Combatting Rise in Hate Crime

By Ron Fanfair

Ron Fanfair

Writer/Photographer

Community Partnerships and Engagement Unit
Intelligence Services
Office of the Chief

The number of reported hate crimes targeting people on the basis of ethnic or national origin was higher last year than in any previous year since Toronto Police Service (TPS) began collecting data 29 years ago.

Chief James Ramer made the disclosure at a one-day conference hosted by the Service’s Hate Crimes Unit in conjunction with the Community Partnerships and Engagement Unit (CPEU) at Centennial College on June 20.

The theme was ‘Combatting Hate in Toronto: Community & Legal Perspectives.’

In Toronto, there was a 51 per cent spike in reported hate crimes in 2020 and an additional 23 per cent in 2021.

“These increases can be attributed to international and geopolitical events, including the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ramer.

He said there was a notable increase in hate crimes targeting East and Southeast Asian people following the Atlanta Spa Shooting in March 2021 where six of the eight victims were Asian women.

“The murder of George Floyd, the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the death of four Muslim family members in London last year and the ongoing Russian invasion in Ukraine have exasperated tensions in our city and indeed globally,” noted the Chief. “As we are all aware, hate is insidious and has no borders.”

The internet and social media, Ramer pointed out, allow individuals to disseminate hatred under the veil of anonymity and to spread their message instantly to a global audience.

“In response to this challenging environment, our Hate Crime Unit is monitoring emerging trends such as hate crimes against Black, Asian and Jewish communities and is using technology to move community outreach onto virtual platforms,” he said. “As you know, hate-motivated crimes have long-lasting impacts on individuals, family, friends and communities as a whole. Yet, the under-reporting of hate crimes continues to be a challenge. For many individuals, they are embarrassed, they fear retaliation or they feel uncertainty about the justice system.

“We know these terrible crimes often go unreported and we are committed to working alongside our community partners to break down barriers and to develop relationships so people feel comfortable coming forward to report these crimes.”

Since 1993, the Service has had a dedicated specialized Hate Crime Unit that, the Chief said, will continue to be a priority for the organization. It is attached to the Intelligence Services Security section, which also investigates extremism and works on counter terrorism.

In response to the increase in hate crimes in 2021, Ramer expanded the Hate Crime Unit with more personnel and put greater focus on strengthening the relationship between the Service and vulnerable communities.

“These additional resources ensure that we are able to appropriately report and investigate any calls believed to be motivated by hate, bias or prejudice and that our Hate Crime Unit is able to continue their outreach efforts to community organizations to raise awareness and encourage reporting and education,” he said.

TPS is part of the National Task Force on hate crimes established last March.

The Chiefs of Police National Roundtable and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation announced the creation of the important initiative aimed at increasing awareness about the scope, nature and impact of hate crimes across Canada and creating national standards to enhance support for targeted communities.

“It is our duty as police officers to reassure our communities, support our residents and counter these narratives by publicly denouncing hate,” said Ramer. “An effective response to hate crimes requires each of us to be sensitive to the needs of our communities, to listen to their lived experiences, to be aware of global issues and to serve with compassion.

“Most importantly, law enforcement must remain committed to working collaboratively with our community partners and advocacy groups in a transparent and inclusive way to encourage the reporting of hate crimes.”

Person at podium
Former professional hockey player Anthony Stewart talked about facing racism as a teen Photo: Brent Smyth

Former professional hockey player Anthony Stewart, who played 10 years in the National Hockey League and Europe, was the keynote speaker.

He recalled facing overt racism on his own hockey team at age 14, noting that as the best player on the team he faced jealousy.

“Some of my teammates concocted the idea to have a race war in the dressing room. All the White players decided to gang up and beat up the Black guys. The team playfully ganged up on three of us. After a few minutes, the pretend race war died down, but one teammate continued,” he recalled.

“White power, he proclaimed doing a Nazi salute mimicking a Hitler moustache. Everyone in the room was shocked at what they saw and heard. I did not understand the meaning of what he was saying, but I knew it was racist gesture directed towards me.  I told him to cut it out because what he said wasn’t funny. He repeated it and I pushed him down to the ground and let him know I wasn’t impressed.”

Undeterred, the antagonist repeated ‘White Power’ on two more occasions, leading Stewart to slap him and then deliver a punch to the face that knocked him unconscious for a few moments.

“As he came to, he murmured one last time, ‘White Power’, barely getting the words out,” recalled the Sportsnet hockey analyst. “Extremely angered, my only thought was that this person was crazy and I had to leave.”

Panelists included Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto Executive Director Pamela Hart and Avvy Go who is the President of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice.

The federal court judge said hate crime is a lived reality of being Chinese in Canada.

“As soon as we came into Canada in the 1800s, we immediately were met with hate and marginalization,” Go said. “After building the railway, a head tax was imposed on us and, for more than 60 years, there was legislation to bar us.”

Hart said she has experienced racism when she was mistaken for an Asian person, and targeted because of her Indigenous heritage.

“For Indigenous community members, hate crimes are as far and wide as the exploitation and the alarming rates of human trafficking for Indigenous women and children,” she said. “It is an ongoing fight for our existence to even have a voice to even matter.”

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