Getting an exact figure on the number of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation in Calgary over the years has been difficult because, just like elsewhere in Canada, victims are often reluctant to come forward.
But Alberta police officers say Canada’s Criminal Code is making that job even more difficult because hate crime isn’t clearly defined on a national level — something they have been trying to change.
Numbers suggest increase in hate crimes
According to the Calgary Police Service’s 2013 annual statistical report, between 2009 and 2013, the number of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes increased from 2/100,000 to 14/100,000 — a 23 per cent increase.
But Sgt. Eric Levesque, hate crimes coordinator with the CPS, says it's difficult to pinpoint what the main cause of this increase was, or even if there was one.
“That could be truly an increase in crimes against that community or it could also be that more people are feeling more comfortable with reporting it. And that’s kind of the trouble with hate crimes,” says Levesque.
The trouble with reporting
Some members of the community, however, say they are not comfortable with reporting, and read the statistical increase as an actual rise in offences.
Aleksander Dimas-Lehndorf, a former Calgary resident, knows all too well about hate crime and the concerns of reporting. He can recall two incidents.
Once while walking through a parking lot in Edmonton while on a date, someone drove past and screamed slurs out the window at him.
“We were just walking and this car drove by and he rolled down his window and he either yelled ‘faggot’ or ‘fags.’ He just yelled that.”
Another time, Dimas-Lehndorf says a man purposely walked straight into him and caused him to drop all his belongings.
“Because it was the first time it happened to me ... I took it very much to heart. It was something that I was thinking about for a very long time.”
Despite the impact these incidents had on Dimas-Lehndorf, he did not report them.
“I’d be concerned that they would either place a low priority on it or that they wouldn’t do anything because... they didn’t physically harm me.”
Michael Connolly, the MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood, has also experienced bullying and threats about his sexual orientation.
Last Christmas, he received an email with the subject that read, “Fag boy, it’s Christmas.” Another on Christmas Eve read, “No wonder you hate Christmas, cock sucker. Go hang yourself.”
However, he said he wouldn’t report the incidents because he felt as if they were too broad and were motivated by his position in government.
He explained, “Victims don’t want to create a fuss about themselves. They feel that the incident ... didn’t warrant going to the police.”
The problem with hate crime legislation
Hate crime victims feeling reluctant to come forward is clearly an issue, however, there is something more pressing that is preventing police from collecting accurate statistics.
Stephen Camp, the president of the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee (AHCC) and former Edmonton police officer says that the Canadian Criminal Code does not have a specific section for hate crime.
There is one section in the Criminal Code that does recognize hate motivation and that is ‘mischief to religious property’ under section 430 (4.1).
“It's good to have that in there, but it encompasses only damage to religious institutions,” says Camp, and that’s not nearly enough to cover the entire spectrum of hate crime.
Camp also refers to sections 318 and 319 that forbid hate propaganda, which include sexual orientation as a prohibited motivation, but the sections are limited to speech only.
Connolly believes there is a correlation between victims reporting and the Criminal Code. “A lot of people look up something that is happening to them and if they don’t see it specifically in legislation, they are less likely to act on it.”
The Alberta Hate Crimes Committee is adamant on changing legislation. Members of the committee approached the Conservative government back in 2008 and proposed a section in the Criminal Code for hate crime. The AHCC say they were met with lukewarm responses.
In 2015, the committee sent its proposal again to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in hopes that they will assist in lobbying for the movement.
Proposed Bill C-16 welcomed but concerns remain
Last May, the Liberal government took a big step and proposed Bill C-16. If passed, it will revise the Canadian Human Rights Act and hate crimes section of the Criminal Code to include “gender identity” and “gender expression” as illegal motivations for discrimination.
The proposed legislation would expand identifiable groups to mean “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or mental or physical disability.
Although a triumph for the trans community, many suggest Bill C-16 doesn’t go far enough, and call for a national definition of hate crime that encomapsses all forms of discrimination in the Criminal Code.
“We’d finally have a national definition of what hate crime is and we’d be able to collect stats properly,” says Camp.
Both Calgary’s and Edmonton’s police agencies are currently relying on the AHCC’s definition of hate crime to assist in flagging offences, according to Camp.
“In my mind, there’s no reason for us not to have it. We shouldn’t be sitting here as a nation and trying to leave it up to individual law enforcement agencies to devise their own mechanisms across the nation to capture hate crime, it doesn’t make any sense,” says Camp.
Meanwhile, Bill C-16 had its first reading on May 17th and there are still various steps to be taken. However, chances of passing through the Senate are high since the legislation was proposed by a sitting government.
Hate crimes can be reported to police and also to the Alberta Human Rights Commission via their confidential inquiry line at 403-297-6571.
Editors note: An earlier version of this story suggested that the proposed legislation Bill C-16 would protect people from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, which is already the case. The proposed bill would instead add gender identity and expression.
- By Courtney Ingram