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Canadians need a reality check about who exactly experiences hate crimes

Muhammed Abu Marzouk

Anti-Semitism is a scourge and should be dealt with seriously. Nevertheless, contrary to what groups like B'nai Brith Canada would have us believe, the main targets of harassment and violence in Canada are not Jews. Rather, according to Statistics Canada, it is people of colour, notably Blacks, Muslims, Arabs, Indigenous people and Asians, who have been attacked and brutalized in Canadian communities. It is Muslims who have recently been the target of violence, and even murder.

CBC Radio One recently highlighted five racial attacks. None involved Jews. First was the brutal assault which all but cost the life of a 39-year-old man in Mississauga who tried to drive home from a community picnic in a park on July 15. Two white brothers shouted, "Fucking Arab people -- terrorists!" as they kicked his car. Muhammed Abu Marzouk got out of his car in the parking lot to try to calm them down, and as his two young daughters looked on, the two assailants beat him so badly he barely survived. His wife, Diana Attar, tried to intervene, as did a Muslim man who was at the picnic; both suffered minor injuries. Attar then ran to find a policeman and when she returned with him, her husband was barely alive.

On The Current there was a reminder of the six men shot to death while at prayer in January 2017. Six months before the murders, a pig's head was left on the steps of the same house of worship. None of the victims was Jewish. The murder rampage took place at a mosque in Québec City. A white Québecois man, Alexandre Bissonnette, who said he hated immigrants and thought they threatened Québecois society, took an assault rifle into the mosque, killing six men and injuring five more. One worshipper, Aymen Derbali, was left paralysed from his chest down. Weeks later, when the injured Derbali was shown on TV, Bissonnette cursed and said, "I can't believe that after seven bullets he didn't die," according to a fellow inmate's statement. Police revealed that Bissonnette consumed far-right material which influenced his "opinion on immigration and the presence of Muslims in Québec."

Two months after the shooting at the mosque, 80 protestors barged into a meeting of the Peel District School Board near Toronto to demand that it ban a religious group from praying together on Friday afternoons -- as had been allowed for twenty years. One protestor ripped apart the Qur'an, scattering the pages and then stomped on them, while others in his group shouted out Islamophobic taunts.

On July 17, a young man with a beard was terrorized while shopping in a Sobeys grocery store in London, Ontario. A white man in a red T-shirt screamed that the bearded man was an "illegal alien" and tried to prevent him from leaving the store. The bearded man was a Muslim. The police later said the victim didn't want to press charges.

The Current also reported on a man, Monir Omerzai, eating at Denny's in Lethbridge, Alberta this past April. He and his friends were subject to a racist rant by a woman at the next table. She told the man to "shut your fucking mouth" and to "Go back to your fucking country" when she heard him speaking a language other than English. He too was a Muslim, and had lived in Lethbridge since his teenage years.

On July 13, a white half-ton truck drove onto the sidewalk in a residential area of Saskatoon and pinned a man dressed in religious garb between the truck and a hedge on his own property. He had to sink to the ground and crawl through the hedge to escape into his house and call the police. The man, Abu Sheikh, was a Muslim who had just walked home from morning prayers. So far the police have laid no charges.

B'nai Brith Canada claims that in 2017 there were 1752 anti-Semitic incidents. What kind of incidents were they? Did any involve a death or serious assault? Did any involve beating a Jewish person in front of their spouse and children, or shooting Jews? Not one.

Statistics Canada has figures on hate crimes only through 2015. It reports that there has been a 60 per cent increase in hate crimes against Muslims from 2014 to 2015, a 253 per cent increase from 2012 to 2015. In 2015 there were 159 incidents reported against Muslims, versus 99 the previous year.

Police classify hate crimes in two ways. One includes violence, such as assault, threats, or criminal harassment. These account for 38 per cent of police-reported hate crimes -- up 15 per cent from 2014 to 2015. The other kind of hate crime is classified as non-violent. Incidents can include mischief, vandalism or graffiti. Non-violent incidents have increased by five per cent in the same time period.

In hate crimes motivated solely by religion, police reported that Jews were targets in 213 incidents, and Muslims were targets in 178 incidents. While Statistics Canada claims that nearly half (48 per cent) of hate crimes based on religion are against Jews, only 16 per cent of all hate-motivated crimes are based on religion.

By contrast, 50 per cent of Canada's hate-motivated crimes involve race. In 2015, nearly 35 per cent of hate crimes were directed against members of the Black community; four per cent of hate crimes targeted people of Middle Eastern descent. But the actual numbers could be higher, as experts warn that racially marginalized people often do not report incidents for fear of further victimization, or concern that the police will do nothing about it.

In short, while anti-Semitism is a serious concern that should be confronted forcefully, it is essential to bear in mind that there has not been a single Jewish person killed in a hate-related crime in Canada. This is very different from the plight of Blacks, Arabs and other racialized Canadians who are targets of violent crimes -- crimes that maim and sometimes kill -- on a regular basis.

Despite the fact that Blacks and Muslims are the main targets of racial violence, in its Annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents 2017, B'nai Brith Canada deliberately conflates evidence of personal harm or violence done to Canadian Jews with vandalism to buildings and verbal harassment. According to the Audit's own figures for 2015 and 2016, fewer than one per cent of incidents against Jews involved violence. In its reports, B'nai Brith Canada never gives examples of person-on-person attacks or violent incidents in which Jews were targeted.

Of course we don't want to see anyone hurt or killed in Canada -- being targeted for their religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, ability or other grounds proscribed by the provincial Human Rights Acts. But by trying to convince Canadians that Jews are the main target of hate crimes, B'nai Brith Canada is doing a disservice to those of us who are serious about extending aid and comfort to those who regular experience hatred and discrimination in its most damaging forms.

Judy Haven is a founding member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada. She is a recently retired Professor of Management at Saint Mary’s University, in Halifax, NS.

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