In 2015, between 80 and 100 white supremacist groups were spreading hate across Canada—numbers that any rational person would find far too high. Now, just four years later, experts say Canada’s hate groups are approaching 300.
If that doesn’t scare you, it should.
A few weeks ago, Canadians joined the world as it mourned the 50 innocent lives taken at a Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque, an attack reportedly motivated in part by a 2017 mosque shooting in Quebec City. Hate crimes in Canada have increased nearly 50 per cent over those last two years. Victims are mostly Muslims and Jews, although Indigenous peoples are also frequent targets, as in Thunder Bay, Ontario—now called the hate crime capital of Canada for its rates of racist vandalism, assaults and murders.
“If this was any other type of crime, we’d be calling it a national crisis,” said Dr. Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at the University of Ontario’s Institute of Technology.
"If this was any other type of crime, we’d be calling it a national crisis." -Dr. Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at the University of Ontario’s Institute of Technology.
While Canadian media covered the attack in New Zealand, few outlets brought the story home and asked: what is being done to stop the rise of white supremacy and hate crimes in our own cities?
It seems the answer is: nothing much. In response to the Quebec City attack, the House of Commons Heritage Committee called for a national strategy against racism and hate crimes. Their report, released last year, offered 30 recommendations, including training for media pundits and politicians about how their portrayals of certain religious or racial groups could contribute to a climate of hate. It called for better enforcement of laws to prevent racist ‘fake news’ and more resources for police to tackle hate crimes.
None of these recommendations have been adopted nationally.
“Some law agencies are backing off on resources and training for hate crimes units,” Perry said.
A big problem lies in Canadian cities, where police don’t recognize right wing extremism as a true threat, instead treating it like a minor disturbance. Laws that do exist often aren’t enforced. Though Canadian law forbids civilians from paramilitary training, the white supremacist group Three Percenters do it openly, posting photos and videos of weapons drills on social media. None of its members have ever been successfully prosecuted.
Beyond enforcement, some laws come with cumbersome restrictions. Hate crimes are among the few offences that require prosecutors to seek permission from the Attorney General of Canada in order to take a case to court. And the repeal of hate speech laws in 2013 removed a key tool for stopping the poisonous rhetoric that instigates acts of violence.
“People need to be aware of how vicious the hate movement is right now,” warned Perry.
Without concrete action, more lives will surely be lost. Action means training for police to recognize the true threat posed by white supremacists, and resources for hate crime units in every law enforcement agency. Canada must also strengthen its laws and remove legal barriers that discourage prosecution.
New Zealand’s tragedy should be the world’s wake-up call, including Canada’s. Hate is still here, and it’s not a disease that will cure itself. It’s a national crisis, and we need to act.
Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE Movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.