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‘Hate is on the rise’: Calgary police

Leduc RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance to identify those involved in the vandalism to the Pride crosswalk installed by the City of Leduc at 50 Street and 47 Avenue. Handout / Leduc RCMP

Hate incidents and hate-motivated crimes have been on the rise in Calgary in recent years, according to a presentation from the Calgary Police Service hate crimes unit to the Calgary Police Commission.

Identifiable crimes like assault, threats, or property damage that are tied to hate motivation against people with identifiable characteristics like race, age, sexual orientation or religion is deemed a hate-motivated crime during sentencing. Hate incidents are acts that aren’t criminal in nature but are still motivated by bias, prejudice or hate against an identifiable group.

Const. Matt Messenger said hate incidents can have as bad or worse effects on a member of the public than a hate-motivated crime.

The combined number of hate-motivated incidents and crimes have climbed from 2019 to 2022, going from 115 to 246.

The volume of files investigated in the past four years has also jumped, from 160 in 2019 to 371 in 2022.

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“The volume of hate incidents, sadly, are increasing exponentially, especially over the last three or four years,” analyst Alexandra Hrk said.

“The volume is rising and sadly that’s not just a Calgary issue, it’s apparently across Canada and actually globally,” Hrk said.

Messenger said while Calgary is unique in having a dedicated hate crimes investigation team, the Criminal Code does not readily enable police to press charges in relation to obviously hate-related matters.

The Code only has sections related to advocating of genocide, public incitement of hatred, wilful promotion of hatred and willful promotion of anti-Semitism, but doesn’t define “hate crime” or put a definition to “hate.”

All but public incitement of hatred requires two levels of approval: from crown prosecutors and from the attorney general.

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“Because of that, we look for different definitions within the Code to help us with our work,” Messenger said. “We look at things such as sentencing principles, which give us guidelines on identifiable characteristics for groups and people we interact with that allows.”

CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said advocacy efforts of the Association of Chiefs of Police included urging the federal government to create a “standalone definition” of hate to be added to the Criminal Code.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the CPS report and a similar one from the RCMP show the need for all members of society to stand up and address hate.

The former police commissioner also called on Crown prosecutors to get “on board.”

“Without the Crown exercising its authority to make sure that we are pressing charges and those charges stick, all of the enforcement measures in the world will not work,” Gondek said on Thursday. “So Calgary Police Service and RCMP need the support of the Crown to say hate crimes are real, these are serious and we need to do something about them.”

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Messenger said hate propaganda like stickers, posters and banner drops are very popular in Calgary right now. But context can help police and prosecutors determine hate motivation, Messenger said.

The hate crimes unit constable shared an example of a message saying “six million more” spray painted in red on a wall.

“To some people, it looks like graffiti. Others say it’s hate speech. Some people say it’s free speech,” Messenger said.

“This was taken from a southwest neighborhood that has a large population of Jewish families. This wall was right across the street from a synagogue. So within that context, we know it is directed – it’s targeted hate.”

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He said video was the best kind of evidence for alleged hate-motivated incidents and crimes.

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This year, CPS found more hate files have been motivated by sexual orientation, saying the trend started with rumours spread on social media of a trans person in a rec centre change room.

Neufeld said police have found successes in pressing charges around incidents like protests at “Reading with royalty” events.

“It’s probably not a coincidence that some of the folks that are out doing this are street pastors,” Neufeld said. “But at the end of the day, we will continue to police behavior. And again, when we do lay the criminal charges, we are seeing good success through, initially, (court-ordered) conditions that keep people away from the events.

“I think that has… a real chilling effect on other people who thought it was okay to do whatever they wanted and they found out that it was not.”

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Messenger said hate-motivated incidents are under-reported and trusting relationships within the community are vital to change that.

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“(Fighting) hate is everybody’s responsibility… it can’t be done by the police service alone, which is why we thrive on community relationships,” Messenger said. “The more we’re out there providing education and awareness, the more reports we get, the more people know that the police service is committed to fighting it.”

“Trust is really the currency of policing,” Neufeld added.

The province said it has stepped up support for people and groups affected by hate-motivated incidents and crimes, providing $5 million per year via the Alberta Security Infrastructure Program to more than 200 organizations.

“We have also appointed the province’s first-ever hate crimes community liaisons to come up with recommendations for preventing hate and bias-motivated crime,” Hunter Baril, press secretary for Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis, said in a statement.

“We will keep pushing forward with these efforts to ensure all people in Alberta can enjoy their right to living safely.”

New case law from houseless stabbings

Calgary police did have recent success in creating new case law for hate motivation in crimes.

In December 2021, two men assaulted apparently-unhoused individuals within a matter of minutes, sending three to hospital with stab wounds.

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Messenger at the time said police believed the attacks were hate-motivated, pursuing the prosecution under the hate motivation section of the Criminal Code because the victims had identifiable characteristics.

Jaymes Richardson, 29, and Asher Atter, 21, were arrested and charged in connection with the incidents.

On June 12, 2023, a judge sentenced one of the accused to a federal prison sentence with hate motivation as an aggravating factor. According to a CPS report to the police commission, the judge described the incident as “mindless violence to a group of individuals who are extremely vulnerable individuals in our community.”

“Investigation by the hate crime coordinator revealed this was a case of two (self-admitted) white supremacists with a hate towards the (no fixed address) substance-dependent population, deciding to hurt some of them,” the report reads.

“It was one of the first times that Canada we’re seeing that the vulnerable population was taken into consideration as an aggravating factor — that it’s a huge win, I think, for us with these types of files,” Messenger said.

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