Hate crimes surged to a record high in 2020 according to Statistics Canada

The first calendar year of society living with COVID saw the highest number of police-reported hate crimes recorded since comparable data became available in 2009.

Statistics Canada on July 27 released alarming numbers for 2020 showing that police-reported hate crimes increased by 37 percent last year, reaching a record high total of 2,669—with dramatic increases seen among Asian-Canadians—compared to 1,951 the year before.

Ontario, where there were 321 more incidents targeting race or ethnicity than in 2019; British Columbia (up 196 incidents) and Alberta (up 105 incidents) reported the biggest increases.

Police-reported hate crimes against Jews in Canada increased by five percent in 2020, going to 321 from 306 the year before.

By incidents, Jews were the second-most targeted group after Black Canadians, who were victims of 663 reported hate crimes last year, a 92 percent rise over the year before.

The East or Southeast Asian population (Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese) was targeted in 269 reported hate crimes, a dramatic 300 percent increase over 2019.

The Indigenous population (self-identified or who have been identified as First Nations peoples, Métis or Inuit) reported 28 more incidents in 2020, a rise of 152 percent over 2019.

And the South Asian population (East Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan or Punjabi) was the target of 29 reported incidents, a 47 percent rise last year over the previous year.

According to a crowdsourcing initiative conducted by Statistics Canada in the early months of the pandemic, visible minorities were three times more likely to perceive an increase in race-based harassment or attacks than the population as a whole (18 percent versus six percent). This difference was most pronounced among Canadians of Chinese, Korean, and Southeast Asian descent.

Overall police-reported hate crimes targeting Canadians by religion were down because fewer incidents targeted Muslims, who saw a decline of 100 reported incidents last year over 2019.

The first full year of the COVID pandemic had “an unprecedented impact on the economic and social lives of Canadians,” the report said.

With more people staying at home, police-reported crime in Canada dropped throughout the pandemic period in general, but there were differences for some types of crime, the report said.

The report noted drops in rates of breaking and entering (down 16 percent over 2019); theft of $5,000 or under (down 20 percent); robbery (down 18 percent); shoplifting of $5,000 or under (down 36 percent); and a low level of sexual assault (down by nine percent).

Some offences increased in 2020, including child pornography (up by 23 percent); offences related to opioids (up 34 percent); identity theft (up 52 percent); identity fraud (up 12 percent); and “harassing and threatening behaviours.”

COVID afforded the opportunity for increased computer use for work, school and socializing, providing more opportunities for criminal violations “that do not require a physical presence,” the report noted. For instance, in 2020, there were over 14,900 cybercrime-related harassing and threatening behaviour violations, an increase of 17 percent over 2019.

Police data on hate crimes reflect only those incidents that come to the attention of police, the report stressed.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre called the statistics “extremely troubling but also sadly expected,” as many minority groups reported increased hate crimes in 2020.

“As the COVID pandemic ran rampant, so did hatred,” said Michael Levitt, CEO of FSWC in a media statement. In the Jewish community, “we saw a particular increase in antisemitic conspiracy theories about the pandemic, especially on social media platforms.”

Levitt called for more concrete actions from all levels of government on combating hate, “whether it’s online, in schools or in our neighbourhoods.”

A detailed analysis of how the hate crimes from last year break down by group and category will be released in 2022.