The number of hate crimes against the queer community in Toronto increased in 2006, according to a report released this month by the Toronto Police Service.
The 2006 Annual Hate/Bias Crime Statistical Report states that the number of crimes in which victims were targeted because of their sexual orientation rose to 18 in 2006, up from 13 in 2005.
Overall, there were 162 reported hate crimes, up from 132 in 2005. The victim groups most targeted were the black people (48 incidents), Jewish people (28) and homosexuals.
The 18 incidents motivated by sexual orientation are fewer than the annual average of 19 incidents since these statistics were first released in 1993. The report says arrests in these cases have kept pace with the number of offences committed.
Det Const Jack Gurr of the Hate Crimes Unit says the number of reports is an indication that more and more people are reporting such crimes.
“The number of reported offences I think is indicative of the [gay] community being vigilant in reporting them,” says Gurr.
Gurr points out that years ago, some gay and lesbian people may have been more reluctant in reporting incidents for fear of being of potential backlash from employers, family and friends and coworkers.
“People are now more comfortable of reporting things to us… and also that if they tell us something, we will make an arrest.”
Offences include mischief, harassment, assault, threats and sexual assault. The years 1998 and 1999 were the worst for hate crimes involving sexual orientation: 44 offences in 1999, 31 in 1998.
Howard Shulman, co-coordinator of the Anti-Violence Program at the 519 Community Centre, says hate crimes are significantly underreported. As well, police also have different criteria for what is considered a hate crime.
“Research has shown that only one in 10 hate crimes are reported,” says Shulman. “So it is massively underreported. In 2006, we had 50 reports coming into The 519. The police have fewer hate crimes reported than we do because they are going strictly by the Criminal Code. So they don’t, for example, count verbal harassment.”
Says Gurr: “If you have a car driving down Church St with someone inside yelling profanities, there’s nothing you can charge them with under the Criminal Code. But if tomorrow, that situation turns into gaybashing, we can do something.”
Shulman suspects the number of complaints coming into the centre, which runs a bashing hotline (416-392-6878 ext 337), is higher because some in the community may not feel entirely comfortable with reporting to the police.
“We have reports either through the bashing hotline, which some people will call anonymously, or the clients will come here to my office. I think that some people are more comfortable with reporting to us. And we also have some people that are more comfortable reporting anonymously.”