An Exploration of the Needs of Victims of Hate Crimes


The authors would like to thank Dr. Karen Mock, Chair of the Ontario Community Hate Crimes Working Group, for all her assistance in the preparation of this report, along with Working Group members Jane Tallim and Raja Khouri, and support staff Gabrielle Hezekiah. As well, we would like to thank the members of the Federal Provincial Territorial Working Group for Victims of Crime for responding to the electronic survey of services provided in the different jurisdictions. For help with drafts of this report, we would like to acknowledge Jocelyn Sigouin, Marilou Reeve, Austin Lawrence, and Warren Silver.

Executive Summary

What are the needs of victims of hate crimes in Canada? Are those needs any different from those of victims of other crimes? In what ways are those needs similar? What do we know about victims of hate crimes?This report presents the findings of a study that sought to explore these questions. It includes a review of available statistics on victims of hate crimes, a review of literature, mostly from academic journals, information on the services jurisdictions provide to victims of hate crimes, and a discussion of next steps.

Data and Literature

For the purpose of this study, the following definition of hate crime,[1] taken from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey 2.2,[2] was used:

…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 any other similar factor.

Hate crime is addressed through sections 318 (advocating genocide) and 319 (public incitement of hatred) of the Criminal Code,[3] as well as through the sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code found in section 718.2 (a)(i). These sentencing provisions provide that at sentencing the courts should take into consideration crimes which show "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 any other similar factor." Furthermore, there is a specific provision found in s.430 (4.1) with respect to mischief against property used for religious worship. Finally, two Supreme Court of Canada cases have set clear precedents relating to hate-motivated crime - R. v. Keegstra [1990] 3 S.C.R. 697 and R. v. Andrews [1990] 3 S.C.R. 870.

The Canadian Human Rights Act,specifically s.13(1), prohibits hate messages. This section was amended in 2002 to make it clear that hate messages include Internet messages.

Data on victims of hate crimes in Canada is limited. The 2004 General Social Survey on Victimization found that the percentage of incidents that victims felt were hate-motivated was 4%, unchanged from the 1999 victimization survey (Gannon and Mihorean 2005, 7). Race or ethnicity was the dominant reason behind hate-motivated crime in 65% of hate crimes, with gender in 26% of hate crimes, and religion and sexual orientation accounted for 14% and 12% of hate crimes, respectively.[4] The authors note that hate-motivated crime creates both primary and secondary victims, as it targets not only the individual but "what the individual represents" (2005, 7).

In general, most incidents of victimization are not reported to the police. Only one third (34%) of victimizations were reported to the police in 2004. This is a slight decrease from 37% for 1999. An estimated 88% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. In 2004, victims sought assistance from a formal help agency (victim services, crisis centres, help lines, health or social services) in only 9% of incidents. It seems that a vast majority of victims (90%) turn to informal support for help – a friend, neighbour, or family. Those who did not report to the police were asked why they did not do so. The reasons they gave (a list of possible reasons was provided to respondents) included: they believed that the incident was "not important enough"; they did not want the police involved; they felt it was a private matter; they felt the police would not be able to do anything about it. Victims also chose not to report both because they believed that the police would not help and because they feared reprisals by the offender(s).

In 2001 and 2002, a pilot survey of hate crime was conducted involving twelve major Canadian police forces over a period of two years (Silver et al. 2004). In that period of time, 928 hate crime incidents were reported. The results, released in June 2004, indicated that the motivation behind these crimes was predominantly race or ethnicity, accounting for 57% of cases, followed closely by religion, which accounted for 43% of cases. Sexual orientation accounted for approximately 10% of cases.[5] Jewish people reported the highest number of incidents (25%), followed by Black people (17%), Muslim people (11%), South Asian people (10%), Gay and Lesbian people (9%), Multi-ethnic/racial people (9%), east and southeast Asian people (9%), and Arab/West Asian people (8%). The crimes were considered violent hate crimes in 49% of cases, or in 447 of the reported incidents. Threats and physical force accounted for the majority of violent crimes. Furthermore, those targeted as a result of their sexual orientation were more likely than others to be violently victimized, and in approximately 48% of these cases, an accused was identified and charged (Janhevich 2002).

B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights compiles data on reported anti-Semitic crimes for its annual audit. In 2003, 584 incidents were reported to B’nai Brith, which represents a 27.2% increase in reporting compared to the previous year. Over the course of 2001–2003, the number of reported incidents doubled. The cases reported were classified as harassment (66.6%), vandalism (32.2%), and violence (2.6%) (The League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada 2003).

In addition to the victims reluctance to report a hate crime, the reporting of hate crime can vary from one region to another. As a result, it is very difficult to estimate prevalence nationally, or even provincially or territorially. There is little agreement on the best methods to collect data, and this, along with the very real and understandable fears of victims, makes underreporting a troublesome reality in terms of understanding the nature of hate crime and the needs of the victims of hate crimes.

While very little research on victims of hate crimes has been completed in Canada (Janoff 2005; Mock 1993), there is a body of literature from the United States. This literature highlights repeatedly that hate crime victimization is not limited to the individual victim. Hate crime victimization has a profound ability to affect the community or the group with which the individual identifies (e.g., Mock 1993; Ardley 2005; Iganski 2001; Herek 1999; Cogan 2002; Perry 2002). The full report summarizes this research.

Services for Victims of Hate Crimes

In order to develop a preliminary understanding of what services are currently available to victims of hate crimes, questions were sent by e-mail to select members of the Federal Provincial Territorial Working Group on Victims of Crime who are the directors of victim services in each jurisdiction. The questions were:

  1. Are there any services specifically for victims of hate crimes in your jurisdiction? If yes, could you provide a brief description?
  2. What are the main barriers for victims of hate crimes accessing regular victim services in your jurisdiction?
  3. What are the special needs of victims of hate crimes and what do victim services require to address them?

No jurisdiction reported providing specific services to victims of hate crimes. In general, victims would receive the generic service available to all victims of crime. Victim services workers would provide victims with information on the specific sentencing provision - s.718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code. As well, specific referrals would be made to appropriate community and support groups. In most cases, victim services do not provide long-term support or counselling, so referrals to other services are common and considered part of the mandate of many victim services organizations.

The barriers reported by the jurisdictions are similar to those noted in the literature. There can be language or cultural challenges in accessing services or these can contribute to a lack of awareness of victim services in general. As well, there can be a reluctance to engage with the criminal justice system, the police, victim services, the courts. This reluctance could stem from a variety of issues, including fear (of the police, of retribution from the alleged perpetrator), shame (of being a target, of being associated with a particular group), a belief that the criminal justice system would not be able to assist.

Victims of hate crimes face the same barriers to accessing victim services that all other victims do, namely lack of awareness of services, lack of transportation to services, lack of availability of services in their local community, and limitations on the range of services offered.

Several jurisdictions acknowledged that victims of hate crimes do face particular challenges due to the nature of these crimes. Firstly, the impact of a hate crime can be particularly significant because the act is directed to an individual because of a characteristic pertaining to identity (e.g., race, sexual orientation). Secondly, unlike certain other categories of crime, whole communities can be victimized when a hate crime occurs. In that respect, support and remediation programs need to consider both the individual and the community. Finally, as hate crimes are symbolic acts, the character of the crime (e.g., a violent act or a property crime) may correlate imperfectly with the degree of impact and damage to the victim and his or her community.

In response to the needs of victims of hate crimes, jurisdictions broadly identified two areas where immediate action would be warranted: training and recognition of victim and community impact.

Discussion and Next Steps

In response to some of the issues that have been identified regarding data collection, the raising of awareness, and the identification of hate crimes, initiatives have been commenced and demonstrate the importance of long-term and multi-faceted approaches to the issues. One example is the data collection project that is currently being undertaken by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS) and funded by Heritage Canada through Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism.

The literature reviewed for this study highlighted the issue of community and individual impact. The full report recommends a number of research projects that would supplement the national data collection efforts of CCJS to help foster a body of Canadian research in this area. The areas for research include: community and individual victim impact and sentencing.

Jurisdictions unanimously called for specialized training and greater awareness and collaboration among social service organizations. As a result, the authors suggest the following small, but concrete initiatives:

  1. Support training for victim services on a nation-wide basis.
  2. Support funding proposals that aim to reduce barriers to accessing services for victims of hate crimes.
  3. Support funding proposals to develop, implement, and evaluate training and training materials for those who work with victims of hate crimes.


This exploratory examination of the needs of victims of hate crimes clearly identified the gaps in research and services in Canada. While a modest beginning, often small initiatives can have significant impacts. Each suggestion is designed to be feasible and not require significant resources. Much more can be achieved through the combined efforts of government, academics, and communities – not just those targeted, but all communities in Canada.

1. Introduction

When a person is singled out for victimization based on some fundamental group characteristic – such as race, sexual orientation, religion or national origin, it is an assault on the victim’s essential being. It is an attack on the right of the victim to participate equally in society and has been shown to disproportionately affect victims.

–Hate Crimes Solutions 2006, 48

What are the needs of victims of hate crimes in Canada? Are those needs any different from victims of other crimes? In what ways are those needs similar? What do we know about victims of hate crimes? These were the questions this preliminary study sought to answer.

This report describes the findings from this preliminary study into the needs of victims of hate crimes in Canada.The background section will describe the legal context for hate crimes in Canada and the two federal initiatives - A Canada for All: Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism and the Victims of Crime Initiative - in order to situate this report. The following section summarizes available statistics on victims of hate crimes, and primarily, North American literature. In the next section, there is a summary of services for victims of hate crimes provided by the jurisdictions. This is followed by a discussion informed by the information collected in the report, as well as the authors meetings with the Ontario Community Working Group on Hate Crimes. This Working Group had been tasked with identifying potential barriers to the delivery of programs and services that help victims of hate crimes (a list of its members is found in Appendix A). Suggestions for next steps are included in the discussion section.