Hate Crimes in Canada

By Anna Ndegwa and Susan McDonald

Hate crime is not new, in Canada or in other western countries. Indeed, racial tension between different groups has been a constant throughout Canada’s colonial history. To address this, over the past two decades the federal government has put two plans into action:

  1. Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism (2006–2010) looked at responses to hate crimes, including support for victims, as well as developing new approaches to fighting racism; and
  2. Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy (2019–2022) tackles online hate and uses the expertise of community organizations and Indigenous peoples to develop projects geared to their needs. Additional federal funding was announced in Budget 2022Footnote1 to provide more ways to address racism.

These federal programs are being carried out in a context of growing hate – both online and on our streets. Canadians have read about and listened to reports about these horrendous events: the discovery of grave sites at residential schools,Footnote2 an attack on Muslims in the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City in 2017,Footnote3 a van attack against women on Yonge Street in north Toronto in 2018,Footnote4 and another attack with a truck that killed four of five members of a Muslim family in London in 2020.Footnote5

According to data reported by police from Statistics Canada, hate crimes have been increasing in the past few years. They are now increasingly part of public discourse. Reviewing academic and other literature, statistics, case law and results from a survey of federal, provincial and territorial victim services, this article will provide context for hate crime today in Canada, and then focus on victims of hate crimes and their needs, and how victim services could start to meet those needs. While hate can take many different forms, this article will focus on behaviours that are criminal and fall under the Criminal Code of Canada.

What are hate crimes?

Hate crimes are criminal acts done by a person who is motivated by an extreme bias or hatred towards a particular social group (CRRF 2020). Hate crimes may be directed at physical, symbolic targets (such as a mosque) or at individuals or groups of people. Research studies show that hate crimes cause “disproportionate harm” to individual victims as well as other members of the community belonging to the targeted social group. These crimes send a message of rejection towards both the target of the crime and their community. For example, an assault can have negative physical and psycho-emotional effects. If the assault occurs because you are a Black person (or a person with a disability or transfemale), the harm is magnified because you cannot change these characteristics of who you are and are at risk of being targeted all your life. Not only are you at risk, but everyone else who looks like you, or has a disability or practices a minority religion or any other immutable characteristic in your family, your community, Canada and even beyond our borders.Footnote6

Across Canada, police services use a single definition of hate crime to ensure that the data they collect and report on are consistent and can be compared. The definition is found in the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR) Manual (2022, 89):

Hate crime is defined as a criminal violation motivated by hate, based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, or any other similar factor.

Legislation on hate crimes in Canada

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of speech or expression,Footnote7 but this is subject, under section 1 of the Charter, to such limits as are demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society. In order to protect the public from extreme forms of hate speech, the Criminal Code also contains four hate propaganda offences:

  • advocating or promoting genocide against an identifiable group (subsection 318(1));
  • inciting hatred against an identifiable group in a public place that is likely to lead to a breach of the peace (subsection 319(1)) “Identifiable group”Footnote8 is a defined term in the Criminal Code (subsection 318(4));
  • wilfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group other than in private conversation (subsection 319(2));
  • wilfully promoting antisemitism by denying, condoning, or downplaying the Holocaust (subsection 319(2.1)); This is a new hate propaganda offence that has recently (June 23, 2022) been added to the Criminal Code.Footnote9

A specific hate crime offence addressing hate-motivated mischief committed against certain kinds of property is also found in subsections 430(4.1) and (4.101) of the Criminal Code. It applies to property primarily used for religious worship or for other kinds of property (such as schools, universities, or community centres) that are primarily used by an identifiable group, where the mischief is committed out of bias, prejudice, or hatred against an identifiable group.

Before December 12, 2017, this offence was defined only in subsection 430(4.1) and was restricted to property primarily used for religious worship (for example, churches, mosques, or synagogues).

In addition to the specific provisions above, any offence, such as assault or criminal harassment, that is motivated by hatred can have the fact of hate-motivation applied by the judge to determine the sentence imposed, should the accused be convicted. Specifically, before courts decide on a sentence for any crime motivated by hatred, bias, or prejudice, they must consider subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code. The relevant part of this section reads:

A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:

(a) a sentence should be increased or reduced to account for any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender, and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing,

(i) evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression, or any other similar factor.

Hate as an aggravatingFootnote10 factor at sentencing was included in the Criminal Code in 1995 and “gender identity or expression” was added in 2017.Footnote11

The number of hate crimes has increased

Statistics Canada has been reporting on police-reported hate crime since 2005 via the UCR, but those data only reflect incidents that have come to the attention of the police and are then recorded as hate crimes. In 2007, Justice Canada released a report entitledAn Exploration of the Needs of Victims of Hate Crimes (McDonald and Hogue 2007) that included data from Statistics Canada and also a review of research studies in Canada and the US on hate crimes. Since that report, more data – reported by both police and by victims – have become available. In general, the number of hate crimes reported to police has been increasing each year since Statistics Canada started collecting the numbers.Footnote12 Figure 1 shows the numbers for the years 2015 to 2021. Increases in the number of reported incidents could mean that the public is more aware of hate crimes. It could also be the result of police doing more community outreach or the public being more sensitized after high-profile crimes (Wang and Moreau 2022).

The second year of the pandemic, 2021, saw the third consecutive year of increases in hate crime reported to police, as shown in Figure 1 below. Hate crimes increased 72 percent between 2020 and 2021 due to increases in hate crimes targeting religion, sexual orientation, and race or ethnicity. All provinces and territories in Canada, except for Yukon, reported increased numbers of hate crimes in 2021.

Figure 1: Hate crime incidents reported to police, 2015 – 2021
Figure 1: Hate crime incidents reported to police, 2015 – 2021

Source: Statistics Canada. 2022c. Police-reported hate crime, number of incidents, and rate per 100,000 population.

Figure 1: Hate crime incidents reported to police, 2015-2021 – Text version

This is a vertical bar graph with one category representing the number of hate crime incidents reported to police between 2015 and 2021. The Y axis is labelled “Number of incidents” and the X axis is labelled “Year” with the years listed left to right from 2015 to 2021.

The first bar indicates there were 1362 hate crime incidents reported to police in 2015. The second bar indicates there were 1409 hate crime incidents reported to police in 2016. The third bar indicates there were 2073 hate crime incidents reported to police in 2017. The fourth bar indicates there were 1817 hate crime incidents reported to police in 2018. The fifth bar indicates there were 1951 hate crime incidents reported to police in 2019. The sixth bar indicates there were 2646 hate crime incidents reported to police. The seventh bar indicates there were 3360 hate crime incidents reported to police. At the bottom of the figure, the source is indicated as “Source: Statistics Canada. 2022c. Police-reported hate crime, number of incidents, and rate per 100,000 population.”

Hate crimes motivated by race or ethnicity increased by 6 percent in 2021, after increasing over 80 percent in 2020. Increases in hate crimes continue to target Asian communities. They doubled twice between 2019 and 2021 (+8 percent to +27 percent) (Wang and Moreau 2022). Outside of hate crimes statistics reported by police, Asian communities reported considerable increases in anti-Asian racism and incidents of xenophobia in 2021. The Chinese Canadian National Council reported more than 900 incidents in 2021, a 47 percent increase in reported incidents since 2020. East and Southeast Asian communities continue to report the most incidents. These echo the increases in incidents reported by police (CCNC 2021; Wang and Moreau 2022). There were also increases in hate crimes that targeted Arab and West Asian populations (+46 percent).

Hate crimes targeting the Black population decreased in 2021 (−5 percent). However, this followed a 96 percent increase in 2020. Also, after unmarked graves were found on the grounds of former residential schools, hate incidents that targeted both Indigenous peoples and religious institutions were also reported (Moreau 2022). Similar to the Black population, hate crimes targeting Indigenous peoples decreased by 1 percent in 2021, but that followed an increase of 169 percent in 2020 (Wang and Moreau 2022).

Hate crimes targeting religion also increased, by 67 percent in 2021. This followed a downward trend in incidents between 2019 (−7 percent) and 2020 (−14 percent). Hate crimes targeting Islam increased by 71 percent in 2021. Between 2016 and 2021 in Canada, more Muslims were killed in targeted “hate-attacks” due to Islamophobia than in any other G7 country (NCCM 2021).

Hate crimes that target people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity have also risen considerably. Since their peak of 365 reported incidents in 2019, 423 incidents were reported in 2021. Victims of these hate crimes tend to be younger. These attacks result in the highest number of physical injuries (Wang and Moreau 2022).

Members of minorities in Canada have also experienced more hate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many expressed that they do not feel safe in their neighbourhoods and that they have perceived an increase in how often they have been harassed or attacked based on their race, ethnicity, or skin colour during COVID-19 (Heidinger and Cotter 2020). The rise in incidents of anti-Asian hate during this period (Chinese Canadian National Council 2021) shows that these incidents can be fueled by specific events such as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Understanding Canada’s history

Many papers, books, Royal Commissions and more have been devoted to understanding Canada’s colonial history and this article offers only a small piece of that history. It is, however, important to understand that racial tensions have existed in Canada since it was colonized. Many laws pertaining to immigration, voters’ rights and property rightsFootnote13 during the nineteenth century and into the middle of the twentieth were motivated by racial and other prejudices. Violent and discriminatory acts were also common and few in the ruling class questioned these laws or actions. Beyond settlers’ racism towards Indigenous peoples, there were other sources of racial tension, particularly with Chinese, Japanese and Black people, who worked as labourers when they first came to Canada. After the First World War, the Immigration Act of 1896 was amended to prohibit people who hailed from “undesirable” countries (in Asia and Africa) (Mooten 2021).

Multiculturalism became an official federal policy in 1971, committing the federal government to promoting and maintain a diverse, multicultural society, but it was only in 1988 that the Canadian Multiculturalism Actbecame law (Perry 2015). Today, Canada is one of the most diverse countries in the world. As of 2021, 26 percent of the Canadian population identified as a visible minority, 21 percent identified a non-official language as their mother tongue. As of 2018, 4 percent of the population older than 15 identified as 2SLGBTQi+ (Statistics Canada 2022a; Statistics Canada 2021b).

Despite the Multiculturalism Act, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada is not immune to racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination and harassment, regardless of the structures such as human rights complaints bodies, policies, and training to support diversity, inclusion, and equity (Perry 2015). In the case of hate crimes in Canada, research has shown that policies and laws for hate crime are not being enforced enough by those responsible in the criminal justice system. This includes Crown prosecutors who must balance Canadians’ free speech protections against “hatred” and police officers who are hesitant to report or investigate incidents (Perry 2015, 1648). Targeted communities are then left feeling either unequal to, or less than, their White/other counterparts. That reinforces their “social and political marginality.” It also undermines the policy goal of multiculturalism and equality (Perry 2015).

As discussed earlier in this article, various racial, religious and sexual minority groups in Canada are increasingly experiencing hate crimes. These groups are also likely to experience different forms of micro-aggressions that could be seen as discrimination or racism or other -ism. These incidents do not usually rise to the level of criminal acts. Therefore, they do not fall under police responsibility, but they do provide a context of excluding minorities by devaluing them because of the clothes they wear, or the colour of their skin, or how they express their faith. For example, a study of Muslim individuals living in five major Canadian cities conducted in 2019 showed that they were consistently dealing with hate incidents and micro-aggressions. These included verbal aggressions (such as threats), being chased, spat on, and other insults because of their religion or religious dress (Mercier-Dalphond and Helly 2021).

Recent incidents of hate crime have been tragic and include:

  • the Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017, which killed six people;Footnote14
  • the 2018 van attack that targeted women in Toronto, which killed eight women and two men;Footnote15 and
  • the 2021 anti-Muslim truck attack in London, which killed four members of the Afzaal family.Footnote16

Minorities within 2SLGBTQI+ communities also face hate crimes. These communities have worked together to protect their members from violence because police are not interested in and/or aware of the targeted violence against them (Field 2017).

Canadians are becoming more aware of and admitting that racism exists in Canada. Few people now maintain that racialized minorities like Black and Indigenous people are rarely or ever mistreated (CRRF and Environics 2021). More Canadians now believe that racialized people are treated unfairly. Based on a survey conducted in 2021 by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, one-fifth of the general population has reported that it is a common experience for them to be discriminated against or mistreated (CRRF and Environics 2021, 7). But even though Canada’s public policy supports multiculturalism, equality, and inclusion, the experiences of marginalized groups suggests that Canadians are not as inclusive as they need to be.

The impacts of hate crimes

Psychological and psycho-social impacts

Hate crimes target essential parts of a person’s identity (for example, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender). These crimes send a message of rejection towards both the target of the crime and their community. The harms of hate crime can thus extend beyond the immediate victim and have both direct and indirect effects on the victim’s community (CRRF 2020; ODHIR 2020). People affected by a hate crime can include those close to the victim (relatives of the victim) or those who witnessed the incident and members of the identity community. This includes those who share characteristics that are similar to the targeted victim or property. It even includes people from other communities who have likewise, historically been discriminated against and/or marginalized (ODHIR 2020 10).

The effects of a hate crime on a direct victim can be powerful:

  • Victims are likely to experience psychological trauma in various forms. This could include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Awan and Zempi 2020; Bell and Perry 2015; Perry 2009, 409).
  • Due to the nature of the crime, victims are likely to change their behaviour out of fear and feel vulnerable, ashamed, and angry (Bell and Perry 2015; ODIHR 2020, 12; Walters 2021).
  • Victims will isolate themselves, avoid certain locations and people, and restrict certain behaviours (for example, limit public displays of affection with same-sex partners, conceal religious or cultural symbols, not speak their language) (Bell and Perry 2015; Fashola 2011; ODIHR 2020;  Walters 2021).
  • Research has also shown that the trauma victims feel is also felt by people who were not involved in the incident but identify with the victim and that these indirect victims may exhibit the same coping or avoidance behaviours as direct victims (Paterson et al. 2019, 996).
  • People who share certain attitudes, behaviours, or beliefs may develop a sense of belonging to a community or group. So, if one of their group is attacked, other group members are likely to experience it as an attack on the whole group (Paterson et al. 2020).

Communities may feel fear and they may feel vulnerable as a group when they perceive that they may be targeted in the future (Perry 2014). Research has shown that most groups targeted by hate crime are victimized both directly and indirectly; directly by the crime itself, indirectly by seeing themselves as victims even if they haven’t been the target of a hate crime (Wevodau et al. 2014, 66).

Simply knowing a person who has been a victim of a hate crime can affect a person who is a member of the targeted community. It increases the chance that they will perceive threats towards themselves that may not exist (ODIHR 2020, 12; Paterson et al. 2019, 1006). In the ODIHR report, it was noted that people had normalized their experiences as an everyday fact “by accepting devaluation, discrimination and intolerance” as “a normal state of being” (ODIHR 2020, 12). Their daily experience then is understanding that they may be randomly attacked on any given day because of their group identity (ODIHR 2020, 12; 14). Knowing this makes the violence of these crimes terrifying for many communities (ODIHR 2020, 14).

Moreover, vulnerable group members come to accept that their victimization is permanent. This is the result of both single incidents they have experienced and from what they perceive as, and/or experience as, structural or institutional apathy through secondary victimization (ODIHR 2020, 14).Footnote17 This can include police and other public officials minimizing the seriousness of a person’s experience of hate crime, or denying them services, rights, or status. All of these affect both individuals and community members even more (ODIHR 2020, 14).

Hate crime can affect communities by making them feel they are alienated or separate from the general population (ODIHR 2020, 16).

Needs of victims of hate crimes

After a crime has occurred and into the medium and longer term, victims of crime need information and support.Footnote18 Victims of hate crimes may have specific needs above and beyond these. The ODIHR report, Understanding the Needs of Victims of Hate Crime, notes that victims of hate crime require support in multiple areas. These include needing help to feel safe and to have a sense of security, both physically and emotionally (ODIHR 2020, 18).

Not all communities trust criminal justice authorities, such as the police, but victims can feel safe in many other ways. These include connecting with service providers in their own communities, as well as ensuring that their family and friends support them. Communities also need supports to ensure/create safety for victims after they experience a hate crime. Creating safe spaces and supports offer a way for individuals and communities to regain their sense of safety. This resilience can lead to them feeling more confident about the criminal justice system and being more likely to use both the social and community supports available (ODIHR 2020, 18). Victims of hate crime also need practical support, such as:

  • psychological support,
  • legal assistance,
  • medical attention,
  • having someone accompany them to court or help them navigate the criminal justice process,
  • compensation for money lost because of the crime, and
  • other forms of material support, including information and advice (for example, legal advice) (ODHIR 2020, 18).

All victim services should treat all victims with respect and dignity. This includes:

  • acknowledging their experiences and supporting victims in accessing information for their case,
  • helping victims to understand the criminal justice process and to be understood within it, and
  • supporting victims to voice what outcome they wish, or what “justice delivered” would look like (ODHIR 2020, 30).

Victim services in the provinces and territories

In Canada, the provinces and territories are responsible for providing victim services. Each province and territory uses different models to deliver victim services.Footnote19 These models all provide information, referrals, and support to victims of crime.

  • System-based services help victims to figure out how to navigate the criminal justice system, for example by providing support and counselling and preparing victim impact statements;
  • Court-based services help victims prepare for court, ask for restitution and receive updates on progress of case;
  • Police-based services help victims cope with crisis, and obtain information about how court works,
  • Community-based services help victims receive emotional support, practical assistance, and referrals from within the community, for example for sexual assault.Footnote20

The number of hate crimes reported to police varies considerably across the provinces and territories. According to 2020 data, four provinces accounted for most incidents that were reported: Ontario (1,164), British Columbia (519), Quebec (485), and Alberta (291). Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia each had between 50 and 55 incidents; New Brunswick had 19 incidents; Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island each had fewer than 10; and the territories reported five or fewer incidents (Statistics Canada 2022b). Just because few hate crimes are reported to police does not mean that hate crimes are not occurring in these provinces. It does mean that the victims of these crimes are not connecting with the criminal justice system, and that they are not receiving support from victim services.

The next section summarizes the results of a survey sent to federal, provincial and territorial members of the Working Group on Victims of Crime.

Survey results

In the previous Justice Canada study completed in 2007, McDonald and Hogue surveyed provinces and territories to find out whether specific services for hate crime were available for victims of hate crimes. In 2007, no province or territory reported providing specific services to victims of hate crime. The provinces and territories reported that most victims of hate crimes would be eligible for and receive the same services available to all victims of crime (McDonald and Hogue 2007).

In an effort to update the landscape of services available for victims of hate crime, Justice Canada sent a new survey to the provinces and territories in 2022, asking the same questions as in 2007:

  • What types of services are available for victims of crime?
  • Are there any services specifically for victims of hate crimes in your jurisdiction?
    • Please provide a brief description of the services (e.g., what, where, who it serves).
  • What are the main barriers for victims of hate crimes in accessing regular victim services in your jurisdiction (e.g., language, lack of knowledge about the service, particular needs that cannot be met)?
  • Based on your experience, what are the special needs of victims of hate crimes?
    • What do victim services require to address these needs (e.g., resources for additional languages/culture, additional training on hate crimes, long-term counseling)?

The jurisdictions (n=7) that responded indicated that they did not have services specifically for victims of hate crimes; the services they provide are available to all victims. The very useful Justice Canada publication, Victim Services in Canada, 2018,provides thorough descriptions of victim services across the country.Footnote21

Barriers to accessing services

Survey respondents noted that victims of hate crimes who are accessing their services face the same barriers as victims of other crimes, such a lack of awareness of those services and language barriers. Those from certain groups, such as new immigrants or Indigenous people who may not trust the police, also face the same barriers. Respondents added other barriers that victims of hate crimes could face:

  • not knowing what victim services and support are available;
  • language barriers;
  • fear of and not understanding the Canadian legal system;
  • mistrust and fear of police and systemic bias within the Canadian legal system;
  • being reluctant to report, which may limit access to supports that address their needs;
  • being poor or from remote areas;
  • feelings of shame and humiliation;
  • fear of reprisal;
  • lack of peer or family support; and
  • concerns about the victim’s overlapping social identities not being understood (for example, being Black and 2SLGBTQI+).

Unique needs and challenges of victims of hate crime

The provinces and territories reported on the unique needs and challenges of victims of hate crimes. These include:

  • services that acknowledge the harm done to victims while also recognizing the effect on the community of which they are a part;
  • client-centred services that allow the victim to make well-informed decisions;
  • fear and insecurity felt by the victim, their community, and other marginalized communities;
  • heightened and prolonged psychological distress as a result of the victim’s security being violated and the attack on the victim’s self-identity; 
  • rejection by the victim of the aspect of themselves that was the target of the crime (for example, their sexual orientation); 
  • self-blame or victim-blaming by dominant cultural groups ; 
  • increased isolation, stress, and vulnerability for the victim, their family members, and all members of the community; 

Addressing victims’ needs

Once victims or third parties reported incidents to police, the survey responses from federal, provincial, and territorial victim services showed they had a strong understanding of the specific dynamics of hate crimes and the unique needs of victims. Training and awareness raising were the ideas mentioned most often, but there were also calls to add restorative justice programs to address ongoing hate.

One province noted:

I would like to see VS [victim services] collaboratively work on preparing information sheets or pamphlets as a resource that could be provided to the general public about hate crimes and added resources to support.

All the provinces and territories noted that more resources, including specialized services, training on cultural competence, and resources such as interpretation, would help them better support victims of hate crimes:

  • more resources that consider external pressures such as the pandemic and the rise of hate crime and allow services to be able to provide supports that are culturally relevant and effective for the communities they serve;
  • more training on hate crimes, including developing and refining training tools to further strengthen the knowledge and understanding of hate crime issues, specifically on how hate crimes may differ from other crimes and the effect it can have on the individual victim and community;
  • public campaigns to create greater awareness about hate crimes and where victims can access services, in a variety of languages;
  • specialized trauma-informed counselling services for those who are victims of hate crimes and for their families and community members who may also experience the effects of these crimes. These services should be culturally relevant and be made available for the long term;
  • funding that communities can access to heal from the trauma of hate crimes and enhance their security.
  • creating a restorative justice-based approach for hate crime and hate-motivated offences. This could help to break the cycle of hate and make the offender less likely to repeat their crime by promoting healing for the offender and the victim through
    • input from community,
    • respectful communication between victim and offender,
    • ensuring the offender truly answers for their actions, and
    • the victim forgiving the offender for their crime.

In the remaining sections of this article, highlights are presented on how victims of hate crime can participate in the criminal justice system and research about that participation.

Victim impact and community impact statements

Section 15 of the Canadian Victims’ Bill of Rights states thatevery victim has a right to present a victim impact statement to criminal justice authorities (for example, police, judges, and corrections officers), as well as have the legal system consider it. The Criminal Code added community impact statements in 2015 for all offences (Manikis 2019).

Victim impact statements provide a description of the harms done and loss suffered by the victim.

Community impact statements describe the harms and losses suffered by the community affected. This can include a neighbourhood, business, or organization.Footnote22

The Criminal Code requires victims to submit victim impact statementsduring sentencing. Other types of victim statements can be submitted to the relevant authorities after the offender is sentenced (for example, while offenders are in federal custody or at parole hearings). Research has shown that providing a victim impact statement can

  • influence the sentencing decision,
  • provide a voice for victims/communities during the criminal justice process, or
  • can be therapeutic for the victim (Manikis 2019).

Academics and others have debated the effect of these statements and their use, or value, within the criminal process; some academics see impact statements as interfering with an offender’s right to a fair trial. Others think these statements contribute to the process overall. Research has shown that judges have relied on victim impact statements in sentencing decisions and that they certainly give victims a voice (Manikis 2019).

The law says that victims must be offered the opportunity to submit a victim impact statement in Canada. But there are no data on the rate at which victim impact statements and community statements are submitted. According to a study completed by the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics for Justice Canada, only five provinces report on the rate of victim impact statement submissions (Allen 2019, 13). Research has shown that there is no significant relationship between how satisfied or involved victims are with the criminal justice system and whether they have submitted a victim impact statement (Laxminarayan et al. 2013).

A review of publicly available case law (Provost-Yombo et al. 2021) on hate as an aggravating factor in sentencing revealed that between 2007 and 2021, of the 50 sentencing decisions recorded, only a third (n=17) referred to a victim or community impact statement. Out of those 17 cases, only three cases (6 percent) included a community impact statementFootnote23, although in 18 cases offenders had targeted communities as their victims. At the discretion of the sentencing judge, community impact statements have always been permitted.Footnote24 When the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights (CVBR)Footnote25 and the resulting amendments to the Criminal Code came into force in July 2015, they included the ability to submit community impact statements for all offences. Given the harm that communities endure when an individual member is a victim, one might then assume that a larger number of them would be submitted in cases of hate crimes. Note though that most of the 50 sentencing decisions reviewed were issued before 2015 – before the amendment to the Criminal Code on community impact statements.

Using restorative justice

Growing research has been exploring the potential use of restorative justice (RJ) for victims and those who commit hate crimes. Restorative justice offers an avenue to educate and challenge the prejudice of the offender as well as a space to support and empower the victim by having their voice heard in a safe environment.Footnote26

The Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group on RJ has defined RJ as:

An approach to justice that seeks to repair harm by providing an opportunity for those harmed and those who take responsibility for the harm to communicate about and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime.

RJ could help respond to the needs of hate crime victims by reducing their trauma and improving their sense of security and fear and anger levels (Walters 2014). If offenders and victim/stakeholdersFootnote27 are able to talk with one another, offenders could get a first-hand look at the harm they caused (Walters 2014).

Restorative Justice Victoria, a non-profit community-based organization in British Columbia has used this approach successfully in dealing with hate crime.Footnote28

The Ottawa Parkdale United Church’s used RJ provides another example of using this approach to successfully deal with a hate crime. . In this case, a youth who was found guilty of spray painting anti-Semitic and racist symbols on the church and agreed to participate in the Collaborative Justice Program at the Ottawa Courthouse. The youth wrote a 500-word essay about the members of the communities he had targeted and shared his work with those communities.Footnote29 Although RJ may not be appropriate in all cases of hate crimes, these processes have great potential to address the harms caused.

In conclusion

This article has provided a brief review of the literature and statistics on hate crimes, case law on the use of victim and community impact statements at sentencing, and survey results from federal, provincial and territorial victim services on the needs of victims. Understanding the context of colonialism in Canada is important to understand feelings of devaluation by specific minority groups. Of note, respondents to the survey of victim services were very conscious of the gaps in their services and the lack of awareness about hate crimes and their impact on the public, victims, and service providers.

Other efforts are underway to better understand how to support victims of hate crimes. A research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council entitled Finding the Gaps: Criminal Justice Processing of Hate Crimes will be drawing on case studies of restorative justice processes that have been used with hate crime cases.Footnote30 Also, the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics is developing comprehensive training for police and victim services on responding to hate crimes. The training will also incorporate community organizations. This will ensure that everyone with a stake in the outcome will work together to best support victims while accurately recording the details of hate crimes they report to police.

Much more – improve the general public’s understanding of hate crimes, provide multiple ways to report hate to authorities, increase transparency on why crimes may not be prosecuted as hate crimes – can be done to better support victims of hate crimes. It is past time to move forward.


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Awan, Imran and Irene Zempi. 2020. ‘You all look the same’: Non-Muslim men who suffer Islamophobic hate crime in the post-Brexit era. European Journal of Criminology 17(5):585–60

Backhouse, Constance. 1988. Married Women's Property Law in Nineteenth-Century Canada (1988). Law and History Review 6 (2):211-257.

Bell, James G. and Barbara Perry. 2015. Outside looking in: The Community Impacts of Anti-Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Hate Crime, Journal of Homosexuality 62(98):98–120.

Borell, Klas. 2015. When Is the Time to Hate? A Research Review on the Impact of Dramatic Events on Islamophobia and Islamophobic Hate Crimes in Europe. Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations 26(4):409–421.

Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics. 2022. Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR) Manual. Statistics Canada.

Canadian Race Relations and Environics Institute for Survey Research. 2022. Race Relations in Canada 2021: A survey of Canadian public opinion and experience. Accessed at: https://www.environicsinstitute.org/docs/default-source/project-documents/race-relations-in-canada-2021/race-relations-in-canada-2021-survey---final-report.pdf?sfvrsn=f7d3e0c0_2

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