The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Disproportionate Harm
Hate Crime in Canada

Methodological Issues
(1 of 2)

Before presenting statistics on the incidence and reporting rates of hate crimes, it is important to discuss the question of how to define a hate-motivated crime.

2.1 Hate Crimes: The Problem of Definition

Perhaps the central problem in the classification and recording of hate crimes is the issue of definition. The empirical data that follow in this report must be considered in light of the definitions which guided their collection. If definitions of what constitutes a hate crime are highly variable, this will generate inconsistency in statistics purporting to measure the activity. The focus in this section is on the definitions of hate crimes used by different police agencies across Canada and in other jurisdictions. First, however, it is worth noting a general definition provided by researchers working in the area. According to Garofalo and Martin (1991: 17):

A bias-motivated crime is a crime in which the offender is motivated by a characteristic of the victim that identifies the victim as a member of some group towards which the offender feels some animosity.

As will be seen, the definitions used by different police forces are more specific and more restricted in scope.

2.2 Hate Crime Definitions in Other Jurisdictions

2.2.1 United Kingdom

The definition used by the police in the United Kingdom is restricted to racially motivated crime incidents, and assumes the following form:

(a) Any incident in which it appears to the reporting or investigating officer that the complaint involves an element of racial motivation;

(b) Any incident which involves an allegation of racial motivation made by any person (Maung and Mirrlees-Black, 1994).

The British definition suffers from the deficiency that it excludes hate crimes directed at targets other than racial minorities. Thus, other forms of hate crime such as anti- semitism, or anti-gay attacks are not captured either by the official police statistics or by the periodic victimization survey (British Crime Survey). On the other hand, the British definition has the advantage of defining a hate crime by specific reference to the perception of the victim(s), even if this perception is at odds with the view of the investigating officer.

2.2.2 United States

Definitions of hate crimes vary across the United States. The following examples are representative of these:

Hate Crime: Any unlawful action designed to frighten, harm, injure, intimidate or harass an individual, in whole or in part, because of a bias motivation against the actual or perceived race, religion, ethnic background or sexual orientation of the victim (IACP National Law Enforcement Policy Centre, 1991).

An act which appears to be motivated or perceived to be motivated by the victim based on race, religion or ethnic background (Maryland: see Cook, 1991).

2.3 Hate/Bias Crime Definitions used in Canada

Some police forces provided a clear definition in response to the Department of Justice Canada request; for others, the definition quoted below comes from bias crime guidelines provided to officers.<The discussion that follows does not include small police forces, several of which have also adopted hate crime policies. For example, the Sudbury Regional Police introduced a hate crime policy in August 1995.>

Metropolitan Toronto Police Force

A hate crime is a criminal offence committed against a person or property that is based solely upon the victim's race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

Halifax Police Department

A hate crime is a criminal offence committed against a person or property, the motive for which is based in whole or in part upon the victim's race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

Edmonton Police Service

Bias crime: A criminal offence committed against a person or property, that is based solely upon the victim's race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin or sexual characteristic.

Ottawa Police Service

A criminal offence committed against a person or property which is motivated by the suspect/offender's hate/bias against a racial, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation or disability group.

Winnipeg Police Department

Hate crimes are traditional offenses motivated by an offender's bias as a result of religion, race, nationality or sexual orientation. <The Winnipeg police service now uses a "whole or in part" definition of hate crimes. As well, the Hate crime unit investigates incidents of hate crime based on actual or perceived group status.>

Montreal Police Force

The Montreal police force uses the same definition that is used in Toronto (see above).

Ministry of the Solicitor General / Correctional Service of Canada

Crime was motivated because of hate/bias toward the victim's racial, religious, ethnic or sexual orientation.

Policing Standards Manual, Province of Ontario

A criminal offence committed against a person or property which is motivated by the suspect/offender's hate/bias against a racial, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation or disability group.

Ontario Provincial Police

A criminal act against a person(s) or property that is based solely, or in part, upon the victim's race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)

The RCMP does not use the category "hate crime" in any formal way. However, some hate crimes are clearly addressed by the National Security Investigation Sections of the RCMP. Criminal, political or religious extremism, for example, can take a form that most people would recognize as a hate crime. <An example of such a crime is the case of several militant Muslims who conspired to bomb a Hindu temple and an East Indian cinema in Toronto in 1991. It is significant that the sentencing judge acknowledged the notion of terrorism as an aggravating factor, thus treating it in a way comparable to hate motivation (sentencing hearing transcript available from the author).> Most of the hate crimes described in this report fall within the ambit of the provincial or municipal police services, rather than within the jurisdiction of the RCMP in its federal role. Although the RCMP does gather information relating to ideologically-motivated serious crime, statistics are not routinely compiled on criminal incidents that were motivated by hatred.

One critical question springs out from this short list: how inclusive should the definition of a hate crime be? There are clear differences between the definition used in Toronto and Edmonton for example, in which the act must have been based soley on some victim characteristic, and the broader definition in which the words "in whole or in part" are used. Clearly, a uniform definition is necessary if the statistics are to be comparable across different provinces.

2.4 Towards a Uniform Definition

Before hate crime statistics can be collected in a systematic way, a standard definition of a hate or bias crime will have to be adopted. This will necessitate a critical examination of definitions currently used by Canadian police forces or organizations outside the criminal justice system, such as B'nai Brith. Some components of the definition will be critical. For example, the definition used by the Halifax Police Department describes a hate crime as an offence motivated "in whole or in part" by hatred of certain victim characteristics. The Metropolitan Toronto Police use a more restrictive definition of a crime that is based "solely" upon a victim's race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

If the more general definition is used, there are likely to be far larger numbers of hate crimes recorded by the police across Canada. The Toronto version seems overly restrictive; almost no crime is committed solely for one reason or another. As with most human behaviour, hate crime may well be multiply determined. Once again the European experience is instructive. Hate crimes committed against racial minorities in England or Jewish citizens of France have not been random in the sense that any member of the particular minority group has been targeted. Whichever definition is chosen, it must be applied across the country, or else hate crime statistics will present a distorted picture.

As noted by the Metropolitan Toronto Police in their submission to the Department of Justice Canada:

It is essential, in our view, that the definition and criteria for determining the extent of hate crime be standardized so that when comparisons are made and programs developed, the supporting data is sound and will meet the tests of integrity...[otherwise] the Metropolitan Toronto Police may report 150 hate crimes, and another police force report only 70 hate crimes. These figures, representing different criteria and definitions, would limit their usefulness in further analysis and program development.

The experience with the issue of crime definition in the United States is also worth noting. By 1994, over 35 states had enacted statutes pertaining to hate-motivated crimes. These statutes take many different forms, but all states have had to grapple with the question of the extent of motivation required. There has been a fair amount of American case law on the issue, and the general result lies somewhere between the extremes of total and incidental motivation. That is, the state must show that the accused's hate motivation was a substantial motivation for the crime, and not just incidental to the act. However, the prosecution need not show that the crime would not have been committed in the absence of the hate motivation. To rely on an exclusive motivation def nition is likely to have the effect of seriously underestimating the incidence of hate crimes. Many hate crimes will not be classified as such if such an exclusive definition is used.

This point can readily be substantiated by comparing the hate crime statisticsfrom two forces using different definitions, Toronto and Ottawa. As noted earlier,Toronto uses an exclusive motivation definition. In Ottawa, however, the Bias Crime Guidelines state the following:

Bias is to be reported only if the investigation reveals sufficient objective facts to conclude that the offender's actions were motivated, in whole or in part by bias (Ottawa Police Service, 1994).

Assuming that racial or ethnic hatred is a priori the same in the two urban centres, we would expect a much higher number of hate crimes in Toronto. There are approximately five times as many Criminal Code infractions in Toronto than It would be reasonable, therefore, to expect the incidence of reported hate crimes to be approximately five times higher in Toronto than in Ottawa. In fact, a higher proportion of racial and ethnic minorities in Toronto as compared to Ottawa would lead one to expect an even higher rate of hate crimes in Canada's largest city since these minority communities are a principal target of hate crimes. The expectation of a much higher number of hate crimes in Toronto is also sustained by B'nai Brith data from the same year (1993). B'nai Brith records almost half the incidents of antisemitism in Canada as occurring in Toronto, with only 16 percent of all incidents taking place in Ottawa.

What do the hate crime statistics recorded by the police show? In Toronto, there were 155 hate crime incidents recorded by the police in 1993. This compares to 176 for the same period in the city of Ottawa. <There were 29,972 Criminal Code incidents recorded in Toronto and 5,835 in Ottawa in 1993 (see Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1994).>The explanation for this would appear to be that one force is using a higher threshold to define a hate crime (a definition that requires exclusive motivation). The same point can be made using American data. Levin and McDevitt (1993: 171) note that:

New York City recorded 525 bias crimes in 1991, while Boston recorded 218 incidents with less than one-tenth of New York's population. This statistic surely reflects the Boston Police Department's more expansive bias crime definition, or, more accurately, the lower hurdle for bias intent which must be met for bias crime classification.

It is clear then, that a standard definition of hate crime as well as uniform criteria for application need to be developed. This recommendation has been made by several critical groups in the area, including the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force. <See the Metro Toronto Police Force response to the Department of Justice request for data in 1994.> As well, the less restrictive definition by the Ottawa police service (among others) would appear to be the most appropriate one.

There is of course a danger to having a less stringent definition. If the motivation is not exclusive, interpretations of what constitutes a hate crime are likely to be variable, and this will undermine the comparability of statistics.

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