What Canada can learn from the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting

Canadians disturbed by white supremacist Wade Michael Page's shooting rampage at a Wisconsin Sikh temple that killed seven people on August 5 should be worried about what could happen in Canada, says an anti-racism expert who has tracked white supremacist groups in Canada for over twenty years.

Alan Dutton, co-founder of the Canadian Anti-racism Education and Research Society (CAERS) and and member of the Stop Racism and Hate Collective, said that Canadians ought to be more aware of the state of hate crime monitoring in their own backyard.

"Whereas other countries are moving to enact provisions to monitor hate crime, Canada is removing them," Dutton said. He noted that the internet is becoming an increasingly fertile recruitment tool for white supremacist groups in Canada, but there are dangerously few mechanisms in place to monitor their growth with the weakening of online hate speech and group monitoring, and lack of political leadership on the issue.

Hate crime underreported in Canada

According to the latest Statistics Canada figures, police reported 1,401 hate crimes in 2010, or 4.1 hate crimes per 100,000 Canadians. Over half (53 per cent) were motivated by race or ethnicity, while 29.5 per cent were religiously motivated, and 16 per cent were motivated by sexual orientation.

Police-reported hate crimes in Canada (2010). Graph by Beth Hong or The Vancouver Observer, based on figures from Statistics Canada.

In BC, the most shocking and most explicit case of hate-motivated violence against Sikhs remains the beating death of Nirmal Singh Gill in the parking lot of the Guru Nanak Temple in Surrey in January 1998 by five racist skin heads. Dutton said that there are many smaller crimes that occur in the community that people don't report out of fear or apprehension about the police or retaliation. What needed is a coordinated effort between community members, elected leaders, and police.

Currently, hate speech is still banned under the Criminal Code of Canada in sections 318, 319, and 320 as "hate propaganda." While hate crime units exist at municipal and provincial levels, the RCMP does not keep any specific database of hate crimes in Canada.

No national database of hate crime or hate groups in Canada
"Hate crime characteristics of an incident are collected on our records management systems as part of the Statistics Canada UCR 2.2 survey," wrote RCMP spokesperson Laurence Trottier. "There is no hate crime specific database used by the RCMP."

A 2009 Alberta Hate Crimes Committee report proposes among its recommendations an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada to include "a standard hate crime definition for all law enforcement in Canada and provide improved collection, analysis, and dissemination of hate crime data, which would contribute significantly to community-policing initiatives as the bedrock of civil society."

Dutton agrees with this recommendation, citing the lack of a national database of hate groups as a major problem for curtailing the trend of under-reporting.

"We've lost support for any community groups that are tracking or monitoring hate groups."

Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act allowed the Human Rights Commission to hold hearings and give penalties to individuals and groups who communicate “hate messages by telephone or on the Internet.” It was repealed in June 2012 as a private member’s bill from Conservative MP Brian Storseth (Westlock - St. Paul AB). Dutton said this was a huge blow to the handful of organizations who were monitoring hate speech and groups operating in Canada.

"Not only did we lose section 13 [of the Canadian Human Rights Act], we've lost support for any community groups that are tracking or monitoring hate groups," he said.

Citizens, community groups, police and politicians need to work together to combat a problem that goes beyond community and provincial borders, Dutton said.

He cited groups such as Blood and Honour, Volksfront, and the Northern Hammerskins as active white supremacist groups in Canada that are recruiting an increasing number of young women into their ranks.

"Obviously we have hate groups that operate in various countries and they want to make contacts to recruit in Canada, but we don't have a strategy or know the numbers of these hate groups," he said. "It's so fractured that we have cases of individuals who have been prosecuted for hate crime, and who have violated conditions of their parole by being present in organized racist meetings and demonstrations and are still left on parole."

Canada's shameful racist past

Darren E. Lund, a professor of education at the University of Calgary who has written about the Ku Klux Klan in Alberta and white privilege, agrees that Canada needs community leaders and political representatives to take protecting Canada's diversity more seriously.

"Canadians like to pride ourselves on being an accepting and proudly multicultural nation, but this country has a long and shameful past of discriminatory government policies and historical events," Lund wrote in an email to The Vancouver Observer, in reference to the Klan's activities in Canada during the 1920s and 30s, with Alberta having the dubious distinction of granting the Klan their own charter. He also said that racism in Canadian society exists now in a "coded" manner of speaking about "those people" coming to Canada and "true Canadian values."

"In many cases, these ways of speaking about non-white people sound very much like white supremacist ways of seeing our country," he added.

Ultimately, politicans cannot rely on assuming that Canada is post-racial, and need to prioritize monitoring and tracking hate speech on the internet for the safety of all Canadians, Dutton said.

"Policing is a blunt tool, and we need coordinated effort between citizens, police, community leaders, and politicians," he said. "When its fractured, then the doors open."

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