On this international day to end racism, Canadian activists say it’s time ‘listen, learn and act’

A day after a Stoney Creek school was vandalized with derogatory graffiti, community leaders are calling for renewed action to combat racism and hate in Hamilton, which led Canada in the highest per-capita rate of hate crimes in four separate years since 2014.

Hamilton Center for Civic Inclusion to launch community online hate reporting platform in April

A woman speaking.

Hamilton has a long way to go in its fight against racism and hate, say community leaders who gathered Tuesday on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

"Today, local community organizations and human rights activists are calling for a renewed effort to confront racism and hate here in Hamilton," Lyndon George, executive director of the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre, said outside Hamilton city hall.

"This year, our message is listen, learn and act."

The international day commemorates when police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid laws in 1960 that forced Black South Africans to carry passes at all times.

The United Nations says the 2023 theme of the day focuses on the "urgency of combatting racism and racial discrimination, 75 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)."

Hamilton wrestles with reputation for hate

Hamilton community leaders renewed their call for action comes just days after a Stoney Creek school was vandalized with antisemitic and homophobic graffiti.

The Ontario city has grappled with a reputation for hate for years. Statistics Canada data indicates the Ontario city had the country's highest per-capita rate of hate crimes in 2019, 2018, 2016 and 2014.

"It says a lot about the culture that is allowed in our society, what we've allowed to take place in the city, to continually harm racialized folks and harm others for their identity," said Koubra Haggar, programs manager at the Hamilton Center for Civic Inclusion (HCCI).

Hamilton police said the number of hate crimes and incidents last year will be released in April, but data indicates the city saw a record number of hate crimes in 2021, when police recorded 21 — more than in 2019, 2018 and 2017 combined.

Police also said there were 108 reported hate incidents — 87 of which weren't considered crimes — a 35 per cent increase from 2020. But the figure is around average when compared to past years.

"We know these forms of racism and discrimination often go unreported," George said.

Almost all reported local hate crimes and incidents last year in Hamilton targeted Black, Jewish, Muslim and LGBTQ communities.

The rise in hate incidents in 2021 was part of a national trend. According to Statistics Canada data, there were 3,360 hate incidents across the country compared to 2,073 in 2017.

How can you fight racism?

Community leaders said calling out racism when people see it is vital.

George encourages listening to people who experience discrimination, learning about the history of racism and organizations that fight for change, acting by challenging stereotypes, and showing solidarity with community groups.

Kim Martin, co-chair of No Hate in the Hammer and executive director of the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, said another key to fighting racism is taking collective action that denounces prejudice and promotes inclusivity.

Reporting hate incidents and crimes is also important, according to the community leaders.

Ameil Joseph, a McMaster University associate professor who studies critical race theory, said the community response to hate incidents keeps him hopeful about the future.

The community online hate reporting platform that HCCI and Joseph have been working on is set to launch next month. More details will be made public soon.

Hamilton police also has their own online "Report a Hate Crime" platform. But Maria Antelo, community developer with the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, said HCCI's platform can be an alternative for those uncomfortable going to the police.

"It's going to let people have the comfort to speak up against incidents where they do not feel safe … This is a really safe start for those people who really want to speak up and tell their stories," she said.

"There's a lot of power in telling stories."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Hristova

Reporter

Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

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