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A person enters the courthouse on the first day of the sentencing hearing for Nathaniel Veltman in London, Ont., on Jan. 4. Policing experts say Canada’s official hate-crimes numbers vastly undercount the scope and scale of a growing problem.Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press

Mariam Musse had only just arrived to document the impact of the Afzaal family’s shocking murder on London’s Muslim community when she says she herself was targeted by a white man in an SUV, who hurled a litre of cola at her then returned to scream a racist, Islamophobic and misogynist taunt.

The analyst and researcher with the Office of the Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime said she was reluctant to call the police about it.

Ms. Musse, who is Black and wears a hijab, said in an interview that she had little confidence that her unknown assailant would suffer consequences. But she also knew – thanks to her continuing research into victims of hate crimes – that these incidents are vastly under-reported across Canada and that she had a duty to inform police.

“Part of me was like, ‘You have to report: you advocate for reporting and you understand that the data that’s out there are not representative of hate crimes and hate incidents in Canada,’” she told The Globe and Mail in a phone interview this week.

When she walked to the nearby police station to report the incident, she was disheartened by the response.

She said the officer that recorded her complaint asked if it was a teen prank. Then he said police would seek CCTV footage but the officer did not take her contact information and indicated that without a licence-plate number, there wasn’t much police could do, according to Ms. Musse.

She said the officer’s approach appeared to change when she noted a cruel irony: She was attacked on an evening walk while on a federal government trip to collect dozens of victim impact statements at the sentencing of a white nationalist who purposely drove his truck into a local Muslim family, also simply out for a stroll.

“I mentioned that ‘We speak about barriers to reporting [hate crimes] and police being one of them’ and then his tune changed, he was like ‘Oh yeah, reporting is really important,’” Ms. Musse said.

The London Police Service confirmed Friday that her case is still open, but did not respond to a request for more details or comment on her allegations that the force did not initially take her complaint seriously.

An hour or so after her in-person report, two officers were at her hotel lobby taking another statement and asking whether this incident was connected to her work at the mass-murder trial.

She said she told them this was highly unlikely, because she – an anonymous bureaucrat – had just shown up in the city right beforehand. She said other investigators have since told her that footage of the SUV pulling up to her was found, but its licence plate was hidden and there is no known suspect.

Ms. Musse, whose office is cataloguing the barriers people face in securing justice when they have been victimized by hate, said her experience illustrates how a hate-crime victim’s interaction with police may stop them from reporting again as well as dissuade other members of their community from calling 911.

Policing experts say Canada’s official hate-crimes numbers vastly undercount the scope and scale of a growing problem; there is a huge gulf between the hate people say they experience across the country and what police end up investigating.

There isn’t much detailed information on these victims, with the only national assessment of this phenomena coming every five years from Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey on Victimization.

Its last study, carried out in 2019, found that nearly 250,000 Canadians may be subjected to hate-motivated incidents during a given year. Victims said that more than half – 130,000 – of these events were violent. Still, only about a fifth of these people – 48,000 – said they ended up calling local police.

Mohammed Hashim, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and co-chair of an RCMP task force on reforming hate-crime investigations, said police leaders he talks to are keen to support non-profit organizations that are creating more accessible ways to report hate incidents.

B’nai Brith, a national Jewish advocacy charity, said the cellphone app it launched in July, 2021 receives about the same amount of complaints as its website portal, and any relevant incidents are forwarded to police.

Mr. Hashim’s Crown agency granted $70,000 to the National Council of Canadian Muslims and a Mississauga mosque to create a similar app that launches this weekend.

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