Hate rate jumps in North York

North York has once again earned the dubious distinction of having the greatest number of reported hate-motivated crimes in Toronto last year.

In a 2009 hate and bias crime statistics report recently presented to the Police Services Board, North York’s 32 Division, which polices Willowdale, Newtonbrook and Bathurst Manor, reported 35 incidents of hate-fuelled crime, including mischief, harassment and assault
that targeted an identifiable group.

The figure jumped by a dozen from 2008, reflecting a slight increase in hate and bias crimes reported across Toronto as a whole.

The Jewish community was most often targeted, followed by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered community, and the black community.

It’s not surprising that the higher number of incidents occurred in 32 Division, where there is a large Jewish community, and the highest concentration of synagogues in the city, said Detective Sergeant Jim Sproxton.

The incidents targeting that community were for the most part mischief offences, including acts of vandalism and minor damage to property.

“Might be a swastika in an inappropriate place, even in a building that is primarily occupied by Jewish residents,” said Sproxton.

In recent years, many incidents have been the work of ignorant youth, rather than organized hate groups, he said.

“They probably stir it up in other areas of their lives but for whatever reason would pick on the different communities and do whatever it is to cause consternation,” said Sproxton.

But acts born out of ignorance are still criminal acts, and should be taken seriously, said Bernie Farber, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

“The impact on the community, not just on one person, but on the entire community, is so much more significant,” he said.

In the past 10 years, North York has dealt with disturbing acts of hate-fuelled crime, but those types of crimes have been absent in recent years.

“We’ve had cemeteries that were damaged, whether they were toppling over tombstones or spray-bombing them,” said Sproxton.

In March 2004, tombstones on Jewish graves were upturned at Bathurst Lawn Memorial Park. Swastikas and genocidal slogans desecrated a neighbouring synagogue and Jewish day school. That same weekend, anti-Semitic incidents were reported in Thornhill.

“I called it weekend of hate, it was just incredible,” recalled Farber. “And that, thankfully, we have not seen (lately).”

Farber attributed the decline in more severe hate-motivated crimes to more education, more individuals speaking out and police work sending a message to the community about the seriousness of the crime and that if you get caught you will be charged.

The report also indicated that organized hate groups now have a more visible presence online, rather than in the community.

“And then, you really don’t know if they’re a group or not, because one person can themselves look like 10 (one the web),” said Farber.

Last year overall in Toronto there was a slight spike in reported hate-motivated offences. In 2009, 174 hate incidents reported to police, up 14 percent from the previous year.

Still, the number was below par, as the annual average of reported hate incidents in Toronto over the past 17 years is pegged at 201.

Despite the increase, the report indicates that data collected may not paint an accurate picture of hate/bias criminal activity in Toronto, as there is still a degree of public reluctance to report hate crimes to police.