The RCMP will announce on Tuesday a task force that will work to create Canada’s first official standards for investigating hate crimes, an area of policing the Mounties acknowledge needs much improvement.
The task force will be co-chaired by the executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, a federal crown corporation dedicated to anti-racism, and will include 11 municipal, provincial and First Nations police forces from around the country.
Participants will identify best practices for handling hate crimes and produce standards for how front-line officers and specialized investigators should be trained to identify and solve them. The group will also draw up guidelines for supporting victims and building better relationships with the communities being targeted. Statistics Canada – which reported a 37-per-cent spike in hate crime cases during the first year of the pandemic, even as overall crime fell by 8 per cent – will also send representatives to the task force.
A Globe and Mail analysis of the performance of Canada’s 13 largest municipal and regional police forces over eight years found the average rates at which individual forces solved hate crimes by charging perpetrators varied from a low of 6 per cent to a high of 28 per cent.
In general, forces that devoted more resources to hate crimes, such as full-time investigators and community liaison officers – including Montreal, which had an overall rate of 27 per cent – tended to lay charges more often.
Alison Whelan, the RCMP’s chief strategic policy and external relations officer and a co-chair of the task force, said police forces across the country recognize that they must do more to tackle hate crimes, which damage vulnerable communities in a country where celebrating diversity and providing people with equal treatment is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“We can do more and we’re committed to doing more,” Ms. Whelan told The Globe and Mail. The task force, she said, “is our attempt at doing just that.”
Policing experts say that the number of hate crime cases reported to the federal government vastly underrepresents the scope and scale of the country’s growing problem with hate-motivated offences. There is a dramatic gulf between the hate people say they experience across the country and what police end up investigating.
The Globe’s analysis found that the nuance of uncovering any hatred that may have motivated a criminal act is frequently lost on front-line officers, whose jobs often require them to act as street-level bureaucrats, filing paperwork on events that have already taken place.
Hate crime investigations are further complicated by the fact that they frequently involve two strangers. In many cases, they have no witnesses.
The Globe analysis excluded data from provincial police services, because each of them serves dozens of communities spread across vast swaths of territory. This makes them difficult to compare with their local counterparts, which serve smaller, more densely populated areas. But in British Columbia, the data show, the dozens of RCMP detachments that are contracted to patrol cities and towns solved just 8 per cent of hate crimes from 2013 to 2020.
Ms. Whelan said planning for this new RCMP effort began last summer when a colleague introduced her to Mohammed Hashim, the executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, who will co-chair the task force with her.
Mr. Hashim, an advocate for Canada’s Muslim communities and a former labour organizer who took over the CRRF position in fall 2020, said the Globe’s recent analysis underscores how difficult it has been for victims of hate crimes to find justice, and how that hurts their communities and their faith in Canada’s democratic institutions.
“The system has not dealt with hate crimes with a sense of rigour that it deserves,” Mr. Hashim said. “I could sit here and also tell you 10 other horrible things about how bad the system is – and it’s true, it’s undeniably true – but also we’re looking forward to seeing how we can actually improve it in real ways.”
Kanika Samuels-Wortley, a criminologist at Carleton University who has researched the policing of hate crimes, welcomed the news of the task force’s creation. She said it suggests that Canadian police understand their lack of success in tackling hate crimes, but she added that she worries the guidelines the group creates will not lead to meaningful change.
“The one [goal] that I often am less excited to see is the training of officers,” she said. “The answer very often when it comes to dealing with issues of diversity and racial bias, or a bias of any sort, always the go-to is ‘training.’”
Dr. Samuels-Wortley said it is crucial that police forces understand and address how certain communities feel both overpoliced, when they are questioned by officers despite not having done anything criminal, and underpoliced, when they reach out for help and don’t receive adequate responses.
“There’s still this misconception that Black and Indigenous youth and adults don’t understand or appreciate what policing is about in terms of protecting the community. They do,” she said. “But they don’t receive the same level of care and attention when it comes to their victimization.”
The terms of reference for the task force are still being formed, Ms. Whelan said. Participants include the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service and the Sûreté du Québec, as well as the local police departments of Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Peel Region and York Region.
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