JustResearch No. 14

Research in Profile (cont'd)

An Exploration of the Needs of Victims of Hate Crimes

Susan McDonald, Senior Research Officer, Research and Statistics Division, and
Andrea Hogue, Summer Student, Policy Centre for Victim Issues


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? A preliminary study that sought to answer these questions was completed in 2006. This article summarizes the findings of that study and 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.

The Review of Data and Literature

Definitions and Legislation

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.

The Canadian Human Rights Act, specifically s.13(1) of the Act, prohibits hate messages. This section was amended in 2002 [4] to make it clear that hate messages include Internet messages.

Two Supreme Court of Canada cases have set clear precedents relating to hate-motivated crime: R. v. Keegstra [5] and R. v. Andrews [6].


Data on victims of hate crimes in Canada is limited and at this time is based on victimization surveys, a pilot survey by Statistics Canada, and the Ethnic Diversity Survey. This data is complemented by individual studies and initiatives, such as the B'nai Brith annual audit of anti-Semitic hate crime.

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.[7] 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.[8] 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 2004).

Some facets of hate crime, such as the fear of becoming a victim of an ethnoculturally motivated hate crime, were measured by the Ethnic Diversity Survey (EDS). The Ethnic Diversity Study found that in 2002, 5% of Canadians aged 15 and over were worried about being the victim of an ethnocultural hate crime (Statistics Canada 2003).

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 2001­2003, 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.

The Literature

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). While this brief article cannot summarize all the findings from the research, several key projects and findings are highlighted.

Discussing the concept of social identity, Blake (2001,133) notes that:

…one does not have to believe in one's membership in the group or endorse that group as a fundamental part of one's identity, in order to be made aware that one is vulnerable in virtue of the perception of membership. An attack upon a socially isolated individual creates an awareness in other socially marginalized individuals that they are vulnerable to violent attack.

Gregory Herek of the University of California at Davis undertook a major study in the mid-nineties with 2,300 gays and lesbians in the Sacramento, California, area. Overall, the findings indicate that hate crime victimization is more serious than crime victimization in general (Herek 1999). Victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation experience more distress (depression, stress, anger), that distress may last longer, and the reasons for the distress are related directly to their social identity compared to victims of non-bias-motivated crimes (Herek 1999, 1).

These results are similar to those found by McDevitt, Balboni, Garcia, and Gu (2001). McDevitt et al. sent a survey by mail to each victim of bias-motivated aggravated assault in the years 1992-1997 and took a 10% random sample of victims of non-bias assault as a comparison. The study looked at demographic variables, relationship to the offender, victims' reactions to the assault, whether or not they sought medical attention, and whether or not they reported the incident to the police.

Forty-six percent of victims of non-bias crime felt unsafe after the attack; however, a significantly higher number of victims of bias crime felt unsafe (59%) (McDevitt et al. 2001, 54). Also, through utilizing Horowitz's Impact of Event Scale, [9] while only six items showed significant differences between the bias crime group and the non-bias crime group, "every psychological impact measure from this scale had a higher mean value from the bias group than from the non-bias group" (McDevitt et al. 2001, 53). According to the authors, "these conclusions support the claim that bias crimes do in fact affect their victims differently and that consequently law enforcement and social service agencies should be cognizant of these differences in assisting bias crime victims" (McDevitt et al. 2001, 56).

While they are not the only empirical studies on victims of hate crimes, the two studies described above highlight the consensus among researchers that hate crime victimization can be more serious, last longer, and have a significant impact on the community. There is very little research in Canada, nationally, or locally, that examines these specific issues. There are, however, several initiatives that are responding to data collection challenges.

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 members of the Federal Provincial Territorial Working Group on Victims of Crime. The members of this working group 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?

Nine out of twelve jurisdictions responded, and their responses to all three questions were consistent. 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 provision­s.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.

Barriers to Services

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.

Special Needs

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:

  1. Training - Overall, jurisdictions did not believe that specific services would be the appropriate response, given the small numbers of victims and limited capacity. More training and resources (public legal education and information, interpretation services) were identified. Improved training and increased coordination in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes for all criminal justice professionals would benefit victims.
  2. Recognition - Victims need the hatred behind these crimes identified and acknowledged by the criminal justice system. Materials that are directed toward police and prosecutors to assist them to identify the hatred aspect of these crimes and to make the case before the courts may be helpful. A pamphlet or brochure that outlines the provisions in the Criminal Code in relation to hate crimes may be a helpful tool for victim services in dealing with victims of these crimes.

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.

After significant consultation with the community and the police, agreement on a standard definition was reached (see the UCR 2.2 definition at the beginning of this article as well as footnote 1). Working with an agreed-upon definition is an important step forward. This particular initiative takes several more steps forward as it involves training police officers to recognise and report these crimes, thereby improving data collection in the long term. With approximately 3,000 police forces in Canada, the training goal will be achieved in a number of ways: holding regional training sessions, offering training at police colleges, and training trainers. As well, CCJS is working towards an electronic version of the training package so that forces can provide on-going training and reach all officers.

What is particularly important about the CCJS training, in relation to the subject of this study, is the focus on victims. The training incorporates findings from the research on victim and community impact and uses video clips, photographs, and excerpts from newspaper articles to provide the victim's perspective.

The literature reviewed for this study highlighted the issue of community and individual impact. The following research projects would supplement the national data collection efforts of CCJS to help foster a body of Canadian research in this area.

  1. The victim's perspective is central to the sentencing of offenders convicted of hate crimes. The enhanced sentence imposed as a result of the hate crime provision is supposed to recognize the increased harm inflicted as a result of hatred or bias. It would be important to better understand the reaction of victims to specific sentencing decisions.
  2. Community surveys could be conducted with specific populations to gauge the extent to which they have confidence in the justice response to reports of hate crimes.
  3. Community and victim impact studies with those communities recently affected by hate crimes could be undertaken to provide a better understanding of the community impact in cases of hate crimes. Such awareness might assist other players in the criminal justice system, for example when Crown are making arguments at sentencing regarding s. 718.2(a)(i).
  4. The General Social Survey on Criminal Victimization, conducted every 5 years by Statistics Canada, could include additional questions on community impact of hate crimes.

Herek (1999, 2) noted that given the more serious impact on victims, "it is appropriate for legislation and public policy to treat hate crimes as a special case of criminal victimization, one that requires special strategies for prevention, prosecution, and victim services." 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. Training would require consistency in content, with flexibility for regional/local variations; a victim orientation; and a practical orientation.
  2. Support funding proposals that aim to reduce barriers to accessing services for victims of hate crimes. These proposals might be related to all victims of crime, but special recognition should be included for victims of hate crimes. Examples might include:
    1. Materials developed specifically for communities; this could include cultural translations of victim services materials.
    2. Workshops/training/networking events to increase collaboration between community groups and victim services.
  3. Support funding proposals to develop, implement, and evaluate training and training materials for those who work with victims of hate crimes. Some examples of further initiatives that could be supported include:
    1. Materials directed toward police and prosecutors to assist them in identifying the hatred aspect of these crimes and to make the case before the courts may be helpful, similar to the Prosecutor's Handbook for Criminal Harassment.
    2. A pamphlet or brochure outlining the provisions in the Criminal Code that relate to hate crimes may be a helpful tool for victim services.


This exploratory examination of the needs of victims of hate crimes clearly identified the gaps in research and services in Canada. While this brief article cannot adequately capture the breadth of work being done in this area, it does provide suggestions for further research, training/education and improvements to current services through training and reducing barriers to access. 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.