Steeltown or Hatetown? Hamilton tops country in hate crime reports

TORONTO — Hate crimes were reported relatively more frequently in Hamilton last year than in any other city in the country, according to new data from Statistics Canada.

As in previous years, the city outpaced Quebec City and Ottawa when it came to the 1,798 incidents reported to police across Canada last year.

Following a 47 per cent surge in 2017, the number of police-reported hate crimes in Canada dipped 13 per cent last year, Statistics Canada reported. Despite the slight decline, the number of hate crimes in 2018 aligns with the upward trend observed since 2014.

Hamilton, however, saw no decline last year, climbing 6.6 per cent in 2018 after a 30 per cent jump in 2017.

At 17.1 reported incidents per 100,000 population, the Hamilton rate was more than three times the national average of 4.9 per cent per 100,000 people. By contrast, Quebec City had 11 and Ottawa 9.8.

Some observers said the Steeltown numbers came as no surprise.

“We have been a hot bed for far-right, neo-Nazi organizing,” said Matthew Green, executive director for the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion. “What has been accepted as acceptable discourse now includes such a far range of racist, xenophobic, homophobic language that people feel like it’s OK for them to say things and do things under the guise of free speech that cross the threshold of hate crimes.”

The Statistics Canada data, released on Tuesday, show 97 hate incidents were reported to Hamilton police in 2018. Of those, 41 were against the Black community, and another 30 were directed at Jewish people. In 2016, Hamilton saw 70 hate crimes reported, with 26 per cent aimed at the black population and 27 per cent at Jews.

Hamilton Det. Paul Corrigan said the most common form of hate crime was graffiti, most of which involved swastikas, with assaults in second place.

Tina Fetner, an associate sociology professor at McMaster University, said Hamilton has high levels of diversity and inequality. She wondered how many of the reports resulted in convictions. Diversity of residents is not reflected in the leadership of the city, Fetner said. At the same time, she said, hatemongers have had free rein.

“There’s been a tolerance for extreme right and, some would say, hate groups that have been mobilizing around City Hall on a weekly basis,” Fetner said. “There’s been a tolerance for people with white supremacist ties (and) people with anti-LGBTQ histories who have been given a place to perform their activism with no consequences.”

In a statement, Mayor Fred Eisenberger urged residents to stand up against prejudice, exclusion and discrimination.

“The statistics show that hate is an ongoing challenge in our city,” Eisenberger said. “An increase in reported hate crimes can be a direct result of increased outreach by our police services or greater public awareness and encouragement of reporting hate.”

Corrigan said Hamilton police have been providing officers with sensitivity training, talking about discrimination in schools, and hosting up to 70 events in the community each year. The fact that people are reporting hate incidents is a good thing, he said.

“Being No. 1 is not where we want to be, but it does show that we are reaching out to communities and communities are talking to us,” Corrigan said.

Green, however, said most racism and hate crimes remain unreported. He said city leaders had failed to publicly denounce white supremacy, thereby emboldening and legitimizing racism while unintentionally alienating marginalized members of the community.

“We are unsurprised that there’s a growing boldness and public face to this movement that has been largely underground for the last decade,” Green said. “They have re-emerged but they certainly have not just appeared out of the blue.”

Green, a former city councillor, also said what police call a hate crime is problematic.

“We have to take a serious look at the threshold of a hate crime, who gets to decide what that is,” he said. “The laws as they stand create too much of an arbitrary decision by law enforcement.”

Emerald Bensadoun, The Canadian Press

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