The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Disproportionate Harm
Hate Crime in Canada

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4.9 Non-criminal Justice Agencies

Although this report has been directed largely to the criminal justice response to hate crimes, it is important to note that responding to this problem is not only the responsibility of the police and the courts. Long-term, non- reactive strategies are likely to prove more effective in reducing the incidence of hate-motivated crime. These strategies are likely to be based in large part on education initiatives, particularly those involving schools. As noted earlier in the report, the typical hate crime offender is a young person, usually under the age of 25. Criminal justice interventions involving the arrest, prosecution and punishment of culpable individuals are important, but are reactive in nature; they are invoked once the crime has been committed (see Cook, 1991). Greater efforts need to be made to educate young persons about the harm inflicted by hate crimes, and the fact that more than other crime, hate crimes traduce the spirit of a multicultural, multiracial society.

The research literature on vandalism is instructive in this respect. Many of the hate crimes reported to the police involve some form of vandalism, particularly antisemitic vandalism directed at synagogues. Surveys of young persons show that they fail to appreciate the severity of crimes of vandalism, and this may well be responsible for the high rates of participation. For example, research in Ontario involving schoolchildren found that respondents believed vandalism to be a low severity crime, which was least likely to result in conviction (Ontario Task Force on Vandalism, 1981). Not surprisingly, perhaps, perceptions of offence severity were inversely related to the likelihood that the respondent has participated in an act of vandalism (Ontario Task Force on Vandalism, 1981: 248). This finding has also been found elsewhere. As Zimmerman and Broder (1981: 51) note:

There is a significant negative relationship between the seriousness and extent of activity; the more serious an act, the less likely it is engaged in, and the fewer the children who engage in it. In short, educating the public in general, and the young in particular, about the seriousness of this form of criminal activity is likely to prove an effective long-term strategy to combat the incidence of hate crimes. <Parallels also exist with the literature on drinking and driving, another crime which is disproportionately committed by the young. The incidence of impaired driving offences declined in 1994 for the eleventh consecutive year (see Hendrick, 1995). An important factor accounting for this long-term decline has been changing attitudes towards the seriousness of the crime.>

4.10 Research Priorities Relating to Hate Crimes

In addition to formalising the collection of uniform statistics by the police, there are several other steps that should be taken to improve our knowledge of the nature and incidence of this form of criminality.

4.10.1 Survey of Community Attitudes

Although hate crime units now exist in most major urban police forces, little is known about their relationship with the communities most affected by hate crimes. For example, we do not know how much confidence members of the Gay and Lesbian community have in the police response to reports of hate crime. Only when we have a scientific survey of the communities most affected will we be able to know how effective the police response has been in terms of reaching out to victims of hate crime. Research on hate-motivated crime in other countries (e.g., Maung and Mirrlees-Black, 1994) has shown that fear, dislike, or lack of confidence in the police was the reason why visible minorities did not report crimes to the criminal justice system. We need to know whether this is also the case with regard to ethnic minorities as well as other communities that are the target of hate crimes.

4.10.2 Victimization Surveys

As noted in the introduction to this report, crime statistics collected by the criminal justice system capture only part of the true incidence of crime. This has implications for any attempt to track the incidence of hate crimes. For example, it suggests that hate crimes should also be addressed in a victimization survey. The principal victimization survey in Canada is the personal risk survey contained in the General Social Survey (GSS). The survey was conducted in 1988 and replicated in 1993. The data from the survey have added considerably to our knowledge of crime patterns in Canada (see, for example, Gartner and Doob, 1994). It would be relatively straightforward to add some additional questions to the GSS that would explore victims' perceptions of crime incidents in which hate motivation played a role (or was perceived by the victim to have played a role). Without such additional information, our knowledge of the incidence of hate crime would be restricted to official crime statistics.

On the basis of current data, we do not know a great deal about the relative victimization rates of different minorities. Is the incidence of hate crime directed at the Jewish community greater than that directed at Black communities in Canada? Both groups have in the past been the object of discrimination and overt racism. However the data on acts of anti-semitism have been subject to better documentation over the years. Although the Audit of Anti- Semitic Incidents conducted annually by the League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith Canada probably captures only a minority of incidents of anti-semitism in this country, the documentation provides a useful index of one important form of hate crime activity. We need to have a similar research initiative for other minority groups. This information could be obtained by means of a victimization survey.

4.10.3 Criminal Justice Processing of Hate-motivated Crimes

The successful prosecution of hate-motivated crimes creates special challenges for the police and the crown. No systematic research has examined the way in which the police investigate such crimes. Even cursory examination of the information sent to the Department of Justice Canada suggests variability in the approach to investigation of hate crimes. This initiative would involve qualitative research. The findings described in this report are all quantitative in nature. However, there is a limit to what we can learn about hate crime incidents, and the way that the criminal justice system responds to them, by means of quantitative research. Accordingly, an in-depth analysis of a limited number of case files would greatly aid our understanding of the problem. This research would supplement quantitative findings that inform us about gross trends across jurisdictions and over time. One important topic that needs to be addressed from this perspective is the extent to which hate crimes in Canada are the product of organized groups (as is the case in most European jurisdictions -- see Loow, 1995) rather than individual offenders without any such affiliation.

4.10.4 Case Law Analysis of Sentencing Decisions in Hate Crime Sentences

As noted earlier, the Sentencing Reform Bill (C-41) specifies hate motivation as an aggravating factor. This is consistent with recommendations made by various groups and individuals (see Etherington, 1994: 81). As well, it has been observed that this statute merely codifies what the courts have been doing for some time: increasing the quantum of punishment in those cases in which hatred of an identifiable group was a precipitating factor. However, this assertion has never been fully documented, and the few existing sentencing texts (Canadian Sentencing Commission, 1987; Ruby, 1994) are silent on the issue. It is important to know whether the courts have in fact recognized hate motivation in this way, and also to what extent. To what extent should this factor aggravate? The power of different aggravating factors varies widely. Some indication of the range of aggravation would be of utility to judges and would result in greater uniformity in terms of application of the statutory penalty enhancement.

4.10.5 Offender Profile Analysis

Research in other jurisdictions as well as the limited information currently available in Canada suggests that hate crime offenders are a relatively homogenous group. They are younger than the general offender population, and although the general offender population is comprised largely of males, hate crime offenders are exclusively masculine. They also tend to have links with gangs. To the extent that this is true for hate crimes across Canada, there are important policy implications to be drawn in terms of the criminal justice response.

4.10.6 Public Opinion Survey of Attitudes Towards Hate-motivated Crimes

It would be worth knowing more about public perception in this area. For example, what do the public know about the extent of the problem in Canada? Do they support the use of hate motivation as an aggravating factor at the time of sentencing? Are people in some demographic categories less likely to report crimes motivated by hate? These are some of the questions that would be answered by systematic public opinion research.

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