52% of Canadians say racism is a significant problem
It was a savage beating that seemed so incompatible with Quebec’s reputation of tolerance and openness.
Two neo-Nazi skinheads punched and stabbed a black man outside a Montreal bar, turned on their heels and made a Nazi salute as Evens Marseille, then 26, fell to the ground, clutching at the 13-cm. wound to his stomach.
In a precedent-setting case, Marseille was awarded the largest financial settlement for a hate crime in the province by the Quebec Human Rights Commission last summer.
Daniel Laverdiere and Remi Chabot were ordered to pay $40,000 in moral damages and $10,000 in punitive damages.
“We can try and deny neo-Nazis exist in Canada but this case confirms it,” said Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations in Montreal. The centre filed the civil rights complaint on Marseille’s behalf to the Quebec commission in 2003.
According to a Leger Marketing poll, Canadians are divided on whether racism poses a problem for them: 52% say it’s significant while 47% consider it to be insignificant. Not surprisingly, victims of racism are more likely to consider it a problem, at 60%, than those who have not.
When awarded the settlement, Marseille was sober about his victory, telling reporters at the time, “I can’t say that I’m happy because I just find it sad that (hate crimes) can happen.”
Canada doesn’t have a centralized system for collecting national police-reported statistics relating to hate-motivated crimes. But in its absence is a growing number of police forces that have established their own hate crime units in recognition of the chasm between visible minority groups and the authorities, according to a 2004 StatsCan report.
In another 2004 pilot survey of hate crime, conducted by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 12 Canadian police forces reported 928 hate crime incidents during 2001 and 2002. More than half of these hate crimes were racially or ethnically motivated at 57%, followed by religion at 43%.
Last year hate crimes continued to make headlines across the country. In Edmonton, Muslims arrived at the Canadian Islamic Centre for their 5 a.m. prayers to be greeted by scraps of pork strewn at the doorstep and around the windows. In Montreal, 12 teenage boys narrowly escaped a firebombing when a masked man tossed a burning Molotov cocktail into an Orthodox Jewish school.
In Toronto, Muslim leaders called it a “Black Sunday” for their community when vandals smashed the windows and glass doors of a mosque just days after 17 Toronto-area men were arrested on terror-related charges. And last month the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ordered two women who uttered racial slurs to an Indian couple in 2002 to pay $25,000 in moral and punitive damages. It marked the first time victims of a hate crime used Quebec’s Charter of Rights to seeks damages.
In the Sun Media poll, 41% of respondents say racism in their city is on the decline, while 17% believe it’s more racist and 29% feel it’s remained static.
A look at statistics from the country’s largest police force reveals that the number of reported hate crimes declined between 2003 and 2005 and is expected to flatten out for 2006 as well, said Det.-Const. Jack Gurr of the Toronto Police Service.
JEWS, BLACKS TARGETED
Their hate-crime trends are in line with a pilot survey conducted by StatsCan, both finding that the Jewish and Black communities were the most frequently targeted. In 2004, these communities each reported 33 hate crimes in Toronto. Similarly, 26% of all hate crimes reported among participating forces were committed against the Jewish community. Blacks made up 17% of hate crime victims.
B’Nai Brith reports a steady increase in anti-Semitism over the last 10 years. They experienced a dramatic three-fold spike last summer during the Middle East crisis in Lebanon, according to Anita Bromberg, co-ordinator for the League of Human Rights.
“There’s a stronghold in anti-Semitism despite all our efforts. Anti-Semitism is alive and well in Canada.”
But numbers can be misleading, Gurr warned, adding hate crimes are often under-reported among certain communities such as Muslims.
“Some of these people come from other countries where they’re still in the mindset that they can’t trust the police,” he said. “Some will take the vandalism painted on their garage, wash it off, and not talk about it again.”
But Khaled Mouammar, president of the Canadian Arab Federation, went further, charging security agencies with racial profiling.
“Many Arabs and Muslims come from dictatorial countries where they had a fear of authorities. They thought they were coming to a free country. But since 2001, they feel they’re living in a country where the authorities are against them.”
The StatsCan survey also found a short-lived increase in the number of hate crimes reported following Sept.11.
Police reported a three-fold increase in the number of hate crimes reported two months after the attacks, compared to the same period the year before — 68% of which were associated with the terror attack.
The Toronto hate crimes unit publishes a detailed annual review, complete with ethnic breakdowns and trends that date back to 1993 when the unit was founded, making it perhaps the most transparent of police forces.
Repeated interview requests with the Calgary police force were denied, while Montreal doesn’t make its statistics public.
“Quebec doesn’t have a coherent strategy of tracking hate crimes,” Niemi said. “That indicates the great reluctance of Quebec authorities to deal with hate crimes. Quebecers are very sensitive to our international reputation of being open, tolerant and socially progressive. They’re concerned it would jeopardize our image.”
Meanwhile, though there’s been much discourse on racism from the host society, rarely do we address the racist attitudes that newcomers bring with them when they settle, experts point out.
“People who come to Canada come with different experiences, with different ethnic and cultural residues … bring with them other prejudices,” said University of Toronto professor Anna Makolkin who specializes in migration and nationalism.
“Canada has become a battleground for different ethnic groups … They should leave their differences at the door. They cannot bring them into Canada.”
Oppression is “learned behaviour,” added Tuula Heinonen, a University of Manitoba professor specializing in cross-cultural adaptation.
“Sometimes people who have been oppressed … may have a tendency to to oppress others,” she said.
“Let’s face it. There are groups that will live separately from each other in Canada. That’s how they’ll deal with it.”
The discourse on racism often follows a one-way street, Makolkin noted.
“There’s racism in the host society, but there are also profound racist attitudes in incoming societies. This is something no one wants to talk about.”