Hamilton used to be called “the ambitious city.” Now it’s the hate crime capital of Canada.
Recent figures from Statistics Canada conferred that title, but it’s an honour a new coalition of community groups wants to lose.
Right now, the No Hate in the Hammer campaign lacks focus, as organizers try to decide how to attack a problem they see as dangerous and growing.
The drive kicked off earlier this month with a meeting of vulnerable groups that are tired of hearing racial insults hurled at them on the streets, being told by strangers to “go back where you came from” and seeing swastikas and other hate symbols carved into their buildings and playgrounds.
“We have to start somewhere. That means talking about it, figuring it out and talking about the actions we need to take,” said Hugh Tye, executive director of the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, one of the lead organizations behind the new initiative.
“We’ve collected a lot of names of leaders in the community, people who actually want to see action, not just talk about the effects of hate. They want to see some action.”
In addition to the legal clinic, the drive is being led by the John Howard Society of Hamilton, Burlington and Area, the Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty Reduction, the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion and the Hamilton Community Foundation.
Underlying the anti-hate campaign are a set of disturbing numbers from Statistics Canada showing that while 2018 saw a 13 per cent decrease in reported hate crimes across the country (from 2,073 incidents to 1,798), incidents in Hamilton rose 6.6 per cent from 2017. That rise followed a 30 per cent spike in 2017.
With reported incidents averaging 17.1 per 100,000 people, the rate in Hamilton was more than three times the national average. Jews remain near the top of the list as targets of such crimes.
A 2018 report from the Hamilton Police Service shows 125 hate-related incidents reported in 2018 – that’s down 8 per cent from 2017 – including 58 incidents targeting people because of race and 49 because of religion. Of the total, 41 incidents targeted blacks, while 30 were aimed at Jews – a 25 per cent increase from 2017.
Nationally, hate crimes targeting Canada’s Jewish population accounted for 19 per cent of the total, down 4 per cent from 2017. A 2018 report from Tel Aviv’s Kantor Center and the European Jewish Congress ranked Canada the fourth worst country in the world for anti-Semitic incidents.
Of the 125 incidents reported in Hamilton, only five are recorded as actual crimes, including assault, assault with a weapon, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and sexual assault. The balance are recorded as incidents where hate appeared to be a motivating factor.
Police acknowledge the statistics likely under-report the number of incidents, as people are often reluctant to report them.
Rabbi Jordon Cohen, of Hamilton’s Temple Anshe Sholom congregation, said the reason for the recent spike in hate incidents in the city remains unclear.
“There’s no clear answer as to why,” he said. “Nobody really gets it. Maybe it’s because there has been a change in the area’s population and there’s a segment of society that always finds that frightening.”
While all of the city’s Jewish institutions have suffered some anti-Semitic incidents, Cohen cautions the community to be vigilant but not to overreact.
“The temple has been the target of some pretty terrifying hate mail, but the information we’re getting from the local police and CIJA is that those things very rarely lead to something more,” he said. “Just because we get something in the mail today doesn’t mean the next thing is going to be a bomb.”
Hate issues in Hamilton will also be the focus of a peace conference planned for Oct. 4-5, at which former Ontario premier Bob Rae is will be the keynote speaker, along with Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias, & Extremism, and Bernie Farber, of the Anti-Hate Network.