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Signage mark the Statistics Canada offiices in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Signage mark the Statistics Canada offiices in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Muslim group urges Ottawa to speed up release of hate-crime statistics Add to ...

Ottawa is facing calls to speed up the release of national hate-related data in the face of a dramatic rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in Canada, which one prominent group is linking to election-campaign rhetoric.

Hate crimes reported by police against Muslims have risen in nearly every province, according to 2015 figures released on Tuesday by Statistics Canada. They fuelled a 5-per-cent rise in hate crimes overall in the country.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims connected the anti-Muslim bias to a backlash over two terror attacks in Paris in 2015. But the group also singled out Conservative Party election campaigning under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“The Canadian Muslim community bore the brunt of sinister political rhetoric surrounding the federal election, which painted Muslims as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, as well as being anti-woman,” council vice-chairman Khalid Elgazzar said at a press conference on Parliament Hill.

In an interview, Mr. Elgazzar referred to Conservative pitches in favour of “snitch lines” for so-called barbaric cultural practices, as well as a ban on face veils at citizenship ceremonies.

“Words matter and those words had an impact,” he said. “There was an immediate uptick in terms of incidents of hate being reported to us.”

The Statscan data indicate that hate crimes targeting Muslims in Canada rose to 159 incidents, a 61-per-cent spike over 2014. Jewish people remain the most targeted religious minority in Canada, though reported anti-Semitic incidents declined in 2015 over the previous year, the federal agency said.

Meanwhile, the percentage of women targeted by violent hate crimes increased because of a hike in the number of victimized women in the Jewish and Muslim communities. Over all, the sharpest rise in hate crimes was in Alberta, where officials have already noted an increase in total crime due to the province’s economic downturn.

Still, the true picture of hate in Canada is probably darker than the numbers released on Tuesday suggest. Statscan said the figures “likely undercounts” the real extent of hate crime in Canada because not all crimes are reported to police.

The two-year lag in releasing the figures is problematic at a time when Muslims feel the effects of turmoil linked to global radicalization, the presence of far-right groups in the West and the anti-Muslim rhetoric adopted by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Mr. Elgazzar’s organization has received an influx of complaints about anti-Muslim incidents this year, but they won’t be reflected by Statscan until 2019, he said. The data released on Tuesday are already two years old.

“You can’t build a case without evidence, and the evidence we have is stale,” he said. “It’s 2017 and I’ll tell you we’re having a pretty rough year. But we’re only going to hear about it in 2019.”

Although Statscan found that police forces are trying to reach out to minority communities, the Muslim council – joined in Ottawa by representatives of black, Jewish and Indigenous communities – said police forces across the country need better training and resources to improve their response to public complaints about hate crimes.

Mr. Elgazzar noted that a pig’s head was left outside the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City last year, months before the shootings of six Muslim worshippers inside the mosque this January. Mosque members brought the item to police. No one was arrested.

The president of the mosque at the time said relations with police have improved since the tragedy. Mohamed Yangui, who has since stepped down, also said he has witnessed the link between political rhetoric and anti-minority bias on the streets. He said he feels attitudes in Quebec City have improved since the acrimonious 2014 debate over the Parti Québécois’s proposed Charter of Values, which sought to ban religious headgear in the public service.

“It was very difficult for us during that period – a lot of us felt scared,” he said on Tuesday. “We live peacefully now.”

In Ottawa, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said he’s willing to look at the concerns of the National Council of Canadian Muslims about improving data collection on national hate crimes.

“If there are defects in the system that suggest that we’re not adequately capturing the data, I would certainly want to rectify any such deficiency,” Mr. Goodale said.

He described the hate-crime figures as “disturbing.”

“The kinds of things that are reflected in these sorts of numbers are not genuinely representative of who Canadians are and how they see themselves and how they want to project the face of this country to the world,” Mr. Goodale said.

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