Racially motivated hate crimes up by 53 per cent in Montreal last year: report

Residents in Montreal may have heard anecdotally of more hate crimes happening last year, but now they have the numbers to back it up.

Montreal police released their annual report Wednesday, which revealed that racially motivated hate crimes in 2020 increased by 52.9 per cent compared to the year before.

In 2019, there were 87 race-related hate crimes, but that number jumped to 133 last year, according to the report. What police classify as “hate incidents” also rose to 60 in 2020, double the number from the previous year.

But if you ask advocates on race issues, they’re not surprised by the numbers.

"We were expecting that," said Fo Niemi, executive director of the Montreal-based non-profit civil rights organization, Center for Research-​Action on Race Relations (CRARR).

"Since February 2020, there have been rising reports of hate crimes and hate incidents directed at people of Asian or Chinese-looking backgrounds, not only here in Montreal. In Toronto, and particularly in Vancouver. So it’s like a North American trend."

Racially motivated hate crimes increased by 53 per cent in Montreal last year, according to the SPVM annual report.

Hate incidents are up by 107 per cent. pic.twitter.com/SVmVA2OC4W

— Joe Lofaro (@giuseppelo) June 16, 2021

Montreal police data show that hate crimes relating to religion or gender decreased last year, as did those relating to sexual orientation. It’s crimes relating to race or ethnic origin that saw a huge increase.

For Niemi, the numbers are "an important measurement of hate" in the city and attributes hate faced by people of Asian origin to the anti-Asian rhetoric stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

"We believe the association of the coronavirus where China plays a major part of that, especially when it was promoted by the president of the United States," he said.

'ASIAN COMMUNITIES ARE THE SCAPEGOAT ... OF THE PANDEMIC'

The number of racially motivated incidents could actually be much higher in reality, according to Dr. Winston Chan, entrepreneur and Montreal-based board member of the newly formed National Coalition of Canadians Against Anti-Asian Racism (NCCAAR). The organization is a grassroots initiative created by Asian Canadians to combat anti-Asian racism amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chan said the numbers in the annual report are "not surprising" and believes they are "just the tip of the iceberg" since hate crime in Asian communities is underreported due to language barriers and lack of trust with police.

Though what was reported last year, he said, can largely be attributed to the anti-Asian sentiment from the public health crisis.

"I think the Asian communities are the scapegoat right now of the pandemic," Chan said.

"I think with the pandemic that racism has been transformed into physical and verbal assault in public space on the streets, or the grocery stores, in the subway. So, we see a lot of hatred, transformed into hate crimes."

He said police should commit to taking reports of hate crimes more seriously, as well as offer better training and hire more officers for the hate crime unit.

Cathy Wong, who’s in charge of anti-racism efforts for the City of Montreal, said while the numbers are troubling, at least they show racialized communities are not afraid to come forward.

"It means that Montrealers are denouncing much more and are using the mechanisms and bodies that are in place to fight against hate incidents and crimes in Montreal," Wong said.

OVERALL CRIME DOWN 11 PER CENT, REPORT SAYS

The report also offers a glimpse into an exceptional year for Montreal police, who were suddenly tasked with policing people’s movements in the context of the global pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, close to one third of all 911 calls were related to COVID-19, according to the report.

Officers handed out a total of 4,438 general offence reports or statements under the Public Health Act between March 12 and Dec. 31.

Overall, crime was down in Montreal by 11.2 per cent, with decreases in robberies (down 16.9 per cent), sexual assault (down 8.2 per cent), and assaults (down 2.3 per cent). Homicides remained the same with 25 killings recorded in each of the last two years. 

Crimes that saw increases were vehicle thefts (up 10.8 per cent), attempted murders (up 7.4 per cent), and arson (up 4.3 per cent).

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