Federal and provincial ministers of justice and public safety met by phone Friday to discuss the rise in hate speech associated with the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Federal Justice Minister Arif Virani joined the phone call from Halifax, where he also met with Jewish and Muslim groups. In an interview, he described those meetings as "difficult" and "challenging".
"And what I heard, specifically, that stuck with me, is that people were openly questioning whether it's safe to be Jewish and Muslim in Canada right now," Virani said.
Even before the latest conflict between Hamas and Israel began in October, hate crime in Canada was on the rise. Figures from Statistics Canada show the problem started to surge at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. According to Statscan, there were more than 2,600 police-reported hate crimes in 2020, a 36 per cent increase over the year before. That number surged by another 27 per cent in 2021.
The upward trend continues, including here in Nova Scotia. Halifax Regional Police reported 181 incidents of hate and 56 hate crimes in 2022. So far this year, they've seen 242 hate incidents and 90 hate crimes.
An Islamic Centre in Toronto was spray painted with graffiti earlier this year that police said contained “hateful messages." (Michael Wilson/CBC)
Virani said peaceful public protest is a part of Canadian life, but what isn't acceptable is the bullying, intimidation and violence directed at these minority groups.
"You know, we've had shots fired into Jewish schools in Montreal, we've had incidents where children in Hijabs are afraid to go to school in Ontario," Virani said in an interview.
"We don't need people being intimidated who are just everyday Canadians who are going about their daily lives."
Virani said the protests should be directed at elected representatives like himself and not at the minority groups.
The conference call among ministers discussed what methods they're using to tackle the rise in hate crime. VIrani said it's important for people in the justice system to be aware of the laws governing hate crimes and know how to apply them. He's particularly concerned about what he sees as the amount of online invective and hatred.
"It's really prompted calls for my government and me to really move quicker on online hate legislation," he said.
Bill C-36, which was tabled in 2021, would have tightened rules around hate propaganda and hate crimes. It has not yet passed into law. Virani said he wants to reintroduce the legislation with added rules pertaining to online hatred.
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