Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the reported spike in hate crimes in Canada can be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and greater political polarization.
Speaking with reporters at a news conference in Waterloo, Ont., Mr. Trudeau was asked about the federal government’s plans to increase funding toward anti-racism measures in Canada in light of recent attacks at Ontario mosques.
This past weekend, five men were attacked in a drive-by shooting outside a mosque in Scarborough. Last month, a man wielding an axe and bear spray attacked worshippers at Mississauga’s Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre. No one was harmed.
The April, 2022, budget announced $85-million in funding over five years related to a new anti-racism strategy and combatting hate. It also announced $11-million over five years for a special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and fighting antisemitism, as well as a special representative on combatting Islamophobia.
“Over the past years, we’ve seen a rise in hate crimes, a rise in intolerance and racist acts. Part of it is the pandemic, sure, and the stress and the anxiety that comes from that, but a part of it is a trend toward greater polarization in our politics, greater intolerance in our communities,” Mr. Trudeau said.
He said that the vast majority of Canadians oppose discrimination toward religious and minority groups, and he condemned the rise of hate crimes during the pandemic as “absolutely unacceptable.”
“As a government and, quite frankly, as Canadians, we will continue to stand together with vulnerable communities and demonstrate that there is no place for hatred and hateful acts in Canada, whether in real life or online, and we’re going to continue to move forward to make sure that all Canadians are safe,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Statistics Canada reported this year that hate crimes jumped 37 per cent in 2020.
However, many of these incidents do not result in charges. A Globe and Mail analysis published this year, on the performance of Canada’s 13 largest municipal and regional police forces over eight years, found that 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.
Mr. Trudeau was scheduled to meet with leaders of the Muslim community in the Waterloo region Wednesday afternoon.
The Prime Minister said the government will continue to support a federal program that funds projects aimed at helping cultural and religious organizations to better protect themselves against hate-motivated crimes.
The Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program is application based. Approved recipients can receive up to 50 per cent of a project cost up to a maximum federal contribution of $100,000.
Examples of eligible expenses include security assessments, closed-circuit television systems, fences, gates, lighting and anti-graffiti sealant.
Pandit Roopnauth Sharma, the president of the Canadian Multifaith Federation, commended Mr. Trudeau’s comments against hate crimes and the federal government’s recently announced anti-racism initiatives, but believes a bigger picture is being missed.
“I think there needs to be much more effort done to bring all the communities involved when an objective like this has been done. There should be consultation,” Mr. Roopnauth Sharma said. He believes that the funding proposed is too narrowly focused on a few religious and cultural demographics.
On whether the government has been slow to deliver on this funding, Mr. Roopnauth Sharma said that many communities may be unaware that such programs are available.
The Liberal government introduced a bill last June related to hate propaganda and hate crime that included amendments to the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act. That bill did not pass in the previous Parliament and it has not been reintroduced since the Liberals were re-elected.
Separately, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez announced on March 30 that rather than immediately tabling a bill on hate speech and online safety more broadly – as promised during last year’s election campaign – the government would be launching further consultations.
The minister announced that a new 12-member expert-advisory group will review the issue and provide the government with advice on a legislative and regulatory framework “that best addresses harmful content online.”
Their work will include holding nine workshops and consulting with digital platforms.
The government had previously launched consultations on the same issue last July. Ottawa later published a “what-we-heard” report in February summarizing the feedback it received.
The report said that while multiple individuals and organizations welcomed the government’s initiative, “only a small number of submissions from those stakeholders were supportive, or mostly supportive, of the framework as a whole.”
The report said respondents identified a number of overarching concerns, including those related to freedom of expression, privacy rights and the potential impact on certain marginalized groups.
While the government’s goal is to protect marginalized groups, the feedback found that the proposed legal changes could have the opposite effect.
Measures aimed at encouraging platforms to remove content that has been flagged as harmful by users risk being misused to target specific groups, the government heard.
Some respondents warned Ottawa that automated tools used to detect hate speech and harmful content would be particularly likely to be biased against the posts of marginalized communities.
Over all, the report said “respondents signalled the need to proceed with caution,” in part because Canada’s approach to addressing online harms could serve as a benchmark for other countries.
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