A new report from Statistics Canada ranks cities in Waterloo Region among the top 10 metropolitan cities in Canada for most reported hate crimes for its population size.
There has been a significant increase in hate crime during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic according to the report. Hate crimes in Waterloo Region increased 260 per cent between 2019 and 2020, according to the report.
Although Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo were previously in the top 10 metropolitan cities for most reported hate crime, the region reached new records during the first year of the pandemic with a reported 37 per cent increase in hate crime
There were 54 incidents in 2020 compared to 15 in 2019. The increase may be related to more public reporting due to increased police outreach to communities following high-profile hate crimes.
But University of Toronto sociology professor Timothy Bryan says it’s important to not think that the pandemic caused hate crime, rather it created the perfect environment for already existing tensions.
“The pandemic provided an anchor for a lot of ideologies, anxieties, opinions and viewpoints that predated the pandemic,” says Bryan. “I think what the pandemic did was it created communities that could then be scapegoated or seen as problematic.”
The local organization Coalition of Muslim Women KW in Waterloo Region launched a hate reporting tool in April 2021 in order to deal with the issue in the community. Sarah Shafiq, director of programs and services at CMW-KW, says that since launching, they’ve received 100 reports of hate crimes, hate incidents and discrimination.
“The reporting system is not just collecting and documenting data from the Muslim community, it’s collecting data from the entire racialized community; at this point, we’d like to expand it to other communities as well,” says Shafiq.
Shafiq says that they’ve received reports about people using dog attacks on people in the Muslim community. She says that when it comes to managing hate crime, there’s systemic failure on many levels.
“We need to look at how the judicial system responds, and we also need to look at upstream and prevention approaches,” says Shafiq. “We know that a lot of money and funding is spent on policing, and on average, only 9 per cent of hate crimes are solved. There’s an absence of a standardized approach in policing as well that we need to pay attention to.”
Bryan agrees that within policing there’s a complacency around hate crimes.
“Police need to fundamentally rethink the way they prioritize hate crime; in many policing circles, police don’t see hate crime as a policing issue, they may see them as social issues or forms of inappropriate behaviour or unfortunate events, but not necessarily at the core of policing mandates,” says Bryan. “Police need to understand how to produce tangible results when people report hate crime.”
But in order to truly combat hate crime, Bryan says that there needs to be an intolerance for any kind of discriminatory or oppressive behaviour, whether it’s in the form of a convoy or questions about the legitimacy of an election.
“As long as we live in a society that tolerates forms of oppression, then we will continue to have this problem.”
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: When Statistics Canada released a new report about hate crime, reporter Genelle Levy decided to explore hate crime trends in Waterloo Region and gain insights from local scholars and activists about what could be done to understand and reduce hate crime in the region.