The number of anti-Indigenous hate crimes reported to police jumped 152 per cent during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Statistics Canada.
In an analysis released on Thursday, government statisticians said the global public health crisis “further exposed and exacerbated issues related to community safety and discrimination in Canada, including hate crime.”
They found the number of racist hate crimes targeting Indigenous people more than doubled from 29 in 2019 to 73 in 2020.
The largest jump occurred in Ontario, which reported an additional 24 incidents. Overall, 51 of the 73 incidents occurred in rural areas, which is more than two thirds.
However, the number-crunching agency said hate crimes against Indigenous people remained relatively low, possibly because Indigenous people may be less likely to report incidents due to mistrust for the colonial authorities.
“Feelings of safety and public perceptions of institutions like the police and the criminal justice system can impact the willingness of particular communities to report incidents to the police,” wrote authors Jing Hui Wang and Greg Moreau. “The relationship between Indigenous peoples and the police has been described as one of mistrust. This characterization is rooted in a history of colonization.”
The authors also noted that 2020 was marked by social movements for First Nations sovereignty and land rights.
The year began with countrywide solidarity protests in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing pipeline construction in their territory. It drew to a close amid a standoff over a housing development on disputed Haudenosaunee land in Caledonia, Ont.
“It is not possible to tie police-reported hate crime incidents directly to particular events,” the report said, “but media coverage and public discourse around particular issues can increase awareness and reporting, and also exacerbate or entice negative reactions from people who oppose the movement.”
Indigenous people were not alone experiencing a rise in hate-motivated crimes. The number rose 37 per cent overall during the same time span.
The agency said 2,669 hate crimes were reported in 2020 — the highest number since comparable data became available in 2009.
That’s even as the overall rate of police-reported crime, excluding traffic offences, dropped 10 per cent from 2019 to 2020, the report showed.
The agency found police-reported hate crimes targeting race or ethnicity rose 80 per cent in 2020 compared with 2019 and accounted for the bulk of the national increase.
It said reported hate crimes targeting East or Southeast Asian people went up 301 per cent; those targeting Black people went up 92 per cent; and those against South Asian people went up 47 per cent.
The report said the highest increases in police-reported hate crimes were in Nova Scotia (70 per cent), British Columbia (60 per cent), Saskatchewan (60 per cent), Alberta (39 per cent) and Ontario (35 per cent).
No rise was reported in Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick or the Northwest Territories, but the report noted the relatively small population counts and number of hate crimes in the territories usually make year-over-year comparisons less reliable.
Both violent and non-violent hate crimes increased compared with 2019 and contributed “fairly equally” to the overall rise in hate crimes in 2020, Statistics Canada noted.
Hate crimes targeting religion declined for the third year in a row following a peak in 2017, the report said. But the 515 incidents reported in 2020 are still higher than what was recorded annually before 2017, it said.
The Jewish and Muslim populations continue to be the most common targets of religion-based hate crimes, it said.
There was a two-per-cent decrease in reported hate crimes targeting sexual orientation in 2020, but the 259 incidents reported are the second highest since comparable data became available in 2009, the agency said.
The authors said the figures may still underestimate the number of incidents, given that not all are reported to police.
—With files from The Canadian Press