The most recent hate-crime figures only confirm what many of us know: Canada is failing to adequately confront racism in this country.
For the past several years, the numbers have been steadily on the rise – and whether this is due to greater reporting, or an actual increase, is irrelevant. The reality is that many of our communities are impacted by harmful attitudes that are making themselves known in a variety of criminal ways.
The latest figures from Statistics Canada show close to a 50-per-cent increase in hate crimes in 2017. The rise in hate crimes specifically targeting Muslims rose by 151 per cent, those targeting Jews by 63 per cent, and those targeting Black people by 50 per cent. Those are “staggering” numbers, commented Barbara Perry, an expert on hate crimes and professor of criminology at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. She’s right: This trend is a clear warning that it’s time to turn all that government talk about diversity and inclusion into concrete strategy.
While rising hate crimes tend to garner the headlines, we don’t tend to hear as much about the more subtle impacts of racism on the day-to-day lives of people. Fears about not getting hired because a person’s name is Mohammed or Phuong, or the lack of consistent medical treatment due to a person’s race or ethnicity, aren’t discussed nearly as much.
We also don’t hear much about hate incidents, which include indignities such as being yelled at while waiting for the bus, or being made fun of by a group of loitering teens, and which also erode our sense of safety and well-being. Our governments must do more to get at the heart of these issues.
Even the United Nations has called Canada out repeatedly, criticizing us for failing to renew and implement Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism after the last one expired in 2010. The federal government’s own evaluation of that plan provides key insights on how it must do better the next time around. The evaluation found that the action plan against racism ultimately fell short because it wasn’t embraced by all of government, and instead became siloed throughout specific departments.
That’s often been the problem with anti-racism initiatives: They are not embedded within institutional structures. It isn’t sufficient to claim that diversity and inclusion are priorities, pointed out Debbie Douglas of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants during the most recent hearings by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). “This isn’t good enough. We are looking forward to a robust anti-racism plan from the government of Canada modelled on Ontario’s strategy and implementation plan.”
Ontario was also held up as an example by the UN Committee itself. Initially housed within provincial cabinet, its work was informed through regular consultations with community experts. Though the model has been significantly altered since the Progressive Conservatives took power, it was hailed for integrating anti-racism efforts throughout all of government.
Now, as the federal government wraps up its own online and offline consultations on how to confront racism, it must also take seriously the findings of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Earlier this year, the committee produced a report titled “Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religion Discriminationincluding Islamophobia” based on a series of parliamentary hearings on the issue. The committee made 30 recommendations, including the establishment of a federal anti-racism directorate to oversee the implementation of a new action plan.
However, while the Heritage committee heard from a range of experts lamenting the dismal policing of online hate in Canada, it failed to offer any meaningful solutions. That’s problematic considering the clear connection between those who commit violence against minority communities and their consumption of far-right, anti-immigrant, and violent extremist content online.
In fact, since 1985, even before the advent of the Internet, the UN has called on Canada to improve its efforts in combating racist hate speech. A revitalized action plan against racism would necessarily include guidance on this. Surely, it’s time has come.