot of antisemitism around the pandemic,” Rymberg told Global News.
“A lot of issues made about Israel and that created more antisemitic incidents. So that’s why I think that it would be 20 per cent decrease.”
Although praising the efforts of Hamilton Police making an annual report, he has some skepticism on whether the numbers truly represent the magnitude of hate/bias in the community.
“They’re important numbers but we would love to know more. It would be great to have more details,” said Rymberg.
Notable hate/bias crimes investigated in 2021
The 2021 report highlighted three notable hate/crime investigations in Hamilton which included an anti-Muslim attack in Ancaster, promotion of hate online after the London attack and theft of a Pride flag.
Mendes said the first of them was an arrested in connection with an anti-Muslim attack on two women in Ancaster in the summer.
Detectives say a mother and her adult daughter were walking through the parking lot of a plaza in the Meadowlands at about 9:30 p.m. on July 12 when they were almost hit by a vehicle pulling out of a spot.
The interaction escalated, with the suspect uttering threats towards the victims while using racial slurs targeting the Muslim community.
A 40-year-old Cambridge man was arrested and charged with several counts of uttering threats to cause death and assault with a weapon.
Just over a month later, a Hamilton man would face charges for allegedly spreading of Islamaphobia via social media posts in connection with June’s targeted vehicle attack in London, Ont. that saw four members of a Muslim family die and a young boy left in hospital.
The investigation would lead to a milestone for HPS as the first ever charges of willful promotion of hatred would be laid with the approval of the deputy attorney general of Ontario.
In September, a teen was charged with theft under $5,000 after stealing a Pride flag hanging over a garage on Aug. 16.
“The youth male then threw the flag on the ground and proceeded to stomp on it, eventually leaving the area with the flag,” police said in a release.
HCCI receives 'hate filled, threatening' email for comments on Confederate flag in Binbrook
During a pledge to investigate and pursue hate/bias acts in the community, Chief Frank Bergen revealed the Hamilton Center for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) received a “hate filled, threatening” email in connection with the flying of a confederate flag in Binbrook.
After learning about the flag in the southeastern community, the HCCI responded with a social media post urging Hamilton to ban such symbols everywhere in the city limits.
Bergen said a response to that Twitter post “targeted” HCCI staff and Black community members.
“It is clear the intention of this abhorrent email is to create fear within the community,” Bergen noted.
“As a police service, the safety of all our community members, and especially those disproportionately targeted by incidents and racist beliefs, must be addressed and protected.”
He went on to say officers have visited the homeowner to make them aware of the “attachment to anti-Black sentiments” the flag has.
However, Bergen admitted there is no legislation that would provide police with the grounds to lay charges or compel the homeowner to take down the symbol.
Global News confirmed the flag’s existence in a recent trip to the residence and reached out to those living in the home about why they were flying the flag.
The occupants declined to comment.