Thank you, Madam Chair.
We appreciate the opportunity to present to members of this committee on behalf of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the advocacy agency of the Jewish Federations of Canada.
We are a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization representing more than 150,000 Jewish Canadians affiliated through local federations across the country. Like our sister organization, B'nai Brith, we are committed to working with government and all like-minded groups to ensure Canada remains a country where everyone enjoys equal opportunities and equal protections.
Canada is a tremendous country, particularly for members of minority groups. It is one of the most vibrantly diverse, inclusive, and respectful places in the world. However, hatred persists here in the margins of society. We must remain vigilant to ensure that hate does not gain a greater foothold and we must endeavour to push it ever further into the shadows.
Confronting hate is an all too familiar experience for Jewish Canadians. In report after report, Statistics Canada and police services across the country continue to confirm, as was noted just a moment ago, that Jews are the religious minority most targeted by hate-motivated crime, in both absolute numbers and on a per capita basis.
Nationally, there were 54 hate crimes targeting Jews per 100,000 individuals in 2015. While this number is relatively consistent with previous years, there was an increase in hate incidents targeting other minority communities, including the Muslim community. In fact, Muslims were the next most targeted group, with 15 incidents per 100,000 individuals.
Local numbers reinforce this. Let me give you some examples from the GTA, where the plurality of Jewish Canadians reside.
The Peel police service noted 23 incidents targeting Jews in 2016, which is a 155% increase over the nine incidents that occurred in 2015 and the highest increase in victimization of any identifiable group. Over that same period, there was a 92% reduction in hate crimes targeting Christians, from 13 to one, and a 54% reduction in those targeting Muslims, from 11 to five. Jews are around 0.2% of the population of Peel, but were targeted with 39% of all hate crimes. In the city of Toronto, the Jewish community is just 3.8% of the population, but was targeted in approximately 30% of hate crimes in 2016.
I mention these numbers not to showcase Jewish victimhood but to demonstrate the very real experience that our community has in grappling with the issues this committee is studying. At the same time, I want to note that percentages can sound alarming and misleading.
In York Region, anti-Jewish hate crimes decreased by more than 10%, while anti-Muslim hate crimes increased by more than 18% in 2016. This sounds significant until you look at the real numbers, which are a decrease from 19 to 17 incidents targeting Jews and an increase from 11 to 13 incidents targeting Muslims.
It's important that we not lose sight of the fact that on the whole, Canadians are incredibly welcoming, respectful, and accepting people and that hate crimes, though often jarring and sometimes horrifyingly tragic, are relatively infrequent occurrences. In Peel, 38,154 Criminal Code offences were reported in 2016. Of those, just 59, or 0.15%, were designated as hate-motivated. That said, one hate crime is too many.
Canada is a great place to be a minority. We believe the following constructive recommendations will help make it even better and we hope that each will be a point of consensus for this committee. I share with you four points.
Number one is improving data.
Currently, the collection and publication of hate crime and hate incident data varies widely by police department. I mentioned statistics from Peel, Toronto, and York Region, which are all readily available, but the reports from these three neighbouring jurisdictions each provide different information, so making direct comparisons is sometimes difficult. Other jurisdictions, such as Montreal, release no specific data regarding hate-motivated crime and which identifiable groups are being targeted. This practice has an impact on the national numbers compiled by Statistics Canada, leaving policy-makers, like each of you, with incomplete information.
This committee should recommend that the government establish uniform national guidelines and standards for the collection and handling of hate crime and hate incident data.
This step will help ensure that local, provincial, and national law enforcement consistently collect, catalogue, and publicize data regarding hate crimes and hate incidents. The more accurate and comprehensive the data available, the more appropriately efforts to counter hatred and bigotry in Canada can be calibrated to address the specific needs of the communities most impacted. Comprehensive empirical data is required to effectively diagnose the problems and prescribe the most appropriate solutions.
Number two is to define “hate”.
One can't effectively fight bigotry and hatred without precisely defining it. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism was achieved through multilateral consensus endorsed by governments around the world, including Canada's, to accomplish just that. Concrete examples set clear standards for what constitutes anti-Jewish sentiment and what is legitimate critical expression. Similar definitions should be established for other forms of hate, based on careful consideration, common sense, and consensus.
The term “Islamophobia” has been defined in multiple ways, some effective and some problematic. Unfortunately, it has become a lightning rod for controversy, distracting from other important issues at hand. While some use the term “Islamophobia” to concisely describe prejudice against Muslims, others have expanded it significantly further to include opposition to political ideologies. For example, this October's Islamic Heritage Month guidebook issued by the Toronto District School Board contained a definition of Islamophobia that included, ”dislike...towards Islamic politics or culture”.
This incident exposes significant problems associated with relying on ad hoc, inadequate definitions of Islamophobia. Muslims can be protected from hate without restricting critique of ideologies, especially those that are explicitly anti-Semitic. Recent examples of anti-Semitism on display at some mosques and Muslim organizations in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver have shown that extremism is a problem within parts of the Canadian Muslim community that must be addressed.
As Canadians counter hatred and protect individuals from discrimination, we must also maintain the freedom to debate and criticize ideas. Defining other forms of hate—including, but not limited to, Islamophobia—along lines similar to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is, we think, a good starting point. It would help law enforcement and others to identify hate incidents with greater accuracy and consistency and provide definitive guidance to Canadians about precisely where free speech turns into hate speech.
Next, when it comes to countering hate crimes, greater and more consistent enforcement of existing laws is needed. In many cases, hate crime prosecutions require the authorization of provincial Attorneys General. This can become highly politicized and can be a very difficult hurdle to overcome. Recently the Attorney General of Quebec decided not to lay charges in the case of an imam in Montreal who had called for the murder of Jews. On the charge of hate promotion, the statute of limitations had been exhausted.
In an era when statements can live on in perpetuity online, in this case on this particular mosque's YouTube channel, we believe the statute of limitations for hate promotion should be extended, and we encourage you to make that recommendation to the government.
Quebec's Attorney General also declined to pursue a second charge of genocide promotion. This decision sent a message that someone can call for the death of an entire group of people without consequence. We think that's the wrong message.
To address this situation, the federal government should establish a national training program for police and prosecutors to educate them about the dangers of hate speech and encourage them to enforce the existing Criminal Code hate speech provisions more consistently and more robustly.
Finally, federal government resources should be allocated to support the development of dedicated local police hate crime units. These units have been integrated into several police services across Canada and have constituted an unqualified success. Units specifically trained to investigate hate-motivated crime ensure that incidents are handled with particular sensitivity and understanding of the distinct nature of the crime and its impact on the victims, their families, and their communities.
Universalizing hate crime units would ensure that as many vulnerable Canadians as possible can benefit from these services that ensure the officers responding to hate incidents are the best equipped to do so.
Had this committee been conducting these hearings a year ago, I would have had an additional recommendation to share. Instead, Madam Chair, I would like to conclude with this.
I'd like to express our gratitude to members of this House for supporting Bill C-305and your colleague Chandra Arya for bringing it forward. CIJA has long advocated for these changes, which will expand penalties for hate crimes targeting infrastructure such as community centres of identifiable groups. As we speak, the bill has just passed its final vote in the House before becoming law.
Bill C-305 is a clear example, Madam Chairman, of how elected officials can work together in the spirit of consensus and common sense to make a practical difference in protecting vulnerable minorities. I'm hopeful that the committee members will similarly unite around the approach I have outlined here today.