Hate crimes reported by police are on the rise in Canada amid the COVID-19 pandemic as lockdowns and other virus-related measures disrupted everyday life.
A new report released by Statistics Canada on Tuesday showed that 3,360 hate crimes were reported by police last year, representing a 27 per cent increase compared with 2020 and a 72 per cent jump over the span of two years.
Higher numbers of hate-motivated crimes targeting religion, sexual orientation, and race or ethnicity accounted for the majority of the increase, StatCan reported.
“In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to have profound impacts on Canada’s economy, health-care system and society in general,” StatCan said.
“Policies enacted to contain the spread of the virus resulted in unprecedented disruptions in the social and economic lives of Canadians, changing how we interact, socialize, learn, work and consume.”
The incidence and severity of violent crime – as measured by the Crime Severity Index (CSI) – also rose last year with higher rates of Level 1 sexual assault, harassment, threatening behaviours, and homicide reported across the country. Level 1 sexual assault violates the integrity of the victim, according to StatCan.
Overall, police-reported crime in Canada didn’t change much last year and non-violent CSI continued to drop in 2021 because of lower rates of breaking and entering and theft of $5,000 or under.
The first year of the pandemic saw the highest number of police-reported hate crimes since Statistics Canada began tracking data in 2009.
StatCan researchers said the pandemic continued to impact Canadians in the second year, but perhaps in a different way, as restrictions began to lift across the country.
Sharp rise in sexual assault
In a concerning trend, the rate of sexual assault hit its peak since 1996, with 34,242 incidents reported in 2021.
But StatCan says that number is likely a “significant underestimate” of the true extent of sexual assault in the country because of lack of reporting.
“Pandemic-related lockdown conditions, particularly in the first year of the pandemic, could have exacerbated the underreporting of sexual assaults,” StatCan said.
For the third successive year, the national homicide rate increased, with 788 cases reported.
Ontario and British Columbia saw higher numbers of homicides, but there were fewer incidents in Alberta and Nova Scotia, where a mass shooting killed 22 people in 2020.
Following the release of the latest data, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation pressed the federal government to do more to combat hate crime and support victims.
As part of its recommendations, the CRRF said Ottawa should invest $44 million to create a national fund for organizations that support victims of hate and a direct fund for survivors of hate crimes.
“Every year we hear about the increase in hate and every year, we hear the condemnations. But that’s not enough,” Mohammed Hashim, CRRF’s executive director, said in a statement Tuesday.
“We can and must do more to help victims and communities deal with the painful aftermath.”