Javeed Sukhera is the chair of the London Police Services Board and an associate professor of psychiatry and paediatrics at Western University. Ahmad Attia is the chair of the Peel Police Services Board and the CEO of Incisive Strategy.
As Muslim chairs of police boards in Ontario, we are sadly familiar with hate-motivated crimes, and with the reality that no country is immune. Police services across Canada have been grappling with these issues for some time, and we are vividly aware that we cannot look away from the hatred that stole the lives of four fellow Canadians who died simply because they were walking while Muslim.
While the particulars of criminal investigations cannot be released, London Police Services were clear that our beloved community members were murdered and targeted for their Islamic faith. As hard as that is to hear for many Canadians, the truth is this is not a singular event. Islamophobic incidents happen all the time in Canada.
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In the City of London and Peel Region, both of which are home to diverse communities with large numbers of racialized citizens, police-reported hate-crime numbers have remained consistent over the last few years. According to Statistics Canada, London’s numbers rose by more than a third from 2015 to 2019, and in four of those five years, the city’s rate per 100,000 population was higher than the national average. In 2019, London police reported that Black, Muslim, Jewish, Middle Eastern and LGBTQ2+ peoples constituted the five most targeted groups for hate crimes. In Peel, meanwhile, crimes motivated by race or nationality increased by 54 per cent from 2018 to 2020, with Black and South Asian people being the most targeted by race or ethnicity. Muslims and Jews experienced the most targeting based on faith.
Yet, despite these numbers, our justice system continues to have an incredibly high threshold for anyone to be prosecuted under hate-related laws, and as a result, it is not achieving its desired aims. There remains no specific definition of a “hate crime” in the Criminal Code as a chargeable offence, and what is laid out only provides a judge the ability to hand down harsher sentences based on his or her ruling around a given perpetrator’s motivations. In Peel, only a third of the Criminal Code offences designated by police as hate- or bias-motivated crimes resulted in Criminal Code charges in 2020.
This outdated model emboldens hateful behavior while doing little to dissuade perpetrators, which in turn normalizes their hate-filled rhetoric and actions. Perpetrators such as Alexandre Bissonnette, for instance, have reaped the benefit of loopholes such as concurrent sentences; Mr. Bissonnette murdered six people in Quebec City in 2017, yet serves time for only one murder. We cannot let this injustice continue in the case of the family killed in London, Ont.
Reporting mechanisms are also a challenge. Far too often, verbal threats and assaults are not brought to the police because victims don’t feel like they’ll be taken seriously, simply don’t want the trouble, or are concerned that their reporting will only further agitate the perpetrators, putting the victims and their families at further risk. This means that any hate-crime numbers are almost certainly underestimated, masking the magnitude of the problem.
Earlier this week, community leaders called for action at the vigil for the family killed on the streets of London, but political gesturing and posturing won’t be enough to help prevent the next hate-fueled mass murder. We must name hate for what it is, stare it down, and work with the affected communities to prioritize change over pandering for votes. All parties must work together to get tougher on hate and extremism. We must end the minimization and denial that has become commonplace in our system and in our discourse. Our politicians and legislators can get the ball rolling by changing hate-crime laws to better protect victims who do report, while holding those responsible maximally accountable.
We must also work with our communities to increase the reporting of such crimes so that we can both identify and engage the perpetrators and provide victims with a sense of safety and support. In addition, our laws must also reflect our society’s values and priorities. If hate crimes are difficult to prosecute and carry minimal odds of conviction, this sends the wrong message.
It’s time to take bolder action against anti-Muslim hate, and all other forms of hate and bigotry that continue to terrorize our communities. It’s time to arm our justice system with the necessary tools to root out hatred, and to hold accountable those who perpetrate hate crimes. It’s time to remind far-right extremists and terrorists that our country will not tolerate their hate-motivated crimes and rhetoric. The human cost of our inaction would be too great to bear.
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