An in-depth look at hate crimes in Durham Region

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An in-depth look at hate crimes in Durham Region's Profile


Durham police (DRPS) responded to 42 hate-related incidents in 2020, according to statistics given to Durham Radio News (DRN).

In a year marked by a pandemic, 31 incidents targeted people based on race or ethnicity, while eight more targeted religion. The last three had sexual orientation listed as the motivating factor.

The numbers were provided through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, and are organized by motivating factor. Incidents with unclear motivations are also listed, although that number has decreased in recent years; police note that following recommendations around 2017, they’ve changed the way they take in and review hate crimes.

The numbers span from 2016 to 2020. Police note that a spike in 2017 can be attributed partially to a single individual who was charged after 15 incidences of anti-Muslim graffiti.

Durham’s numbers are not easy to compare against the rest of the country’s. First off, the data published by Statistics Canada is clustered around census metropolitan areas (CMAs) like Toronto and Vancouver. The information on rural zones is far less specific.

Secondly, Durham region’s borders uniquely don’t align with any one CMA. The Oshawa CMA contains Whitby and Clarington. Pickering, Ajax and Uxbridge are part of the Toronto CMA. Scugog and Brock lay outside any CMA. For this reason, Durham’s numbers are always left out of Statistics Canada’s annual reports.

“It’s really hard to say, because what we’re talking about is comparing a community that is [simultaneously] urban, suburban and rural,” said Dr. Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, in an interview with DRN. “[York region has] very similar dynamics, in that there’s a large rural component there. What impact does that have? Does it lower? Does it increase?”

Dr. Perry also pointed out that OPP data is also left out, due to their wide, scattered geographic reach.

Hate crimes cover a wide range of incidents, ranging from graffiti to assault and beyond. Statistics Canada describes them as “a criminal violation against a person or property motivated by hate, based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, or any other similar factor.”

However, observers note that hate crimes are underreported.

“Many communities suffer from structural discrimination, historical trauma and marginalization from power structures where racism, sexism and other types of structural oppression are an integral part of their everyday experience,” said Javed Akbar, director of media relations at Durham Muslim Alliance, in an interview with DRN. “People from these marginalized groups, they feel disempowered […] and have a general distrust of authority, which creates a barrier for reporting of hate crimes.”

“There’s often a sense that there’s nothing police can or will do,” said Dr. Perry. “I’ve had people tell me that they have reported to police and they’ve sort of talked them out of [treating it as a hate crime]. ‘Now, this was clearly not hate-motivated. This was just a lark, this was a kid, they didn’t understand.’ And so they’re afraid of that being minimized.”

“With [immigrants] in particular, there’s just a fear of law enforcement,” she added. “[Some are] coming from countries where a visit from police often meant you’d disappear.”

“Some of the victims of hate crimes are embarrassed about the incidents and others may experience disempowerment associated with the recognizing of themselves as a victim,” said Akbar. “Another factor [could be that] the cultural values and beliefs within that community could determine or influence what can be reported and what should stay behind the closed doors.”

He also noted there are language barriers among communities with large numbers of immigrants. “They may not feel confident they’ll be understood by others,” he said.

“There’s fear of retaliation – fear that if they report it, the perpetrators will come back again,” said Dr. Perry.

“They fear that negative consequences may result from a report and that [it could bring] some grave personal harm or retaliation,” said Akbar.

Dr. Perry noted that people are less likely to report less-direct aggressions like vandalism or graffiti. “I just want to say that doesn’t diminish the impact of those sorts of incidents because they’re so common,” she added. “And this is something that I’ve found with communities that I’ve worked with is that these sorts of things, really, they wear. They really wear on people over time.”

“We encourage anyone who is a victim of Hate Crime to come forward and report these incidents to DRPS,” said police in a statement. “We take this type of crime very seriously and work closely with our many community partners to combat Hate Crime.”

Other reports have shown hate crime statistics in a troubling context.

According to StatsCan, the number of police-reported hate crimes across the country rose by seven per cent between 2018 and 2019.

According to Toronto police, hate crimes in the city rose by 51 per cent in 2020, partially egged on by the pandemic. Almost one-third of the incidents in 2020 are listed as anti-Semitic in nature.

In March, a number of advocacy groups, including the Toronto chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council, collaborated on a cross-country survey on anti-Asian racism in the time of COVID-19. Those who participated in the survey claimed they had seen more than 1,100 incidents throughout the first 12 months of the pandemic. Ten per cent of those incidents involved a person coughing or spitting on somebody else.

Dr. Perry acknowledged the impact the pandemic might be having on these incidents.

“I think the pandemic has something to do with that, in terms of the anxiety that people are feeling,” she said. “And they’re scapegoating. They’re lashing out, […] so whatever sort of hostility or apathy and antipathy they might have felt is spilling out that way.”

“The Asian community in particular is being targeted because of the pandemic,” she continued. “The Jewish community – some of that is related to the pandemic, some of it’s related to the height of violence and conflict in Gaza over the last couple of months. We’ve certainly seen that this year. […] There’s the longer-term impact of the Trump administration and the effect that his narrative [had on] lending permission to hate that’s bubbled up over the border as well. You look at public opinion polls, they’re saying people feel freer to express these negative perceptions. People realize that it’s become somehow more acceptable to express those same sorts of narratives, which has consequences on not just speech but behaviour as well.”

There is also the question of more-organized groups gaining prominence.

“We’ve seen some organized far-right groups – I won’t say ‘infiltrating’ – but attending some of the anti-mask rallies and the anti-vax rallies in an attempt to align themselves with those more mainstream kinds of grievances as a way of bringing more people into their sort of ‘orbit’, if you will,” said Dr. Perry. “We’re seeing an anti-data, anti-authority movement really growing here that is really unusual in a Canadian context.”

According to Dr. Perry, every part of society has a role in play in alleviating hatred, including public health, the education sector and social welfare.

“And at the individual level, first of all, we need to protect ourselves,” she said. “The first thing is making sure you’re safe, especially if you’re a part of a targeted community.” This can include protecting your personal information online.

“But I think that we all need to move beyond the bystander role and to engage,” she continued. “Where someone is being targeted or a community is being vilified, [we should] provide alternative messages. […] I think social media companies obviously have a huge role to play there, but we also have to play our part in holding them accountable [and] reporting incidents online [and offline]. Some police services – York and Peel, for example – have done incredible work around outreach with targeted communities and I think that more police services need to do that so that people are reporting that they’re being victims of hate crimes, so that it’s documented.”

“When somebody goes to report the incident, they should not be brushed aside as ‘some mischief’ and something that is so minor [it] should not be reported,” said Akbar. “This is changing. The whole attitude for both sides – public and police – is changing. And things are getting better now.”

“We have the data to prove what we all suspect, in terms of the risks posed by individual hate mongers and by organized hate groups as well,” said Dr. Perry. “After the London murders, for example, we saw the same sorts of patterns that we’ve seen elsewhere when these sorts of horrific things happen, and that is neighbours and community members rallying around the affected communities. We tend to focus on the hate mongers and I think we also need to focus on the people who are targeted as well, and provide whatever support we can.”

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