London, Ont. police recorded 56% jump in hate-related crimes, incidents in 2021: report

The front of London Police headquarters. Matthew Trevithick/980 CFPL

The number of hate-related crimes and incidents reported to police in London, Ont., rose significantly last year compared to the year before, a report presented to the London Police Services Board (LPSB) this week shows.

According to the report, which went before board members on Thursday, 146 hate-related occurrences were reported to police in 2021, an increase of 56 per cent from 2020 (93), and an increase of 139 per cent from 2019 (61).

Eighty-three of the occurrences were deemed hate-related crimes, while 63 were hate-related incidents, according to the report.

How hate-related crimes and incidents are defined, according to the report:
  • Hate crime: Any criminal offence committed against a person or property, that is perceived to be motivated and/or is motivated, in whole or in part by the suspect’s hate, bias or prejudice based on real or perceived race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, gender identity or expression, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or any other similar factor.
  • Hate incident: Behaviours that, though motivated by bias against a victim’s or group’s race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, gender identity or expression, age, mental or physical disability, or sexual orientation, are not criminal acts. A hate incident can include hostile speech or other behaviours that may be motivated by bias but are not criminal in nature. Although hate incidents are not criminal in nature they often have a tremendous negative impact on the individuals and communities who are targeted.

Members of London’s Black, LGBTQ2+, Muslim, Jewish and Middle Eastern communities were the targets in about 71 per cent of all reported occurrences, the report states. All saw an increase in reported occurrences since 2020.

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At least 32 of the 146 occurrences involved the city’s Black community, while 27 targeted the LGBTQ2+ community. In at least 18 occurrences, London’s Muslim community was targeted, of which roughly 83 per cent were reported after the Hyde Park attack.

Members of London’s Asian, Indigenous and South Asian communities also experienced an increase in reported occurrences, according to the report.

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“I would suggest that some of our communities might say these crimes have always been happening. They just haven’t been reported,” said Deputy Chief Stu Betts in an interview Thursday with Global News.

“I guess if anything, I’m happy that the members of these communities feel that they can report this with confidence to the London Police Service, and really that drives us to be able to dedicate more resources to helping to investigate these types of incidents and crimes.”

The tabling of the report comes on the heels of a series of incidents in the city involving hate-related graffiti, and days after a white gunman opened fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., killing 10 Black people — a massacre which Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia called “an absolute racist hate crime” by a man with hate in his “heart, soul and mind.”

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The five most frequently targeted groups of hate-related crimes and incidents in London, 2017 to 2021. London Police Service
Hate crime occurrence types in London by year, 2017 to 2021. London Police Service

It’s not entirely clear if the increase is due to an overall rise in hate-related crimes and incidents being perpetrated, or if people are more willing to come forward and report occurrences.

“We do see a correlation to events locally, provincially, nationally, internationally with increased reporting,” said Betts.

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The report notes the increased number of hate-motivated crimes and incidents involving London’s Black and Muslim communities reported in the wake of the Hyde Park attack in 2021, and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.

“However, also last year we saw an increase in property-related damage that was hate or bias-motivated. That may not in fact be tied to any particular event, just an increase that we just aren’t aware of the motivation for,” he said.

“The big concern for us, of course, is the impact it has on the greater London community.”

Read more: London, Ont. police investigating 2nd case of hate-related graffiti in city

According to the report, 46 per cent of occurrences reported in 2021 involved property damage, while 31 per cent involved violent crime. Of those, assault was the primary offence in 92 per cent of cases.

Asked whether police had observed any trends regarding those perpetrating hate-related crimes and incidents, Betts said that while it was hard to “put a fine point on trends… we do know that a great number of these types of offences are committed by young white men.”

“Why that is is beyond the scope of a police service to be able to identify, however, it does provide us with some insight into who some of these perpetrators may be,” he said.

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“When we see, for example, some graffiti and hate graffiti, we often see signs and symbols that would suggest that the people involved are somewhat immature. And that points us in a certain direction in terms of investigative leads as well.”

Hate crime charges laid by London police by year, 2017 to 2021.
Hate crime charges laid by London police by year, 2017 to 2021. London Police Service

According to the report, police laid more than double the number of hate-crime charges in 2021 than the year before — 55 compared to 25 in 2020.

The report says while that increase may be attributed to the overall jump in occurrences, factors such as victim participation, and the “applicability of specific offences” as defined in the Criminal Code may also play a role.

“We know that a great number of those charges are going to be related to the murders of the Afzaal family, so that will account for a number of those charges that were laid,” Betts said.

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“Where we have the evidence, we certainly pursue it. We’ve added a dedicated hate crime investigator now who will augment the team approach we already have, and we hope to see even greater numbers of successful investigations where possible.”

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London police is also a standing member of the provincially-funded Hate Crime and Extremism Investigative Team, or HCEIT, which is made up of 15 police departments from across Ontario, the report says.

The team coordinates intelligence gathering among the departments and provides specialized training to officers when it comes to hate crime investigations, according to the province.

What comes next for London police will be continuing to build trust with the community, and letting residents know that they can trust police to conduct thorough investigations into these types of occurrences, Betts says.

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“We are asking for these crimes to be reported so that we can bring closure to them. We need that outreach. We need to break down any barriers that communities may feel exist to making these reports,” he said.

“So if we can do anything to make those positive connections and those outreaches, then we’re certainly committed to doing so.”

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Part of the outreach will also include members of the community who may be reluctant to file a report on a loved one who is becoming radicalized.

“The City of London was one of three cities here in Canada that were participants in a replication study to that very effect. We’re looking forward to the results of that because hopefully, that will guide us in how we can break down those barriers and increase reporting,” Betts said.

During Thursday’s meeting, the police board endorsed a motion brought forward by member Megan Walker to include a breakdown in future reports detailing the gender of those targeted in hate-related crimes and incidents.

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