According to Statistics Canada police-reported hate crimes in the country have sharply increased since 2009, when comparable data became available. 

In fact, last year’s number for reported hate crimes reached a record-high of 2,073. 

But does the Region of Waterloo — who was once dubbed as the hate crime capital of Canada back in 2009 — reflect these national statistics? 

According to the Waterloo Region Record, it does, citing 53 hate crimes being reported in 2017, 34 more than what was reported in 2016.

Sergeant Ryan Leslie, who was recently assigned to oversee the hate crimes division with Waterloo Regional Police, says that while the number reported by the Record seems accurate, for the time being, he cannot speak to the specifics of the stats, such as certain races or religions being targeted in the Region.

“We got to digest these stats and have a look at them,” Leslie said. 

Leslie believes that these increases are a result of more reporting rather than more incidents, thanks to an increase in educating the public and police on hate crimes.

“I took over the hate crime team leader role at the start of 2016,” Leslie said.  “Looking at the correlation of stats, for some reason we went down in 2016. Looking at our 2015 stats, I saw a spike for some reason in our LGBTQ+ report in hate crimes. We had to react to it [sic] … So I built the #FiveDaysOfPink campaign.”

#FiveDaysOfPink was an online campaign that lead up to April 13, 2016, which was the International Day of Pink.

“Ultimately, it was an education in terms of trans-positive language and how to prevent bullying or intercede in it. But a big push of it was ‘why do you report hate crimes?’ and encouraging people to help develop that message for us to encourage people reporting hate crimes,” Leslie said.

Leslie also acknowledged that it was previously more difficult for people to report hate crimes to the police, which resulted in possibly lower stats in the past.

“Traditionally, we know that there are barriers to reporting. And we’re trying to break down those barriers and build the bridges that we need to get people to come to us when these things are going on,” he said. 

Frequent communication with the public, and more specifically with places of worship and community agencies is also another priority for the hate crimes division of the Waterloo Regional Police, according to Leslie.

“It wasn’t long after I came into this role that there was the attack at the mosque in Quebec,” he said. “After the attack on the mosque the direction immediately came from our chief to reach out to everyone. We went to every mosque and other places of worship we could to offer our condolences and just to be there … to provide a message of safety and security.”

The same effort was also initiated in October after the recent Pittsburg Synagogue Shooting, where WRPS was able to spread their message of support and help through prominent members of the Jewish community.

Educational seminars on hate crimes have also been conducted by the Police, which have allowed them to collaborate with local places of worship and community groups, and further strengthen their ties with them, according to Leslie.

In summer 2018 WRPS collaborated with the Coalition of Muslim Women KW, Waterloo Regional Crime Stoppers and the Investigative Hate Crime and Extremism Team — a provincial organization — for places of worship and community agencies. 

Reverend Jenn Hind of the Emmanuel United Church attended the seminar when it was launched earlier this summer. 

“It was very positive,” Hind said. “When you walk into that room and you see tables upon tables from the Region from all walks of life — faith communities, police partners, social workers, social service agencies — we live in a Region that cares and we live in a Region that supports one another.” 

Just last year, Emmanuel United Church was targeted in a hate crime, where a vandal spray painted Romans 1:32 and “the church shall remain holy” right underneath the church’s pride flag.

“It was definitely something that rallied the community and brought the community together in a way that was restorative and renewal,” Hind said when asked about how the church is doing one year after the hate crime. 

“It was a good reminder that there’s still lots of work to do, and from there we just committed to continue that work and continue to commit to be the voice of resistance in all matters pertaining to hate.”

In addition to the congregation and community support, Hind also acknowledges the support provided by WRPS.

“I feel like there are eyes on us and I feel like there’s a swift and consistent response whenever we need help” she said. 

“That helps us grow in our confidence to go out and resist that voice of hate, wherever we find it. We feel very grateful to be in a Region that cares as much as they do and react as much as they do when hate surfaces.

To learn more about hate crime and to report a hate crime, visit wrsp.on.ca.