Grace Johnson of Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation still reels from PTSD.

“I worry about my safety, my son’s safety all the time,” she says.

The attack that brought it on happened five years ago on the morning of April 15, 2018, when Johnson worked as a support worker at the Campbell River Sobering and Assessment Centre.

She was alone when a white client entered the centre to sober up and later wanted to leave the building for a cigarette. Because the centre has a “no in-and-out” policy, Johnson had to refuse.

“She started saying, ‘You chugs are all alcoholics,’” Johnson claims.

While Johnson was moving the woman’s belongings outside the centre, the woman punched her in the head. Johnson called the local RCMP detachment, but the attack didn’t stop.

“She started yelling racist remarks,” recalls Johnson.

Johnson says she was left with a mild concussion as well as PTSD, which she deals with to this day. The woman was charged with assault. But Johnson says her attempts to have the charges recorded as a hate crime by victims services were rebuffed.

“I’m like, ‘Why is she only charged with assault? It was a hate crime.’ That emotionally and mentally still affects me today.”

“I was physically attacked, but I was also racially attacked,” says Grace Johnson, who sought to have her assault in 2018 recorded as a hate crime. “But to have that not count was hurtful.” #SurvivingHate

Surviving Hate corroborated Johnson’s account by reviewing a WorkSafeBC claim she filed following the incident and speaking with the Campbell River RCMP, who confirmed a 34-year-old woman was arrested and eventually convicted of assault and mischief in B.C. Provincial Court in 2019.

Johnson’s attack wasn’t counted among the 1,951 hate-motivated crimes reported to Statistics Canada that year by law enforcement as part of its annual Uniform Crime Reporting Survey. Reported hate crimes have since trended upwards, with 3,360 logged in 2021.

But even reported hate crimes comprise just a small snapshot of hateful activity in Canada. According to Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey, over 200,000 Canadians reported being victims of hate in 2019. About 80 per cent of those incidents were not reported to police.

(In the line graph below, total police-reported crimes are in blue, the highest number. The rest of the colours represent the types of motivation. To zero in on one of them, click the appropriate colour in the menu to the right. Click anywhere inside the table to make all the colours reappear.)

The Surviving Hate project was created to investigate the gap between the small number of incidents captured in the police-reported hate crimes statistics and the much larger number of incidents that go unreported.

Surviving Hate launched its own online survey in an attempt to capture hate crimes and incidents that may have fallen through the cracks of federal record-keeping. We asked respondents to provide details of the hate-related incident they had experienced and whether they reported the incident to authorities. Grace Johnson was one of the many who responded. She, like many others, agreed to be contacted to further discuss her experience.

Some advocacy groups and community organizations are taking similar steps to collect data and their increasing demands to overhaul the methodology and legislation governing how hate-related incidents are tracked and treated.

Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, says a culture shift is needed to help combat hate crime, with new and progressive leadership. Photo courtesy of Barbara Perry

When it comes to hate crime data, gaps lie in every step and all the way through the justice system, says Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University and the UNESCO Research Chair in Hate Studies.

Very few hate crimes actually make it to court, which further discourages people from reporting them. Low data, from a policy perspective, means it’s easy to deny there’s a problem, she says.

Perry says establishing systems for victims to report hate crimes anonymously and supporting organizations collecting such data are important.

Tracking the hate

Surviving Hate spoke with six organizations that independently track hate crimes and incidents: B'nai Brith, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, the Coalition of Muslim Women of Kitchener-Waterloo, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and StopHateAB.

For example, the National Council of Canadian Muslims recorded roughly 322 hate crimes and incidents between 2013 and 2019, which it placed on a geocoded map that has since been taken offline.

The Council of Agencies Serving South Asians reported over 4,000 hate crime responses from September to October 2021 as part of The Hate Crime Reporting Project, which solicited reports of hate incidents from four Ontario municipalities.

From 2017 to 2022, StopHateAB validated 455 hate incident reports. Almost 75 per cent of these incidents were motivated by race or ethnicity.

Verification varies between organizations.

For example, StopHateAB used qualitative coding — a way to group abstract concepts together so they can be measured — to determine whether a submission would be treated as a hate incident, while the Council of Muslim Women of Kitchener-Waterloo doesn't verify reports but assists those who ask for help.

For victims who wish to seek justice in Canada, it’s notoriously difficult to classify and then prosecute hate crimes. Spreading hate propaganda is a criminal act, and advocating genocide, publicly inciting hatred and wilfully promoting hatred are all indictable offences.

In all other cases, hate or prejudice must be established as a motivating factor that upgrades existing crimes, such as vandalism, placing additional hurdles on a successful prosecution.

Hateful acts that aren’t crimes — name-calling, inappropriate gestures or other inappropriate behaviour — are deemed hate incidents.

Timothy Bryan, a hate crime expert at the University of Toronto, says an effective strategy to respond to hate crime involves collaboration between police, community-led organizations and community leaders. Photo by David Weisz

“If you are verbally abused in a grocery store or on transit, that can have a deep and profound effect on you. It challenges your sense of safety in your own neighbourhood, community, city,” says Timothy Bryan, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Toronto who specializes in hate crime.

According to Statistics Canada, just eight per cent of police-reported hate crime incidents resulted in convictions. Proving intent requires victims to come forward to police. Bryan says there are many reasons why individuals or even entire communities may be reluctant to do so. Language barriers, mistrust, a history of negative experiences with police or even concerns surrounding immigration or citizenship status can lead to a reticence to turn to law enforcement.

In 2019, the federal Liberals unveiled their anti-racism strategy, Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022. While the government would commit tens of millions of dollars to fund various anti-racism projects, less than $1 million was allocated for “developing a national framework and evidence-based guidelines to better respond to hate crimes, hate incidents and hate speech.

Anti-hate initiatives continued into the Liberals’ 2021 re-election platform, with the government promising to deliver a National Action Plan on Combating Hate by 2022, as well as a National Support Fund for Survivors of Hate-Motivated Crimes.

As of March 2023, neither has been delivered. Reached for comment, David Larose, media spokesperson for Canadian Heritage, says the anti-hate action plan is “in development, and more information will be available soon.”

Two organizations fighting hate

B’nai Brith Canada has been publishing its annual audit on antisemitism since 1982 — 23 years before Statistics Canada began releasing its annual report on hate-related incidents.

In 2021, B’nai Brith Canada logged 2,799 anti-Semitic incidents, including a 733 per cent increase in violent incidents over the previous year. Harassment was the most common type of incident reported, with 2,460 reports made, followed by vandalism with 264.

Ilit Aharonson Mannheim, a legal affairs associate with B’nai Brith Canada, spends most of her time verifying anti-Semitic incidents. Photo courtesy of Ilit Aharonson Mannheim

“At the bottom of everything, we are people helping people,” says Ilit Aharonson Mannheim, a legal affairs associate with B'nai Brith, who spends much of her time verifying and responding to anti-Semitic incidents.

Victims of anti-Semitic hate can self-report incidents to B’nai Brith by phone, a mobile app and an online reporting tool. B’nai Brith Canada says it is exclusively funded by charitable donations.

Mannheim says 2021 was an outlier, with the sudden spike a response to the violent escalation in the Israel-Palestine conflict in May 2021.

In contrast to B’nai Brith’s national reporting system, the Coalition of Muslim Women Kitchener-Waterloo (CMW-KW) collects data on a regional level, focusing on the Ontario regions of Kitchener and Waterloo.

Between April 2021 and May 2022, CMW-KW collected a total of 104 reports of hate. The organization uses WhatsApp to contact marginalized communities and gather reports. Nineteen per cent of its reports were received through the messaging service.

Mifrah Abid is a co-ordinator of the Together Against Islamophobia program at the Coalition of Muslim Women Kitchener-Waterloo. Photo courtesy of Mifrah Abid

“Unless we have the data, nobody's going to be pushed into action,” says Mifrah Abid, the co-ordinator of the Together Against Islamophobia program at CMW-KW. The program splits its focus between supporting victims of hate through holistic support services and proactive measures that encourage dialogue in communities aimed at mitigating hate crimes and incidents.

Not knowing whether the grants it receives will continue has led to uncertainty about the program’s future and made the group resort to cost-cutting, Abid says.

She says the best way their organization can be supported is by providing sustained funding to ensure staff retention.

Operating on an annual budget of $100,000, CMW-KW meets its costs through federal and provincial grants, fundraising and funding from its regional and municipal governments.

The future of fighting hate in Canada

Looking forward, Bryan says comparing police-reported hate crimes against self-reported hate incidents may reveal gaps in the system, a sentiment echoed by Samya Hasan, the executive director of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians.

“Despite … all the changes that the police implement and all the education that we do in the community, there will still be people who are not comfortable going to the police,” says Hasan.

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation is a Crown corporation founded in 1996 as an apology to Japanese Canadians for their mistreatment during the Second World War. In 2022, it launched a survey that aims to improve support systems for victims of hate in Quebec. Photo by Kunal Chaudhary

Warren Silver, the national training officer for the Policing Services Program at the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, says Statistics Canada has been working to implement changes suggested by law enforcement, academics and community organizations over the past several years.

In 2018, Statistics Canada updated the definition of what a founded criminal incident is to include third-party reporting through a community organization or even a friend.

“The way that we defined something as founded or unfounded was really that you had to have evidence to show [something] actually occurred, and now it's kind of flipped the other way,” says Silver.

“We really took this victim-centred approach that said, ‘We believe you,’ unless there's evidence to say it did not occur.”

Sgt. Ali Toghrol of the Ottawa Police Service’s hate and bias crime unit says the force is working on a formalized process for third-party reporting to encourage victims to report suspected hate crimes through an intermediary.

“We just want to expand the reporting parameters to make it easier for people to report. So we're exploring our options,” says Toghrol.

Hasan says law enforcement buy-in is only half the issue. Effective third-party reporting will require community organizations to get adequate funding.

“So, really looking at the provincial government and the federal government, how can they build [the] capacity of community-based agencies to take in those reports so that people who will not go to the police still have an avenue to share their story?” asks Hasan.

Silver says another upcoming change is the ability to identify multiple motivations behind a hate crime, which he says no other country has done.

“We’ll be able to accept intersectionality, when somebody is [targeted for being] both Black and gay, or Muslim and disabled, for example.”

Silver says the changes still have to roll out to police services, so they will not be reflected in the 2022 report but sometime in the future.

Grace Johnson says she would be more amenable to reporting hate-motivated crimes through a community partner, so the new reporting changes are “so, so hopeful.”

“I was physically attacked, but I was also racially attacked,” says Johnson.

“But to have that not count was hurtful.”

In the next story from Surviving Hate, the team compiled more than 100 incidents of Indigenous-specific racism in hospitals across Canada.

The data reveals a majority of the incidents identified occurred after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action were published in 2015. Our data shows a high number of patients who felt their physical or mental health issue was neglected or dismissed. Many cases analyzed also involved the verbal or physical mistreatment of a patient.

About Surviving Hate

Surviving Hate is a multi-year investigation into how racism, hate and discrimination affect Canadians — through the lens of public institutions.

Surviving Hate is a collaborative journalism project co-ordinated by Humber College's StoryLab and the University of Toronto's Investigative Journalism Bureau seeking to fill the data gap on the reporting of hate crimes in Canada. Academic partners include Algonquin College, Trent University, the University of King’s College, Toronto Metropolitan University, Carleton University and the Centre for Human Rights Research at the University of Manitoba. Our media partners are Canada’s National Observer, the Toronto Star, TVOntario and JSource. Surviving Hate is supported by the Inspirit Foundation, Google News Initiative, Journalists for Human Rights and Humber College’s Office of Research and Innovation and Faculty of Media and Creative Arts.

Research credit: Martha Troian, Kunal Chaudhary, Danielle Orr, Jianfu Lan, Charles Buckley