Parliament is considering a private member’s bill that would broaden the scope of Canada’s anti-hate laws by criminalizing hate-based mischief aimed at schools, day care centres, seniors residences, community centres and cultural facilities that are associated with minority groups.
Currently, vandalism and other hate mischief against religious sites such as churches, synagogues or cemeteries is a specific offence with specific penalties. But the designation doesn’t extend to schools or community centres associated with identifiable groups.
Bill C-305, which was introduced by Liberal MP Chandra Arya, also proposes to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the Criminal Code’s section on mischief crimes. Section 430 (4.1) of the Code, which deals with “Mischief relating to religious property,” already enumerates a number of vulnerable groups, including those defined by race, religion, colour and ethnic origin.
Arya told The CJN his bill “has been a priority for a long time. There are certain loopholes that had to be fixed.”
Speaking about the bill in Parliament, Arya said, “Recently there were acts of hate crimes in Ottawa, motivated by hate based on religion and race. Synagogues, a Jewish community centre, a rabbi’s private home, mosques and a church were targeted. Whenever these things happen, it is important for each and every one of us to stand up united to condemn these acts.
“I am Hindu, and no Hindu temples in Ottawa were targeted in the recent hate crime wave. However, in times like this, we do need people from all different religions and races to stand united together. We need, each one of us, to speak to each other and in one single voice,” he added.
“This bill expands the number of places to include schools, daycare centres, colleges or universities, community centres, seniors residences, and cultural centres, because the impact felt by those victims of hate crimes cannot be limited just to places of worship,” Arya told Parliament.
Arya credited the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) for mobilizing a broad coalition of ethnic and religious groups to support the bill.
Richard Marceau, senior political adviser and general counsel for CIJA, said passage of the bill would provide another tool in law enforcement’s toolbox to be used against perpetrators of hate-motivated crimes.
“It’s not a remedy that will fix everything, but it’s a strong signal that community centres and schools should be better protected, like cemeteries and houses of worship are,” he said
Marceau said he was about to introduce a similar bill in 2006 when he served as an MP, and similar legislation was proposed in other private members’ bills over the years, though procedural issues prevented their passage.
Arya said the bill will likely undergo some modifications at the committee stage, but once they are made, he expects it to receive government support, and from other parties, ensuring it will pass.
Meanwhile, CIJA is promoting a broader wish list of measures it hopes will address issues of security in the community.
CIJA would like to see the federal security infrastructure program (SIP) broadened. Under the program, communities receive financial support for up to 50 per cent of the cost for external security measures like lighting and cameras. CIJA would like to see SIP also cover the costs of internal security measures, Marceau stated.
CIJA would also like to see federal authorities take a greater role in training local police in the application of hate laws. Currently, local law enforcement, including prosecutors, “are too reluctant to use those sections” of the Criminal Code, he said.
CIJA would also like to ensure that its concerns over anti-Semitism and homophobia are considered in the government’s proposed counter-radicalization program.
“We want them to realize that anti-Semitism and homophobia are linked to the counter radicalization program,” he said. “This has to be an integral part of the government’s anti-terrorism strategy.”