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High school students carry signs outside the London Muslim Mosque before a vigil for the victims of the deadly vehicle attack on five members of the Canadian Muslim community in London, Ont., on June 8, 2021.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Canada saw a 37 per cent increase in hate crimes during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a statistic that advocates say shows the need for awareness of what racialized citizens face.

Statistics Canada said 2,669 hate crimes were reported to police in 2020 – the highest number since comparable data became available in 2009.

That’s even as the report shows the overall rate of police-reported crimes, excluding traffic offences, dropped 10 per cent from 2019 to 2020.

Statistics Canada says police-reported hate crimes targeting race or ethnicity rose 80 per cent in 2020 compared with 2019 and accounted for the bulk of the national increase.

It says reported hate crimes targeting East or Southeast Asian people went up 301 per cent; those aimed at Black people went up 92 per cent; hate against Indigenous people was up 152 per cent; and those against South Asian people went up 47 per cent.

Queenie Choo, the chief executive officer of the United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society in B.C., said she’s concerned about the rise in hate crimes across population groups.

“It’s not the theme of this week or month. It’s an ongoing issue,” she said in an interview.

The report notes that the COVID-19 pandemic “brought to light” how Canadians of different races viewed their safety.

“We’re all Canadians. There’s no one less Canadian than anyone else. (Race) shouldn’t be an issue in our country,” Choo said.

The highest increases in police-reported hate crimes were in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, the report says.

Kasari Govender, B.C.’s human rights commissioner, said the report’s findings are not surprising.

“It mirrors closely what community members across B.C. have been saying for nearly two years about not only hate crimes, but hate incidents more broadly,” she said in a statement.

Govender’s office launched a public inquiry in August 2021 into hate during the COVID-19 pandemic, and she said “the pandemic has created a breeding ground for pre-existing hateful beliefs.”

“We need to acknowledge the conditions under which hate flourishes in order to address it.”

No rise was reported in Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick or Northwest Territories, but the report notes the relatively small population counts and number of hate crimes in the territories usually make year-over-year comparisons less reliable.

Both violent and non-violent hate crimes increased compared with 2019 and contributed “fairly equally” to the overall rise in hate crimes in 2020, Statistics Canada says.

Hate crimes targeting religion declined for the third year in a row following a peak in 2017, the report says. But the 515 incidents reported in 2020 are still higher than what was recorded annually before 2017, it notes.

The Jewish and Muslim populations continue to be the most common targets of religion-based hate crimes, it says.

Shimon Koffler Fogel, the president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said in a statement that the report should be a “call to action” for Canadians.

“This is deeply alarming when balancing the number of hate-motivated attacks against the relatively small Jewish population,” he said. “We are grateful that police services across the country take these incidents seriously, but more needs to be done to prevent them and protect vulnerable communities.”

There was a two per cent decrease in hate crimes targeting sexual orientation in 2020, but the 259 incidents reported are the second highest since comparable data became available in 2009, the agency says.

Statistics Canada says the increase in hate crimes in 2020 may still underestimate the number of incidents, given that not all such crimes reported to police.

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