By Brett Forester
Congress of Aboriginal Peoples National Chief Robert Bertrand, along with community leaders from other religious and ethnic minorities, held a press conference on Parliament Hill June 13 to voice their reactions to Statistics Canada numbers on police reported hate crimes in Canada for 2015.
Thunder Bay was, by far, the worst census metropolitan area in terms of relative rate of hate crimes, and the amount of hate crimes against Indigenous people in particular.
Thunder Bay had a rate of 22.3 reported hated crimes per 100,000 people. Comparatively, the second worst offender, Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, had 9.4. Further, five out of the worst seven areas for rate of reported hate crimes were in Ontario.
Overall, hate crimes rose by five per cent in 2015. There were a total of 1,362 hate crimes in 2015, which was 67 more than 2014. Reported hate crimes against Muslims rose by 61 per cent.
Black Canadians suffered 17 per cent of total hate crimes, the highest percentage of any single ethnic or religious group. The report attributed the jump to increased hate crimes against Arab and West Asian populations, as well as an increase in reported incidents in Alberta.
The report attributed the uptick in Thunder Bay’s numbers to “10 incidents against Aboriginal populations.” In 2015, there were a total of 35 hate crimes against Indigenous individuals reported in Canada, meaning that Thunder Bay accounted for nearly one-third, or 29 per cent, of total hate crimes against the Indigenous population.
“Canada’s Indigenous people have been faced with racism and hate for centuries,” Bertrand said. “Residential schools were a direct by-product of that racism and hatred. We have lived it. We’re trying to make it better now, and I seriously thought we were taking steps ahead. Now, after seeing that report, we may be taking a step ahead but we’re being knocked two steps back.”
Bertrand said 35 reported hate crimes against Indigenous populations is comparatively low, but warned that “two-thirds” of crimes against Indigenous people likely go unreported, due to history of mistrust for law enforcement agencies and the judicial system.
Nevertheless, he advised Indigenous communities concerned about these numbers to retain faith in the police, but exercise extra vigilance.
“If you’ve had problems in the past be extremely wary. If you have to talk to the police, write everything down. Get all your facts. With 98 per cent of cases, the police are very good. Sometimes you’ll get a bad one like Thunder Bay. Just be careful. The police are there to help.”
Bertrand took issue in particular with the negative treatment of Indigenous populations in Thunder Bay, of which the hate crime numbers are only one link in a very long chain. Thunder Bay has been and remains under intense scrutiny.
Seven Indigenous youth have been found dead in waterways around Thunder Bay since 2000, for which the city underwent an inquest. The police chief and the police board are currently being subjected to two different investigations.
Thunder Bay police are under increasing scrutiny from media, activists, and politicians, while the federal government claims this issue is out of its jurisdiction, and has not been asked for help.
In a press conference last week, Thunder Bay police spokespeople said, despite all this, they were dealing with “business as usual.”
“If that’s business as usual,” Bertrand responded, “I’d hate to be a resident of Thunder Bay. It reminds me of a person who’s trying to cure himself and not go see the doctor for help. Sometimes, to cure a problem someone from the exterior has to come have a look and make strong recommendations. This is what’s needed in Thunder Bay. This hasn’t been going on for months. It’s been going on for years and years. Where were the provincial and federal governments in all this?”
He stated that not enough is being done both in the short and long term.
“Education is a long-term solution. In the meantime, let’s get more resources for our police forces. Most of them do a very good job but for the ones we know are having problems, let’s give them some sensitivity training. If we just let it stagnate it’s not going to get better. It’s only going to get worse.”
The CAP chief expressed his concern that the rise of xenophobia in America and Europe would only exacerbate the rate of ethnic and religiously motivated crime. However, he encouraged Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens to come together on this issue.
“We all live in the same great country. We still go out and do the same things together,” he said.
“If we were just a little more understanding with our brothers and sisters, I’m sure the amount of hate crimes would go down.”