A new report from Statistics Canada shows gaybashings across the country more than doubled from 2007 to 2008.
The report echoes an Xtra investigation conducted last October that also found reported gaybashings on the rise in cities such as Vancouver and Toronto.
The StatsCan findings show homophobia fuelled 88 more hate crimes in 2008 than in 2007, for a total of 159 cases compared to 71 the previous year.
The report also shows anti-gay hate crimes are predominantly violent in nature.
In 2008, 75 percent of reported gaybashings were violent, compared to 38 percent of racially motivated incidents and 25 percent of religiously motivated incidents.
Gay men are most likely to be targeted by violent hate crimes, the report suggests, with 85 percent of gaybashing targets being men.
Jordan Smith finds the StatsCan results appalling.
Smith was walking hand in hand with another man on Davie St in 2008 when he was called a “fucking faggot” and attacked.
His assailant, Michael Kandola, recently pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm and a BC Supreme Court judge labelled it a hate crime.
Smith says more education is needed to reach youth and dispel stereotypes. According to the StatsCan report, youth aged 12-22 are most likely to perpetrate hate crimes.
“I never learned anything about gay people in school,” Smith says. “These stereotypes start at home or in school.”
While gaybashings marked the biggest jump in reported hate crimes from 2007 to 2008, the report shows the overall number of gaybashings still rank below hate crimes motivated by race/ethnicity (563) and religion (265). It also shows all three types of hate crimes increased during the same period.
Drawing on 2008 information from police services across Canada, StatsCan found 1,036 hate crimes reported overall, up 35 percent from 2007.
Of these, 55 percent were motivated by race or ethnicity, 26 percent by religion and 16 percent by sexual orientation.
Smith isn’t sure if the jump in gaybashing numbers reflects a greater number of incidents, or a greater willingness to report incidents, or both.
“I think people are definitely starting to report more. I don’t know what role that plays in the statistics,” he says.
“People need to keep reporting,” he emphasizes.
StatsCan acknowledges its findings may not reflect an actual increase in hate crime incidents.
“Information from police indicates that year-over-year changes do not necessarily reflect actual increases or decreases in the incidence of this type of offence since the number of hate crimes recorded in a given area can be influenced by many different factors,” the report notes.
“These may include the existence (or absence) of specialized police hate crime units, training initiatives, zero tolerance policies, victim assistance programs, hotlines and community awareness campaigns.
“In other words, the rate of hate crime in a given area may be more indicative of reporting practices by the public and local police services rather than prevalence levels.”
The report notes most police forces in Canada only began collecting hate crime data in 2006.
“Data on the incidence of police-reported hate crime became available in 2006 from police services representing 88 percent of the population,” StatsCan says.
The RCMP only had hate crime data for BC.
Criminologist Doug Janoff, author of the 2005 book Pink Blood: Homophobic Violence in Canada, questions how thorough the StatsCan findings can be if the federal police force only has statistics for one province.
Even comparing the available data can be misleading, Janoff suggests, since there is no standardized method for recording hate crimes in Canada.
“The Moncton police may be participating in the study but if they are saying there were no hate crimes in the past year, what does that mean?” Janoff asks.
According to the data collected, Vancouver and Québec City led the country with the highest proportions of reported hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation.
Of the 143 police-reported hate crimes in Vancouver in 2008, 34 were motivated by sexual orientation.
Among Canada’s largest populated areas, Vancouver and Hamilton also reported the highest hate crime rates overall at 6.3 hate crimes per 100,000 population.
But after adjusting for population, the less populated areas of London, Guelph, Kingston and Brantford still recorded the country’s highest rates of hate crime in 2008. With the exception of Brantford, the report states, each of these areas recorded an increase in hate crimes.
With 271 reported hate crimes, Toronto ranked near the middle of the 10 largest metropolitan areas with a rate of 5.4 hate crimes per 100,000 population.
Montreal, where police reported 38 hate crimes in 2008, had the lowest rate (one crime per 100,000 population).
Vancouver was the only major metropolitan area in Canada to log increases in all three hate crime types tracked by the report.
Janoff recently prepared a report on hate crimes for the Crown in Kandola’s trial.
Xtra asked prosecutor Dasein Nearing in late April for a copy of the report. She suggested making a request to the Criminal Justice Branch through provincial Access to Information channels.
That request was refused.
A June 3 letter from the branch in Victoria says the report was not used in court, did not become part of the public record and is therefore exempt from disclosure under laws regarding “records related to the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”
Xtra has appealed that decision to the provincial information and privacy commissioner’s office.
Smith thinks Janoff’s findings should be made public – particularly in light of StatsCan’s report.
BC attorney general Mike de Jong was unavailable for comment on the StatsCan numbers. His office noted he had already been interviewed by Xtra about hate crimes in April.
The NDP’s solicitor general critic Mike Farnworth says the StatsCan report shows the government needs to look at policies across the board to deal with “despicable” hate crimes of any form.
“It’s not just one ministry,” he says.
He says combating hate crimes starts with education in schools and the workplace. And, he says, if a crime is committed, punishment should be stiff.
“The government needs to take these statistics seriously,” Farnworth says.